Manila, Philippines – Journalists warn the brand new administration of Philippine President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr is about to take the identical exhausting line in opposition to media critics as his predecessor Rodrigo Duterte, after assaults on press freedom grew through the transition of presidential energy.
In June, greater than two dozen websites had been blocked and accused of getting hyperlinks to “Communist-Terrorist Teams”. Two media organisations had been amongst these focused by the Nationwide Telecommunications Fee (NTC) – impartial information web site Pinoy Weekly, and Bulatlat, the nation’s longest-running on-line publication.
The identical month, the Securities and Trade Fee (SEC) upheld its ruling to revoke the working licence of Rappler, the Philippines’ hottest information web site.
Duterte’s Nationwide Safety Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr cited resolutions from the Anti-Terror Council that designate the Communist Occasion of the Philippines as “terrorists” to crack down on the websites.
However Ronalyn Olea, secretary-general of the Nationwide Union of Journalists of the Philippines and the managing editor of Bulatlat, says the publication has no such hyperlinks.
“This has nothing to do with Bulatlat,” Olea advised Al Jazeera. “He’s simply making an attempt to censor our organisation as a result of we’re telling the reality about authorities.”
This month, Bulatlat received a preliminary injunction in opposition to the order and the NTC was advised to cease blocking the location.
“Beneath Duterte, press freedom was systematically attacked as punishment to these the regime didn’t like and as a warning to others. There are not any indicators this coverage will change with the brand new administration,” stated Luis V Teodoro, veteran journalist and Heart for Media Freedom and Accountability (CMFR) trustee.
In the direction of the top of his time period, Duterte admitted to shutting down ABS-CBN, the Philippines’ greatest broadcaster, due to its unfavourable protection of his administration. Rappler, which was based by veteran journalist Maria Ressa, is going through quite a lot of courtroom circumstances, as does Ressa herself.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate was discovered responsible of “cyber-libel” final yr in a choice that was seen as a blow to press freedom. The next courtroom upheld that verdict final month.
Rappler’s Government Editor Glenda Gloria says the web site’s employees had “survived” the six years of Duterte, and remained “hopeful that the circumstances in opposition to us will ultimately be dismissed. A major chunk of Philippine society is aware of the worth of impartial media.”
Since 2018, Bulatlat has been the goal of distributed denial of service assaults (DDoS) throughout which hackers attempt to crash a web site by overloading its servers. The final incident occurred in Might 2021.
An investigation by Swedish digital forensics group Qurium Media Basis discovered that the IP addresses of the hackers belonged to the Philippine Military, with infrastructure arrange by the Division of Science and Expertise. In September 2021, the Division of Data and Communications corroborated Qurium’s findings. The military has denied any wrongdoing, saying it was solely visiting the information websites.
Vloggers within the palace
When Bulatlat was blocked, Qurium helped arrange a mirror web site replicating all of Bulatlat’s content material on a unique URL.
The location’s legal professionals received an injunction in opposition to the NTC after arguing that no regulation within the Philippines permits for the state to provoke an internet takedown.
In response to the courtroom’s resolution, the ruling takes impact as soon as Bulatlat comes up with a money bond of 100,000 Philippine pesos ($1,787) “which is able to reply for the damages the defendants (NTC) would endure because of the injunction ought to or not it’s confirmed that the information outlet is just not entitled to it”.
Olea hopes the latest win will likely be upheld and ultimately set a precedent for different media shops beneath stress.
She attributed the choice to “the assist from fellow journalists, readers and varied organisations,” however conceded that the political local weather within the nation stays geared in direction of “state-sponsored censorship”.
Amid the challenges confronted by impartial media, Marcos Jr’s authorities is looking for to advertise a brand new kind of media, one which closely supported it through the elections: vloggers.
In recent times, video content material creators have emerged as a significant political pressure in shaping public opinion within the Philippines. Teodoro says some vloggers – even with out formal coaching – adhere to journalistic requirements by “reporting what’s truly occurring,” however warns many others are simply “spreaders of disinformation”.
In one in all her first bulletins as presidential press secretary, Trixie Cruz-Angeles stated the brand new administration supposed to permit vloggers to report from the presidential palace. Cruz-Angeles stated the transfer was a part of “opening up discourse and problems with misinformation”.
However whereas the transfer would possibly recommend a democratisation of the circulation of knowledge, Olea is sceptical. “We wish larger entry for the general public. However most of the vloggers we noticed through the election solely flooded the web with lies,” she stated.
She known as the federal government’s transfer a “two-pronged strategy. On the one hand, they discredit reliable sources of knowledge. On the opposite, they open the door for trolls. The target is to drown the general public with lies and for his or her narratives to reign supreme.”
Cruz-Angeles, who herself made her identify by social media, advised reporters final month that the variety of followers and engagements will likely be a consider figuring out which vloggers are allowed into press briefings with the president. Her workplace says the ultimate pointers for vlogger accreditation are nonetheless being drafted.
“Followers doesn’t imply a lot. It doesn’t have something to do with truth-telling. The query is, which vloggers will they accredit, those that have been telling the reality or those that unfold disinformation?” requested Teodoro.
Concurrently the administration considers accreditation for vloggers, it’s nonetheless deciding whether or not skilled journalists will likely be welcome.
Duterte banned two Rappler reporters from the presidential palace in 2018. Marcos Jr’s group has nonetheless to substantiate whether or not they are going to be allowed again.
“We’ll have to check out the prevailing coverage first and decide then decide later as to how acceptable they’re for the present occasions. We’ll have to attend and see.”
Influencer Cocky Rocky, who has a background as a trainer of classical arts and literature, backs the brand new administration’s plans to ask vloggers to the palace press briefings.
His profession in content material creation took off through the Duterte presidency – first with memes after which movies.
The self-described “Marcos loyalist” saw his popularity explode during the 2022 election campaign when he posted a video on TikTok attacking Leni Robredo, Marcos Jr’s opponent.
“I know I translate well on video and I have a theatre background. So I dressed up with my hat and put on a costume. I made an Anti-Leni Robredo ad. It was fun,“ he said.
In addition to his TikTok fame, Rocky manages multiple pages and accounts on platforms such as Facebook.
Like many of the new president’s supporters, he claims that established media are deliberately publishing slanted reports, which heighten distrust.
“We have a preconceived bias that you will be unfair and rude,” he said.
Rocky insists the legal cases have not prevented professional journalists, including newspapers such as the Inquirer and PhilStar, from reporting.
But he says it is unlikely he will join them at the presidential palace.
“I am a propagandist, I’m not a news person,” he told Al Jazeera. “I can do it, but it turns me off.”
In the meantime, regardless of closure orders, Rappler stays unbowed; its reporters masking key points from politics to well being.
The group has requested the Courtroom of Appeals to reverse the SEC resolution and is ready to take its case to the nation’s highest courtroom if crucial.
“We see an extended authorized battle forward,” Gloria advised Al Jazeera. She factors to the web site’s repute for offering journalism that may be a “fixed supply of assist within the darkest of occasions. We’re right here for the lengthy haul.”