Philippines | Freedom House

Freedom of the Press

Philippines

Philippines

Freedom of the Press 2008

2008 Scores

Press Status

Partly Free

Press Freedom Score
(0 = best, 100 = worst)

45

Political Environment
(0 = best, 40 = worst)

23

Economic Environment
(0 = best, 30 = worst)

11

While reports are often rooted in sensationalism and innuendo, media in the Philippines have historically ranked among the freest, most vibrant, and most outspoken in Southeast Asia. However, journalists in 2007 continued to face deadly violence and the use of defamation suits to silence criticism of public officials. Furthermore, the arrests of more than 30 media workers covering an attempt by military officers to rally the public against the ruling administration in November and a series of subsequent warnings effectively restricted reporting on a significant national event.

The constitution guarantees freedoms of speech, expression, and peaceful assembly. There are no restrictive licensing requirements for newspapers or journalists and few legal limitations such as privacy or obscenity laws. However, new national security legislation introduced in 2007 may limit journalists’ traditional rights and access to sources. On April 20, shortly before the May legislative elections, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo issued Executive Order 608, which established a National Security Clearance System to “protect and ensure the integrity and sanctity” of classified information against “enemies of the state.” The order calls on the heads of government agencies to implement a vaguely defined security clearance procedure approved by the national security adviser. Separately, watchdog groups expressed concerns that a new Human Security Act, or Antiterror Law, which took effect in July, will allow members of the media to be wiretapped based on mere suspicion of involvement in terrorism.

The country’s penal code makes libel a criminal offense punishable by prison terms and, in some cases, large fines. The prevalence and severity of libel cases in recent years prompted a broad-based movement calling for the decriminalization of defamation in 2006. Jose Miguel Arroyo, the president’s husband, has been the most notorious abuser of libel laws, with 11 suits filed against 46 journalists as of May 2007. He continued to launch defamation suits in early 2007, including charges against several staff members of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, despite a major class-action civil suit filed against him by more than 40 media workers in December 2006 for using the courts to harass the media. Arroyo dropped all of his complaints on May 3, World Press Freedom Day, in what he called a “gesture of peace” following his release from the hospital, where he had undergone risky open-heart surgery. Local press freedom groups welcomed the decision but attributed it to the journalists’ countersuit, which was causing political damage to his wife’s administration. Despite calls for the case against Arroyo to proceed, it was effectively put on hold in September when an appeals court granted his request for a preliminary injunction.

Although a censorship board has the power to edit or ban content for both television and film, government censorship does not typically affect political orientation. Both the private media and the country’s many state-owned television and radio stations cover the country’s numerous controversial topics, including alleged election fraud, ongoing counterinsurgency campaigns, and high-level corruption cases. Media coverage in the run-up to the May legislative elections was perceived to be generally unbiased, although there were a few cases in which the media were prevented from conducting interviews with senior opposition members. For example, the media were blocked from interviewing Satur Ocampo of the leftist Bayan Muna party, who was arrested in March for alleged involvement in Communist purges in the 1980s, and foreign journalists were prevented from interviewing a jailed opposition candidate, Senator Antonio Trillanes, in May. The arrest of some 30 media workers, including 4 members of the foreign press, at the scene of a failed coup attempt in November was criticized as a serious infringement of the media’s ability to report on significant national events. The Department of the Interior and Local Government called the media presence at the site an obstruction of justice and subsequently warned that arrests would be repeated if reporters defied orders to leave similar scenes in the future.

Filipino journalists faced danger in the course of their work throughout the year. Although violence declined slightly in 2007, with two journalists clearly killed in connection with their work as opposed to three in 2006, the Philippines continues to rank as one of the most dangerous places in the world for members of the press. Exposing corruption scandals or criticizing the government, army, or police can prove lethal, with the Committee to Protect Journalists reporting 32 journalists killed since 1992 and citing a 90 percent impunity rate. Both murder victims in 2007 were radio broadcasters: Carmelo Palacios, a frequent critic of police abuses in Nueva Ecija province in the north, was killed in April; and Ferdinand Lintuan, known as a vocal critic of local government corruption in Davao, was killed in December. Radio broadcasters outside major urban centers—known for sensational political reporting intended to attract high ratings—are the most common targets; at least four radio journalists were shot and wounded during the year under unclear circumstances, and others escaped injury in similar attacks.

The nature of advertising and the prevalence of “block timing” in radio broadcasting contribute to sensational reporting, while local political rivalries, corruption, and family vendettas often make the motives and perpetrators behind journalist murders difficult to identify. Only two convictions for the murder of journalists have ever been issued, and because the crimes are often carried out by hired gunmen, no mastermind of such a slaying has ever been held accountable. In 2006, the president established Task Force Usig, a special police unit, and the Melo Commission to Investigate Media and Activist Killings in an effort to address the problem. However, the official findings of the former are disputed by local human rights groups, while the latter lacked any sort of enforcement capacity. Harassment and death threats are common; attorney Harry Roque, who led the class-action suit against Arroyo, received several death threats early in the year.

Most print and electronic media outlets are privately owned, and while some television and radio stations are government owned, they too present a wide variety of views. Since 1986, there has been a general trend toward concentration of ownership, with two broadcast networks controlled by wealthy families dominating audiences and advertising. Often criticized for lacking journalistic ethics, media outlets tend to reflect the political or economic orientations of their owners and patrons, and special interests reportedly use inducements to solicit favorable coverage. Approximately 15.4 percent of the population made use of the internet in 2007, and the government did not restrict their access.