Press Freedom Update Aug. 20

Maria Ressa, editor and CEO of Rappler, leaves a regional trial court after being convicted for cyber libel on June 15 in Manila. Photo: Ezra Acayan/Getty Images

by Bill Collins, chair, press freedom committee, Overseas Press Club

This week’s OPC Press Freedom Update focuses on the Philippines as journalist Maria Ressa is denied yet again by the court system in her bid to travel to the United States.

Philippines…by the numbers:

Reporters Without Borders

World Press Freedom Index: Philippines ranks 136th among 180 countries

RSF ranks 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists.

Freedom House

Global Freedom Report: Philippines scores 59 out of 100; Rating – Partly Free

Freedom House rates people’s access to political rights and civil liberties

The Committee to Protect Journalists

Global Impunity Index: Philippines ranks No. 5

CPJ’s 2019 Global Impunity Index spotlights countries where journalists are slain, and their killers go free. Currently, there are 41 unsolved journalist killings in the Philippines.

Maria Ressa’s travel bid to the U.S. denied by Filipino court

Press freedom suffered another loss this week when an appeals court in the Philippines denied Rappler CEO Maria Ressa’s request to travel to the United States.

The court stated that Ressa failed to show the “necessity and urgency” of her intended travel to the U.S. from Aug. 23 to Sept. 19,” according to news reports.

In addition to championing the cause of press freedom globally, Ressa has been fighting for her personal freedom in the Philippines amid numerous foreign ownership and tax lawsuits filed by the government of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Ressa and her Rappler colleague, Reynaldo Santos, were found guilty in June of cyber libel offenses. The co-founder of Rappler faces up to six years in prison after her conviction and subsequent denial for her case to be reconsidered.

Ressa recently filed an appeal for permission to travel abroad to Washington D.C. and attend the theatrical release and panel discussions associated with the documentary film “A Thousand Cuts.”

The film deals with Ressa’s ongoing fight for press freedom. Ressa was also scheduled to be given the 2020 International Press Freedom Award on Aug. 24.

Ressa’s motion to travel was opposed by The Office of the Solicitor General, which argued that Ressa’s travel rights should be held to stricter standards because of her June conviction.

The appeals court cited the Supreme Court stating that “the conviction…warrants the exercise of greater caution in allowing a person admitted to bail from leaving the Philippines.”

“Other than her brief narration,” said the Appeals Court, “she (Ressa) has not presented further evidence to warrant her physical presence at the theatrical release and in the panel discussions of the documentary ‘A Thousand Cuts.’

The court suggested that Ressa could use video conferencing as a means of fulfilling her obligations as a media practitioner.

Ressa is already scheduled as a featured speaker among many newsmakers and journalists participating in a World News Day event on September 28. The virtual meeting is a production of the Canadian Journalism Foundation and will be broadcast from Toronto.