The Commission on Human Rights (CHR) on Thursday, April 22, paid tribute to the role of journalists in times of crisis, disaster, and pandemic.
A journalist’s work is the “vaccine to disinformation and misinformation,” the CHR said as it joined in the observance of the National Broadcasters’ Month this April.
“In a time of global pandemic, their job has never been more important to tackle the science surrounding the public health crisis, and in ensuring fair and honest inquiry about issues concerning the health and safety of the people,” CHR Spokesperson Jacqueline Ann de Guia said in a statement.
But the CHR lamented what it called as worsening state of press freedom in the Philippines.
It cited the 2021 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) which stated that the Philippines is facing a worse state of press freedom as it slipped from 136th place last year (2020) to 138th this year out of the 180 countries it surveyed.
It pointed out two legislations – the Cybercrime Prevention Law and the Anti-Terrorism Act – as threats to freedoms of speech and expression, particularly in airing out political sentiments and dissent.
“This is an overt way of silencing criticisms toward government actions, or the lack thereof, in matters affecting public interest,” De Guia, a lawyer, said.
“Moreover, the government has afforded to shut down a major broadcasting network last year in the midst of a national health crisis depriving people access to timely and relevant information,” she stressed. She was referring to the non-renewal of the franchise of ABS-CBN television network.
De Guia pointed out that free speech and expression are “critical” in holding power to account.
But while journalists and other media practitioners are busy doing their jobs to defend accountability in a democracy, several have been victimized by “a wave of persecution,” she noted.
To address the worsening state of media freedom in the country, De Guia said the CHR is urging the government to provide legal protection to the members of the press and to expedite the investigation of media-related killings and attacks.
“Such hostile treatment to journalists echoes the censorship and human rights violations that beset our nation during the martial law rule, in which we say: ‘Never Again,'” said declared.