Journalism educators from the University of the Philippines (UP) on Sunday spoke out against continued threats against the media and media workers, and vowed to strengthen journalism education in a statement for World Press Freedom Day.

“There are clear threats against journalists and media workers. The police and military engage in red-baiting, not just of activists but also journalists deemed critical of the administration. There are cases of journalists belonging to the alternative media who get arrested and detained for doing their jobs,” the statement said.

The statement noted that May 3, World Press Freedom Day, marked the eve of the expiration of the broadcast franchise of ABS-CBN Corp., which President Rodrigo Duterte had threatened not to renew over supposed  violations. “The same accusation has been leveled against another news media organization, Rappler, that received a string of legal charges against some of its editors and staff,” it added.

It also cited restrictions to news coverage of the Covid-19 pandemic, by requiring accreditation.

“Reporters from privately-owned news media organizations have been barred from entering the press briefing room of Malacañan Palace while their questions were unnecessarily screened during the government’s ‘virtual pressers,'” it said.

“At a time when the public needs the truth about the coronavirus crisis, the government has found a way to prevent journalists from directly confronting official sources of information to ask the hard questions and hold them to account for their claims.”

The statement expressed alarm over a provision in the Bayanihan to Heal as One Act (Republic Act No. 11469) that penalizes the spread of “false information,” pointing out that there was no clear definition of what constitutes false information.

“This explains why even the freedom of expression of ordinary citizens has been wantonly violated. For example, the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) has summoned some citizens to explain their social media posts while a governor went after a person for ‘negative comments’ on social media. Then there was an attempt by a government official to have an Overseas Filipino worker (OFW) in Taiwan deported for her critical comments on social media,” the UP journalism educators said.

“The state of the media in the Philippines has made it difficult for journalists to perform their functions in the time of COVID-19. Thus, we, journalism educators, stand by our friends in the media to keep the torch of press freedom burning. On our part, we shall continue to teach our students to observe the highest professional and ethical standards of journalism, and to resist attacks on press freedom and other basic freedoms.”

Opposition senator Francis Pangilinan, in a separate statement, said the government should remember that the virus is the enemy, not journalists or volunteers.

“Matindi ang krisis na kinakaharap natin sa patuloy na pagtaas ng kaso ng Covid. Maraming kailangang pagbuhusan ng pansin ang buong pwersa ng gobyerno. Dapat magtulungan,” he said.

“Ngunit sa kabila ng ito ay patuloy pa rin sa pag-aresto sa mga tumutulong at kailangang tulungan. Sa kabila nito, nakakaranas pa rin ng panggigipit ang mga mamamahayag. Habang kinukulong ang Pinoy at Pinay na quarantine violators, exempted naman ang mga Chinese POGO workers sa quarantine.”

“Isang paalala: virus ang kalaban, hindi ang mga volunteers. Virus ang kalaban, hindi ang mga mamamahayag,” Pangilinan said.

Andanar: ‘Eradicate biased information’

Palace Communications Secretary Martin Andanar, in his own statement, called for the eradication of “biased information, misinformation, disinformation and fake news,” saying these “continue to damage not only our society, but the trust and the relationship between the government and the people, a relationship that must be maintained in order for our society to function as a whole.”

He said the Duterte government was willing to “protect and maintain” the coexistence of and continuous engagement among the government, the press, and the civil society.

“With initiatives set in place, such as the Freedom of Information, Presidential Task Force on Media Security and expanded Sotto Law, to protect the life, liberty, and security of media workers, we will continue to endeavor towards the continued promotion of press rights and freedom,” Andanar said., John Ezekiel J. Hirro