Pacific Media Centre
After a brutal fortnight for journalists in the Philippines last year, in which three broadcasters were shot dead, the International News Safety Institute spoke to veteran Filipino journalist Red Batario about the situation for the press in his home country. It is worth recalling here Red’s insights on Pacific Media Centre Online on World Media Freedom Day today with the Philippines presidential elections next Monday.
1. Why is the Philippines so dangerous for journalists?
It is a combination of many factors, such as a prevailing culture of impunity brought about by weak judicial systems, especially at the local level; and poor or bad governance, including spotty law enforcement. Impunity is exacerbated by the slow process in adjudicating cases in general. In some Mindanao areas, clan wars called “rido” also impact on the lives and work of journalists.
2. Do you think the safety situation for journalists in the Philippines is deteriorating?
The situation could be deteriorating given that for the month of August 2015 alone, four journalists were killed. The CPJ ranked the Philippines third in its impunity index and has named it as the most deadly place for journalists in the world after Iraq and Syria.
3. Are there any similarities between the deceased?
The similarity is that all of those killed were broadcasters working in local communities, in the provinces, and all were shot in public places.
4. Why do you think they were killed?
The motives are still unknown but I strongly believe their killings were work related. One of the victims, Teodoro Escamilla, had been constantly reporting human rights abuses through his radio programme in Sorsogon province at the southern tip of Luzon island.
5. Has anybody been arrested for the attacks?
No-one has yet been arrested, but in a few previous cases suspected gunmen were identified. Some have been arrested but none of the cases have been successfully prosecuted. In the celebrated Edgar Damalerio case in Pagadian City, Zamboanga del Sur in 2003, a policeman was convicted for the killing but no mastermind was identified.
6. What can be done to improve the situation for journalists in the Philippines?
There should be a sustained and wide-ranging campaign to enhance citizen awareness about the role of media in democracy. This is because an engaged and aware citizenry can be a potent mechanism for protecting journalists. In the short term, some immediate measures such as providing continuing safety training and engaging judicial authorities and law enforcement agencies in continuing dialogue [could improve the situation].
7. What is it like to be a journalist in the Philippines?
Dangerous, frustrating, challenging. However, it also offers opportunities for pushing reforms in governance and in media.
Red Batario has been a journalist for more than 30 years and has worked for a number of publications, including The Manila Chronicle, The Manila Times, the Daily Express, Veritas Newsmagazine and Philippine Daily Inquirer. He has also worked as a freelance journalist and is now the executive director of the Centre for Community Journalism and Development. He represents INSI in Southeast Asia.
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