The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance (MEAA), the trade union and professional association for Australia’s journalists, says the guilty verdict in editor Maria Ressa’s cyber libel case is an outrageous assault on press freedom in the Philippines.
The regime of President Rodrigo Duterte has repeatedly hounded Ressa whose news web site Rappler has applied legitimate scrutiny on to the operations of the government and powerful interests in the Philippines.
Ressa was charged with cyber libel over an article Rappler published in 2012. The charges were made under the Cybercrime Prevention Act (2012), despite that legislation not having been enacted at the time the article was published.
The court’s finding will have a chilling effect on public interest journalism in the Philippines – a country where journalists are regularly threatened and murdered because of their journalism. Last month, the failure of the Philippines Congress to renew the licence of network ABS-CBN led to the country’s biggest broadcaster being shut down with the loss of 11,000 jobs. The effect of these actions is to effectively muzzle the media by intimidating any who seek to uphold the public’s right to know.
The cyber libel case is just one of a string of charges and harassment the government has brought against Ressa, her work colleagues and against the Rappler news outlet.
MEAA Media federal president Marcus Strom said: “This court finding is the culmination of years of intimidation by government authorities. It is just one of a notorious catalogue of press freedom assaults by President Duterte’s Administration. The President is known the world over for saying ‘just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination’. Comments like that have perpetuated the deadly environment that has made the Philippines one of the most dangerous places for journalists.
“The President and his Administration have not only encouraged but continue to blithely ignore thousands of extrajudicial killings, with almost total impunity for their murderers. This issue, along with many others involving the role of the powerful in Filipino society, have been rightly scrutinised by the media, and by Rappler, as anyone would expect journalists to do in a healthy, functioning democracy.”
Strom said MEAA would be seeking an urgent meeting with the Philippines Ambassador about the court finding against Ressa and what it means for journalists working in the Philippines.