House rules for media aim to quash criticism: HRW

ABS-CBN News

Posted at May 01 2018 11:10 AM

MANILA - The House of Representatives' draft rules penalizing journalists that "besmirch" the reputation of its members is aimed at crushing criticism against the administration, an international human rights group alleged Monday.

The draft rules released by the House press bureau last week state that journalists who malign congressmen will lose accreditation for coverage.

The new media code also disallows live reporting and ambush interviews of House members, resource persons or any other personality on the hallways of the House buildings.

"These restrictions are just the latest in a series of attacks on the Philippine press by President Rodrigo Duterte’s government and its supporters, aimed at silencing critical voices," the New York-based Human Rights Watch (HRW) said in a statement.

"While the government has been especially ferocious against people and organizations demanding accountability for the government’s 'drug war'... any criticism of the administration seems subject to reprisal," it added.

Philippine police say they have killed roughly 4,000 drug suspects who fought back during arrest since Duterte launched the war nearly 2 years ago, promising to rid his nation of narcotics.

But rights groups say the actual number is 3 times higher and accuse authorities of slaying unarmed slum-dwellers in a nation where a quarter of the population lives in poverty.

Amid the crackdown, HRW noted that Duterte has made "incendiary public statements against journalists."

The group also cited the case of Rappler, whose incorporation papers were revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission in January.

The government in March also initiated tax evasion and libel prosecutions against the media outfit, HRW said.

Authorities this month also restricted media access to Boracay island and sough to bar accredited foreign correspondents from covering the Philippines at an ASEAN event in Singapore, added HRW.

The rights group noted that the Philippines' press freedom global ranking fell from 127 to 133, according to a report last week by media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

"Filipino journalists, true to the tradition of political muckraking, corruption exposés, and wartime reporting, have often put their lives on the line, serving the Philippine people and democratic values in the process," HRW said.

"It’s important that their efforts are supported – including by the Philippine Congress."

Malacañang, for its part, had denied Duterte's tirades that President Rodrigo Duterte’s tirades against the media have caused the Philippines’ slip in the global press freedom index.

Duterte in 2016 also created a task force to look into media killings.