Philippines: a need for safe and ethical coverage of election process

Nonoy Espina is the Chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP). He shares with us the challenges that threaten independent journalism in his country. The Philippines will hold general elections on 13 May, 2019. Data from the Commission on Elections has shown that 61 million voters have already registered. #WPFD2019

Nonoy Espina. Credit: IFJ.

The country has a poor track record when it comes to the protection of journalists. The arrests of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa, the impunity for perpetrators of Ampatuan massacres and cyber-attacks against independent media websites are examples of press freedom violations by the authorities.

 What are the main challenges that could impede free, pluralistic and independent journalism during the coming elections in your country?

 Thus far, there has been little indication that election-related violence, especially directed at media, could be a major concern in covering this year’s elections, although as Election Day draws near, the situation may swiftly change.

It is the general worsening of press freedom in the country, mainly because of the open hostility of government and its supporters towards independent media that is the largest stumbling block to unhampered coverage of the elections. As it is, major media groups, as well as international watchdogs, have noted spikes in the incidence of harassment and threats that resulted in increased self-censorship among journalists. This tends to detract greatly from the quality of coverage, both of the election process and of candidates, although shallow reporting has also been a perennial problem.

 What can media and journalists do to uphold ethical standards in covering elections?

 Corruption has always been a serious problem in the profession, many journalists earning barely enough to feed their families.

But aside from personal ethics, perhaps even more important is the question of ethical management and ownership. What if the owners or managers of media do not respect ethics or actually force journalists to commit unethical acts? Some media do not pay their staff regularly. Instead, reporters are required to seekadvertisements and earn from the commissions. Others might have politicians as “clients” or could even be owned by politicians.

It generally gets worse during elections, when campaign advertising starts to come in and news outlets often charge candidates for coverage and even interviews. This year has seen a particularly low point for media with even major broadsheets and online news sites posting press releases of specific candidates.

In such a situation, upholding ethics has become an increasingly uphill battle although many journalists have also succeeded in keeping their principles and professionalism.

 What policies and regulations should be adopted to protect freedom of the press and the public's right to objective reporting during the election process?

 We have always been weary of regulations or legislation related to media for fear government might use these as an opportunity to impose restrictions rather than protect freedom of the press and freedom of expression. All we ask for is that governments respect and protect these freedoms and ensure the safety and security not only of journalists but of all citizens.

 Is there any initiative taken by your union to support press freedom and journalists' safety ahead of elections?

We have some pressing safety concerns due to increased threatening and government intimidation of journalists. During our safety trainings we are also discussing election coverage.

For more information, please contact IFJ on +32 2 235 22 16

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