Reporters Sans Frontière (RSF; Reporters Without Borders) published its list of global “Press freedom predators” on July 5, 2021. This year Rodrigo Duterte was listed for the first time as a “predator since taking office,” alongside 36 other heads of government or state who have used different strategies to crack down on press freedom.
According to the RSF complicity pervading the state apparatus allows Duterte to wage a “total war” against journalists and independent media outlets. Since many media owners support him, he brings the media into line with his political course, while “independent media outlets have assumed the role of opposition, with all the risks that this entails.” The RSF refers to buying up media companies, making false accusations such as tax evasion or defamation, using an online troll army to harass journalists, and revoking broadcasting licenses.
Even in Duterte’s previous political career, he was known to verbally attack journalists and media at press conferences. “In his five years in office, Duterte has a tumultuous relationship with Filipino journalists who are critical in covering his administration’s policies, particularly in its centerpiece anti-drug war program.” This is especially dramatic in the defamation and attacks against the Philippine Daily Inquirer,news website Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa, as well as in the revocation of the license of the ABS-CBN broadcasting company in July 2020. The latter has been in the red ever since – ABS-CBN recorded a net loss of $283 million (13.5 billion Philippine Pesos) for 2020, mainly attributed to the decline in advertising revenues.