World Press Freedom Day was bittersweet for the Philippines, according to the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) who again called for reform to the country’s libel laws, which are so often used to silence critical reporting of the Arroyo administration.
According to IFJ affiliate the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), the president’s husband Jose Miguel “Mike” Arroyo’s multiple libel suits against 46 journalists were withdrawn.
Mr Arroyo reportedly ordered his lawyer to withdraw the cases after he was released from three weeks in hospital for heart problems. Mr Arroyo had instigated the libel claims over three years, in response to media criticism of corruption in the 2004 election.
IFJ President Christopher Warren said that while Mr Arroyo’s backflip was a welcome relief, the defamation suits should never have been filed.
“There will be 46 relieved journalists in the Philippines today, but credit is due not to Mr Arroyo, but to the strong and defiant journalists who stood up to his legal intimidation,” Warren said.
“Yesterday we celebrated World Press Freedom Day, and in that spirit we must recognise both the strength of the Philippines’ media, and the irrelevant antiquated laws that allow their own government to oppress them,” said the president of the IFJ, the organisation representing more than 500,000 journalists in over 115 countries.
The IFJ joins the NUJP in challenging President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo show she is serious about press freedom by passing laws to decriminalise libel.
“This is the perfect opportunity for President Arroyo to turn the tide of press freedom violations and human rights abuses,” Warren said.
“With their history of atrocities, the Philippines government does not deserve a blank slate; but making libel part of the civil code would be an excellent way to begin redeeming themselves on the world stage.”
Fifty-one journalists have been killed in the Philippines over the course of Arroyo’s regime, making the Philippines second only to Iraq as the world’s most dangerous country for journalists.
For further information contact IFJ Asia-Pacific on +61 2 9333 0919
The IFJ represents over 500,000 journalists in more than 115 countries.