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Press freedom 'very much alive' in Philippines

Top government official refutes growing claims of media repression under President Rodrigo Duterte

ucanews.com reporter, Manila

ucanews.com reporter, Manila

Updated: May 03, 2019 09:24 AM GMT
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Press freedom 'very much alive' in Philippines

Joel Egco, executive director of the Philippine government's Presidential Task Force on Media Security. (Photo by Angie de Silva)

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A top government official has insisted that press freedom is "very much alive" in the Philippines despite claims by various media groups of alleged threats and harassment.

Joel Egco, executive director of the government's Presidential Task Force on Media Security, said the Philippines is "still considered the freest, if not one of the freest" in the region. 

In an exclusive interview with ucanews.com, Egco said there is press freedom if "you’re free to write and discuss anything without fear or favor."

"Press freedom in its absolute sense is if you are not afraid to talk about anything," he said, adding, however, that one has to strictly adhere to the "ethics of the profession."

He described the Philippine media as "very powerful" and those in government should be afraid of it.

"Imagine, we [in government] are always lambasted," he said. "That’s freedom to express. You can't prevent it," he added.

He likened the country's media landscape to a marketplace where people talk and shout. "Everybody wants to be heard and everybody listens," he said. 

Egco took exemption, however, to claims that President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration has been trying to pressure media groups and journalists critical of the government.

"You should be afraid if you are doing wrong," said Egco, referring to media groups he alleged were funded by foreign interests and were out to destroy the government.

"Look at those who criticize us, those who say that press freedom is under attack. What do they do? They are the sources of negative information," he said.

Egco, himself a former journalist, said more than the "privileged, rich media," he pities ordinary journalists in the provinces who are poor and "exploited."

"The true state of the media in the Philippines is poor. Nobody is helping local journalists," he said. He said the "privileged media ... lack genuine concern for the media sector."

"Many others have been charged with libel, many have been arrested, and they did nothing ... But when [rich media's] interest is affected they would say freedom has been attacked," said Egco.

"It's frustrating. I cannot tolerate hypocrisy," he said.

"Press freedom is under attack? That’s not true. There has been no journalist killed for so many months now," he added.

The group Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Alliance, however, said that 12 journalists have been killed between June 2016 and April 30, 2019.

The group, which includes the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said there have been 128 cases of attacks and threats against the press since Duterte came to power in 2016.

Egco said, however, that the media in the Philippines has been "very courageous, and press freedom in our country is very dynamic."

When asked how he would describe the "threats" of the president against some media groups who criticize his administration, Egco dismissed them as "the dynamics of a free society."

"As long as it's very noisy, it’s good," he said.

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