Freedom of the Press
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Press Freedom Score (0 = best, 100 = worst)
Legal Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Political Environment(0 = best, 40 = worst)
Economic Environment(0 = best, 30 = worst)
Media in the Philippines have historically ranked among the freest, most vibrant, and outspoken in Southeast Asia, although reports are often rooted in sensationalism and innuendo. However, the year saw an overall decline in press freedom as a result of the excessive use of defamation suits to silence criticism of public officials, the government’s clampdown on opposition media during the state of emergency in February, and the continued threat posed by journalist-targeted violence.
The constitution guarantees freedom of speech, of expression, and of peaceful assembly. There are no restrictive licensing requirements for newspapers or journalists and few legal limitations such as national security, privacy, or obscenity laws. However, the country’s penal code makes libel a criminal offense punishable by fines and imprisonment. In July 2006, columnist and television broadcaster Raffy Tulfo was sentenced to 32 years in prison and fined 14.7 million pesos (US$285,000) for showing “reckless disregard” for the truth in several articles written nearly a decade ago. In response to the extreme Tulfo verdict and the subsequent revelation that Jose Miguel Arroyo, the president’s husband, had filed libel charges against at least 43 reporters, columnists, editors, and publishers since 2003, a number of press freedom watchdog groups along with more than 600 Filipino journalists signed a petition calling for the decriminalization of defamation, submitting it to the Senate in November. In what proved a limited effort to mitigate the use of libel laws to prevent scrutiny of public officials, in August the House of Representatives approved a bill which would require that libel suits against members of the press be filed at the court in the province or city where the journalist or media outlet maintains its principal office and that civil actions connected with such libel suits be filed in the same court as the criminal complaint. Nevertheless, a number of journalists were held for a few nights in jail on arrest warrants for defamation, even though the bill had yet to receive bicameral approval.
Although a censorship board broadly has the power to edit or ban content for both television media and film, government censorship does not generally enforce political orientation. Both the private press (most print and electronic media) and the country’s many state-owned television and radio stations cover controversial topics—including, in 2006, developments in the constitutional reform debate and the second unsuccessful impeachment bid against President Macapagal-Arroyo in June. The February 2006 state of emergency brought a significant blow to critical voices when police officers raided the leading pro-opposition newspaper, the Daily Tribune, and placed the office under guard. Troops were also positioned around the Manila headquarters of the country’s two largest television broadcasters, ABS-CBN and GMA-7. In the same week, as part of the official effort to silence media outlets “recklessly” promoting the cause of those working to overthrow the government, critical media figures were charged with incitement to rebellion and several journalists with the Daily Tribune were arrested and served time in jail until they were freed on bail. After emergency rule was lifted, the National Telecommunications Commission warned the media not to air materials that could “incite treason, rebellion, sedition, or pose a clear and present danger to the state” and threatened broadcast networks with closure or takeover for failing to comply with such regulations. According to the International Federation of Journalists, radio stations subsequently stopped airing interviews with union and other popular leaders critical of the state of emergency. In a May ruling, the Supreme Court confirmed that the administration’s clampdown on the press during the state of emergency was unjustified.
Journalists continued to face extreme danger in the course of their work throughout the year. With the Committee to Protect Journalists counting 32 total journalists killed in the last 15 years and at least 3 murdered in 2006 alone, the Philippines continues to rank as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. Several cases over the last few years have involved journalists who were well-known for exposing corruption scandals or being critical of the government, army, or police. Watchdog groups allege that unknown gunmen are hired by local government officials who are never held accountable and continued in 2006 to call on the president to end the prevailing culture of impunity. For example, while three people were found guilty in October 2006 of the 2005 murder of investigative reporter Marlene Garcia-Esperat, there have been no convictions against those who allegedly ordered the killings. In May, the president established Task Force Usig, a police task force intended as a first step toward investigating the murders, yet the effort was complicated by the fact that police are believed to be complicit in many of the killings. The Melo Commission to Investigate Media and Activist Killings, established by the president in response to international pressure in August, marked a second, if largely cosmetic, government effort to investigate journalist-targeted violence. Yet additional death threats and murders followed, including the stabbing of radio broadcaster Andres Acosta in Batac, Ilocos Norte, in December.
Most print and electronic media are privately owned, and while some television and radio stations are government owned, they too present a wide variety of views. Since 1986, however, there has been a general trend toward concentration of ownership, with two broadcast networks owned by companies of wealthy families, dominant among audiences and advertising. Often criticized for lacking journalistic ethics, the press is likely to reflect the political or economic orientations of owners and patrons, and special interests reportedly use inducements to solicit favorable coverage. Approximately 9 percent of the population made use of the internet in 2006, and the government did not restrict their access.