Perhaps finally, President Aquino will take seriously the issue of media killings and criminal impunity and act.
Because this time, it’s the US government and the American press that have taken notice and are alarmed.
Because his American backers, for so long the ballast of his presidency, are now worried about the political and media situation in our country.
They are alarmed and shocked that the Philippines, touting itself as the fastest growing economy in Southeast Asia, and as a serious democracy, is fast becoming a place where journalism is an art and science of living dangerously.
Third worst in impunity index
They are alarmed that for four years running, the country has ranked as the third worst in the world in the Impunity Index of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPG), which tracks countries according to their records in solving media killings or murders. Impunity in this case means “getting away with murder.” That is third worst among the 12 deadliest places in the world for journalists in the 2013 Impunity Index.
The Philippines had a rating of .580 per million population. That beats Afghanistan (a war zone), Mexico (a drug-war zone), Columbia, Russia and Brazil.
A Human Rights Watch report says 12 journalists were killed in the Philippines in 2013.
Aquino should sit up and notice because when CPG says four years in a row, that means the four years that he has been the president of the Philippines.
An American educator working in the country, who has just returned from the US, sent me an email saying that the impunity issue has become a serious topic in Washington DC. It’s discussed in the US Congress and the State department. And there are calls for the US government to put more pressure on the Philippine government to act.
On the radar of US government
When Ambassador Philip Goldberg arranged a meeting with media watchdog groups last week to discuss the issue and released a statement of concern about the media killings, you know that the issue is now truly on the radar of the US government. It wasn’t a sudden whim on his end, it’s the result of a rising outcry in the US and here in Manila.
Goldberg met with the leaders and representatives of the Confederation of Asean Journalists (CAJ), the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), the National Press Club (NPC), Kapisanan ng Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP), and the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ). He sought to learn more about the challenges facing journalists in the Philippines, including extra judicial killings, and what can be done to address these issues.
He emphasized that press freedom is a fundamental human right, belonging right up there with other rights. He underscored America’s support for an open media environment where journalists are free to work safely without fear of being threatened or killed.
But the question really is how to move Aquino into action. The problem is something that serious action at Cabinet level can cope with.
When a Fox News journalist asked Aquino about media killings and criminal impunity last April during Obama’s visit, his answer was to question whether the victims were really journalists. He won’t budge unless US support for his key initiatives is placed in jeopardy.
Well, it is in jeopardy here. One loud voice in Congress could cause a lot of headaches. Especially because this is a mid-term election year in the US.
Unyielding media is real opposition
People in Washington need to connect the dots and recognize that the reason the Philippine government is not doing anything about the spate of media killings, is that the media constitute much of the real opposition to Aquino today, in the absence of serious political opposition in Congress, and with the sidelining of some opposition senators in the pork barrel scandal.
It is the unyielding media crusade, backed by public outrage, that has carried forward the campaign against the pork barrel and the President’s unconstitutional and illegal Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Aquino has often said that relentless media criticism has been the bane of his administration, providing him no respite, at breakfast, lunch and dinner, and even during snack time. Like King Henry II, who was released by his knights from the opposition of Thomas Beckett, Aquino probably exudes relief every time a journalist is killed. Significantly, most of the killings have occurred in the provinces, and as a result of local political rivalries.
But this problem is not just for the government to address. This is even more an issue that should rouse our media community, both national and local, into action. The issue should engage us all. Our institution is on the line. Every media killing diminishes us all. And when they are left unsolved, we must treat each victim like a lost member of our families. The authorities must know no surcease.
We have to treat it personally, or the authorities will just “noynoy” (procrastinate or put off) the problem.
What can we do?
What the media community can do
As an amateur student of strategy, here are some action ideas that I believe we in the media community can adopt as lone voices, individual media organizations, or as a community. They are each designed to compel the attention and prompt response of government.
First, put the media killings on the frontend of the hosting by the Philippines of the APEC Summit of leaders in 2015. Top leaders of Asia and America will be coming . all top media organizations will come to cover the event. The Aquino government will seek to put its best foot forward. What better time to highlight the issue than in the runup to and during the summit. The government cannot afford not to act.
Second, to force the justice department and Leila de Lima and the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) to act on the media killings, let’s persuade individual newspapers and networks to enforce a freeze or blackout of all stories on De Lima and the Justice department.
Third, to force the Department of Interior and Local Government and the Philippine National Police (PNP) to apprehend suspects and provide better security, media should enforce a freeze or blackout on all stories and coverage of Mar Roxas and these organizations.
Fourth, the media should develop a fund of stories on the victims, and a comprehensive report on the killings. For too long, the victims have been rendered anonymous, faceless, and unsung.
Fifth, the national press should seize the opportunity and the issue as a means to unite and strengthen the National Press Club, and recapture its lost relevance and lost glory. It’s high time the Philippine press has again a club that represents its collective interests and values.
Sixth, since they are the channels of information, media organizations can develop and implement together a practical communications strategy and media campaign.
At the end of the exercise, we may be sure that the media will be better regarded and appreciated by the public for its service than our politicians.