• Our RFS press freedom rank and the FOI bill

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    THE Philippines rose eight notches above its 2014 ranking in the latest World Press Freedom Index annually announced by Reporters Sans Frontieres ) RSF-Reporters Without Borders).  Despite this improvement, we did not merit a mention in the general presentation that focuses on the best countries, the fallers and the risers.

    Our rank this year is 141st out of the 180 countries RSF surveyed, up from our 149th ranking last year.  Our total score is 21.19 points, which is the cumulative score after consolidating our ranking in various categories of press freedom indicators.  We are among the countries whose press suffers being in a “very difficult” situation.

    The categories are pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses. The ranking computations are based on data supplied by RSF’s partner-organizations in the 180 countries.

    The Philippines got a score of 61.36 in the abuses category. According to RSF, the abuse score “reflects the intensity of the violence and harassment to which journalists and other news and information providers were subjected during the year” of the survey.

    Seven other Southeast Asian countries were, like us, on the list of countries with difficult press situations.  Vietnam and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic are worse off, they are on the list of 20 countries with a “very serious press situation.”  Timor Leste rated a sentence in the presentation of “The Fallers” and is described as a country, press situation wise, with “noticeable problems.”

    Ironically, in the 2016 RSF ranking, we will most probably gain more places upward. That’s because by then the Freedom of Information bill now being discussed in the House of Representatives (but a better version of which has been passed in the Senate) shall have been passed and in operation.

    We agree with Makabayan bloc’s objections

    We say “ironically” because we agree with the House’s Makabayan bloc of congressmen that this version of the bill–so markedly different from the one authored by Congressman Tañada, which nearly got passed were it not for an opponent’s call to establish the presence of a quorum–has so many defects that it might even make it more difficult for citizens, especially reporters, to get hold of government data that can be dug up by industrious media people now.

    Last November the House committee on Public Information passed the bill which is mainly the version that Malacañang had certified for approval.

    The Makabayan bloc of congressmen, who are listed as co-authors because they co-authored a genuinely pro-transparency version of the proposed law, did not vote for the measure.  They opposed, among other items, the exceptions that allow government officials to refuse to yield information on many critical subjects.

    Makabayan bloc members also object to Section 7 (b) recognizing the authority of the President to invoke as subject to “executive privilege” records of minutes and advice given and opinions expressed during meetings when decisions are being made or policies are being formulated.

    Last March 4 the budget for the FOI law was approved. This means the FOI Act with all its defect could be passed this year.

    It will be a great tragedy if the “People’s Freedom of Information Act” ends up allowing officials to withhold information from the public because they are shielded by exceptions to the law’s avowed aim to make access to information easy.

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