The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) has defended the right of journalists in the country to do their job without wrestling with the fear of death threats from supporters of either side of the issues they report about.
“Threatening journalists when their reportage is disagreeable or erroneous is criminal, as is helping spread these threats, especially if any harm should befall the subjects of such opprobrium,” the NUJP said in a statement released on Monday.
The group was referring to the case of Reuters correspondents Karen Lema and Manuel Mogato, who were accused by netizens of “deliberately misreporting” remarks made by President Rodrigo Duterte regarding the killings under his anti-drug campaign and the deaths of millions of Jews during the time of Hitler.
As the NUJP explained, some of the posts on Facebook and other places said that “malicious and irresponsible journalists are the true enemies of democracy” and that “they should be punished with the full force of the law.”
The President himself complained about being taken out of context, but nevertheless, apologized to the Jewish people who were offended by the remarks.
Those who publicly bullied the two Reuters reporters are not doing a service to the President they profess to support, and in fact, are acting contrary to his request to his supporters not to harm journalists and allow them to do their work of independently reporting on the activities of his government. The NUJP also took note of this unfortunate contradiction.
All journalists have a responsibility to carry out their job in a professional, accurate and unbiased manner. If errors are made, they should be acknowledged and corrected.
What the two unfortunate Reuters reporters are being persecuted for, however – even to the alarming extent that they have been receiving death threats – is deliberate misreporting, which, to people in the industry who know these two personally, is not the case.
There is a difference between pointing out an error or challenging a conclusion from clear facts, and threatening to kill someone for simply doing his or her job. The latter is a criminal act, the NUJP asserted, and we strongly agree with that.
At this time when there is so much tension in the country among various sectors of society, the unruly behavior of supposed supporters of President Duterte only aggravates an already stressful situation. No one’s interests are served by crude attempts to bully the press into silence out of fear of reporting that may be unfavorable, least of all the government, whose leader has already suggested – unfortunately to deaf ears, as the NUJP lamented – that a free press is both welcome and necessary for the country to progress as he envisions.
The government has a responsibility to conduct its affairs and carry out its programs in an open, transparent manner. The media has a responsibility to provide timely information and analysis in a thorough, objective, and accurate way. And the public has a responsibility to read, listen, watch, and learn in a thoughtful way, and express support or dissent in a constructive manner.
We agree with the NUJP’s observation that many who have benefited from the Philippines’ freedom of expression would now seek to restrict it. The alarming treatment of Karen Lema and Manuel Mogato by some members of the public should not be tolerated, because it only breeds mistrust and division at a time when the country is undergoing significant changes, some of them stressful changes, and needs greater unity.