Philippine media under pressure as Marcos Jr courts influencers


Manila, – Journalists warn the new administration of Philippine President Ferdinand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr is set to take the same hard line against media critics as his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, after attacks on press freedom grew during the transition of presidential power.

In June, more than two dozen sites were blocked and accused of having links to “Communist-Terrorist Groups”. Two media organizations were among those targeted by the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) – independent news site Pinoy Weekly, and Bulatlat, the country’s longest-running online publication.

The same month, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) upheld its ruling to revoke the operating licence of Rappler, the Philippines’ most popular news site.

Duterte’s National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr cited resolutions from the Anti-Terror Council that designate the Communist Party of the Philippines as “terrorists” to crack down on the sites.

But Ronalyn Olea, secretary-general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the managing editor of Bulatlat, says the publication has no such links.

“This has nothing to do with Bulatlat,” Olea told Al Jazeera. “He is just trying to censor our organization because we are telling the truth about government.”

This month, Bulatlat won a preliminary injunction against the order and the NTC was told to stop blocking the site.

Rappler founder and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa faces multiple lawsuits, but has promised to continue her work and fight any attempt to close the independent website [File: Jam Sta Rosa/AFP]

“Under Duterte, press freedom was systematically attacked as punishment to those the regime didn’t like and as a warning to others. There are no signs this policy will change with the new administration,” said Luis V Teodoro, veteran journalist and Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) trustee.

Towards the end of his term, Duterte admitted to shutting down ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ biggest broadcaster, because of its unfavourable coverage of his administration. Rappler, which was founded by veteran journalist Maria Ressa, is facing a number of court cases, as does Ressa herself.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was found guilty of ‘cyber libel’ last year in a decision that was seen as blow for press freedom. A higher court upheld that verdict last month.

Rappler’s Executive Director Glenda Gloria says the website’s staff had “survived” the six years of Duterte, and remained “hopeful that the cases against us will eventually be dismissed. A significant chunk of Philippine society knows the value of independent media.” | Aljazeera

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