Philippine Mass Media Marks First National Press Freedom Day

August 30, 2022

A member of the Photojournalists of the Philippines advocating for Press Freedom. Photo from Reportr.

The Philippines celebrates National Press Freedom Day on Tuesday, August 30, 2022, as former President Rodrigo Duterte signed R.A. No. 11699 on April 13th this year.

It is in honor of the father of Philippine Journalism, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, who was born on August 30, 1850.

Today, the community of Philippine Mass Media, Campus Publications, and Journalism Organizations give tribute to the country’s first celebration of the event, exhibiting online their social call for justice to the people’s freedom of speech and expression of the press. 

Hailed as the "freest and liveliest in Asia", the history of the Philippine press contradicts as it is rooted in a national struggle. It is a hot target in the eyes of the officials and people in power who seek to monopolize and censor the principle of truth and critical publications of media practitioners.

The journalist’s commitment to public service of news and information has been threatened with a myriad of intensified attacks and constant harassment of red-tagging, online disinformation, lawsuits, injustice-killings, and massacre. 

One of the biggest massacres of journalists in history was during the Maguindanao Massacre on November 23, 2009, wherein 58 people were murdered, including 32 journalists. 

Media Blackout: Censorship under Marcos and Martial Law

When President Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law across the country on September 21, 1972, the first of its effects was to control and manipulate the free press and mass media. 

Media outlets were taken over by the military and government, with Marcos claiming its purpose was to prevent the use of privately-owned mass media against his administration. 

One of the major shutdowns during the time was ABS-CBN. The network was accused of having been “allowed the use of its facilities and manpower in the broadcast and dissemination of subversive materials,” with “overly exaggerated news stories and commentaries,” and “false, vile, foul and scurrilous statements and utterances.

It was the first time ABS-CBN was shut down. Almost five decades later, it would again experience the same challenge under former President Rodrigo Duterte after the network failed to secure its franchise renewal. 

Media blackouts also manifested among the relative shutdown of religious publications, including the Signs of Times, managed by the largest Catholic organization – the Association of Major Religious Superiors of the Philippines, and The Communicators by the Jesuits.

Toward the end of the Marcos regime ignited the first people power revolution in EDSA in 1986. It was a major public campaign and protest against the Marcoses and electoral fraud. 

It was dubbed the Yellow Revolution due to the yellow ribbons during the event. These served as a symbol of protest following the assassination of late senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr., which caused the fleeing of Ferdinand Marcos to foreign lands. It ended Marcos' 20-year dictatorship and restored democracy in the Philippines. 

After martial law, the Philippine Media gradually returned to its operations. News publications and TV-Radio broadcasts exercised their watchdog roles again. They reported on news of the following events involving the second EDSA revolution in protest of removing former President Joseph Estrada from office.

Detailed stories of corruption series and scandals during the administration of former President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo have also been intensively reported and aired by the media.

A Divided Press: The Current State of Press Freedom

The corrupt effects of martial law on the structure and professionalism of mass media in the Philippines still linger up to the present day. As the digital age influences the evolution of gathering and delivering news and information – new obstacles of fake news, disinformation, misinformation, and red-tagging persist, devaluing press freedom.

Throughout Rodrigo Duterte’s administration, libel laws were weaponized against journalists along with incidents of harassment, threats, and killings from the assumption of Duterte in the presidency on June 30, 2016, until his last term on April 30, 2022. 

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) recorded that 23 journalists were killed, and 258 incidents of threats and attacks were targeted toward journalists under the Duterte regime. 

In the same period, 56 journalists were flagged with libel complaints, including the digital news Rappler Co-Founder and Nobel Peace Prize winner Maria Ressa. Her company, Rappler, was also pressured to shut down due to their “violating foreign ownership rules”. 

“Under Duterte, press freedom was systematically attacked as punishment to those the regime didn’t like and as a warning to others. There are no signs this policy will change with the new administration,” said Luis V Teodoro, veteran journalist, and CMFR trustee.

After the end of the Duterte Administration, press freedom continues to be an issue of concern as another Marcos namesake returns to power. 

Incumbent President Ferdinand "BongBong" Marcos Jr., son of the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos, has been known to parry and fend off questions from professional reporters and journalists, declining majority invites to public debates, and interviews during the election campaign. 

He instead directed his presence and attention to social media, vloggers, and selected news organizations that did not criticize him or his family. 

Amid the challenges faced by Philippine media, Marcos Jr’s administration seeks to put into place vloggers and social media influencers as "reporters" of the government and other current affairs. An act that continues to compromise the credibility and significance of journalists and press freedom. 

With the first implementation of National Press Freedom, it is not only a celebratory day but a movement for the nation’s press people to continue to hold the line and stand together in defending the people’s rights to freedom of information, factual history, and ultimate truth.