In this week’s OPC Press Freedom Update, we look at the libel conviction of Philippine journalist Maria Ressa and update the Covid-19 outbreak stats:
Philippine journalist Maria Ressa was convicted of libel on June 15 and faces up to six years in jail in a court ruling that is widely viewed as another blow to freedom of the press.
Ressa was charged with “cyber libel” under a 2012 law. Rappler, the news website she founded, connected a prominent businessman to murder and drug trafficking by citing a confidential intelligence report.
Ressa vowed that she would continue to speak out against the verdict and accused the country’s judicial arm of being complicit in the government’s relentless campaign against press freedom.
Press Freedom Crackdown Part of President Rodrigo Duterte’s Campaign to Squelch Dissent.
The guilty verdict against Ressa is part of a coordinated campaign to stifle opposing voices to President Duterte and his administration.
- Duterte is expected to sign a new anti-terrorism law, which proposes to fight “extremist” elements in the country, though media fear it will give the government even broader powers to target Philippine journalists
- Ressa and her colleague, Reynaldo Santos, Jr., were convicted retroactively by a law originally created to combat hacking and cybersex attacks. The scope of the law was widened to include different forms of speech that could be considered libelous, including those by private citizens on social media.
- Rappler is not the only media outlet caught up in the government crackdown. The country’s largest TV network, ABC-CBN, was shut down by the telecommunications regulator when its license expired in May 2020.
- The Philippines currently ranks 134th out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, which reflects the dangerous environment for the country’s journalists since the 2012 law was passed.
U.S. Measured in its Response to the Ressa Verdict.
“The United States is concerned by the trial court’s verdict against journalists Maria Ressa and Reynaldo Santos and calls for resolution of the case in a way that reinforces the U.S. and Philippines’ long shared commitment to freedom of expression, including for members of the press,” said U.S. State Department spokesperson Morgan Ortagus in a statement.
International groups, including press freedom and human rights advocates, weighed in with much stronger condemnations.
- “This conviction is an affront to the rule of law, a stark warning to the press and a blow to democracy in the Philippines,” said human rights lawyer Amal Clooney, who represents Ressa.
- “We expect the Philippines like all other countries to uphold its international rights obligations and protect and promote fundamental freedoms,” said a statement from the European Union External Action Service (EEAS), the EU’s diplomatic arm.
- The UN called on the Philippines courts to reverse the decisions. “…the law used to convict Ressa, and the journalists who authored the article which led to their prosecution, is plainly inconsistent with Philippines’ obligations under international law,” said David Kaye, UN Special Rapporteur.
Covid-19 Update: 342 press freedom violations, including 135 arrests, related to media coverage of the global pandemic. Governments around the world are leveraging Covid-19 to restrict the free flow of information among democratic and autocratic states. The global health crisis has enabled governments “to exercise control over the media on the pretext of preventing the spread of disinformation,” said a report by the International Press Institute in Vienna. The IPI has logged 342 press freedom violations since mid-February. The violations, which include 135 arrests, include arrests/charges, censorship, restricting access to information, verbal/physical attacks and excessive “fake news” regulation.
The Overseas Press Club invites everyone to join us in supporting global advocates for press freedom, free speech, and human rights.
They continue the fight to observe the timeless principles of press freedom; underscore the urgent need for reporter’s access to information; push back against attacks on the media amid the racial justice protests, and sound the call for the release of hundreds of imprisoned journalists worldwide.