[The following is a statement from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), one of SEAPA’s founding members based in Manila, the Philippines:]
As in the past, World Press Freedom Day 2011 is being commemorated after a year (May 2010-May 2011) of global and national turmoil.
Iraq and Afghanistan continued to occupy media attention and to subject journalists to the usual perils of covering conflict areas. Five journalists were killed in Iraq in 2010, and two in Afghanistan. And while the unrest in the Middle East and North Africa was among the unique characteristics of 2010-2011, the political crises in Egypt, Tunisia, Yemen, Bahrain, Syria and Libya did subject journalists to the same perils of being killed, threatened, harassed or abducted while doing their jobs. Four journalists were killed in Libya, two in Egypt, and several others abducted.
The Philippine media situation has resisted change despite the change of administration in July 2010. The Ampatuan Massacre trial is continuing, but in terms of results has virtually come to a standstill, bogged down in the tedious processes involved in resolving technical issues, even as the killing of journalists has continued, with eight cases of journalists killed, of which five were work-related.
The same ethical and professional shortcomings that have made the media the subject of citizen skepticism and even scorn still haunt media practice, with the performance of the media, whether print, broadcast or online, being uniformly problematic. Plagiarism was a nagging problem, together with sensationalism, lack of fairness and balance, biased reporting, and corruption. Problems related to job security, as well as the usual issues of low salaries and limited or non-existent benefits were also prominent during the May 2010 to May 2011 period.
Attempts to legislate a freedom of information act are continuing even as the 15th Congress pursues efforts to pass a right of reply law initiated by the 14th Congress despite media and press opposition.
While the Aquino administration had pledged to respect press freedom and to stop the killing of journalists, Mr. Aquino has not taken the concrete steps needed to create the conditions necessary to end the culture of impunity. Neither has he been reticent in criticizing the media, at one point accusing them of criminal behavior, later of sensationalism, focusing on his love life, and ignoring the achievements of his administration, while at the same time urging advertisers to advertise only in “responsible media organizations”.
In these circumstances, the tasks of the media advocacy and journalists’ organizations remain as urgent as ever: it is to defend press freedom in difficult circumstances through self-examination, self-regulation and reform. The process has been difficult and as glacial in pace as everything else has been in the Philippine setting, but it is essential that the effort at self-criticism and self-regulation for the sake of better media and the defense of press freedom are pursued with renewed vigor and commitment.
CMFR (http://www.cmfr-phil.org/) is a SEAPA founding member based in Manila, the Philippines, working to promote ethical journalism and to protect press freedom.