On the eve of the World Press Freedom Day (May 3), Maria Ressa received the UNESCO press freedom award (or Guillermo Cano World Press Freedom Prize), recognizing her essential work and effort for fighting against disinformation and for freedom of speech in the Philippines for more than three decades.
Still the aftertaste of May 3 remains more bitter than sweet. Lately the poor state of press freedom in the Philippines is being mirrored by the 2021 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Sans Frontière (Reporters Without Borders). The Philippines drops further from rank 136 to 138 out of 180 countries this year, because of increasing harassments and attacks against the press and journalists by the government. However, Duterte claims that his administration is committed in protecting and encouraging press freedom. In the online forum “The State of Media Freedom in the Philippines: Breaking barriers to bring information to the public” journalists, the Center for Media Freedom (CMFR), and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) highlighted the unchanged dangers practicing journalists face, such as being arrested or killed while on duty, but also existential distress due to red-tagging and more recently financial shortfalls in the pandemic. Melinda Quintos-De Jesus, CMFR’s executive director, pointed out that also the extent of support from the society is crucial and the press depends on people to speak out and up.
One contributing factor to the drop the World Press Freedom Index is the shutdown of the country’s biggest broadcasting company ABS-CBN one year ago. After the franchise of the network expired on May 5, 2020 a renewal was denied two months later in July which is why thousands of workers lost their jobs. Despite ABS-CBN continues its critical media coverage through online formats, the shutdown still drastically engraves into the environment of press freedom since it fosters a breeding ground for the atmosphere of fear. As a reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer puts it: “You realize the state really achieved its goal of driving criticism underground.”