, November 14, 2005
(STAR) By Paolo Romero - Malacañang strongly disputed yesterday a report by the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders that ranked the Philippines a poor 139th among 167 countries in the World Press Freedom Index, owing to the unusually high number of killings of journalists in the country.

Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye also continued the Palace offensive against the media, saying journalists should also learn to take criticism and not abuse their freedom.

"They (media) should also be not onion-skinned. It appears that some of them can only dish out but cannot take criticisms," Bunye said, disputing reports that the press is being suppressed in the Philippines.

"In fact our media enjoys so much freedom and one only has to read the daily headlines or switch on the prime time news on broadcast to know this," he said.

Bunye said the findings of Reporters without Borders or Reporters Sans Frontieres (RSF) based on its survey of 167 countries "do not hew to reality," particularly the organization’s conclusions that the unusually high killings of journalists indicate the suppression of press freedom.

He said authorities have not been remiss in their investigations into the journalists’ killings and several suspects have already been arrested in connection with the murders.

"It is unfortunate that journalists have been killed in the pursuit of their profession, but this has not in the least intimidated the rest of crusading and hard-hitting reporters," Bunye said. "These cases should not be reason to say that the press is being gagged in any manner."

The RSF compiled the World Press Freedom Index by asking its partner organizations and network of 130 correspondents, as well as journalists, researchers, legal experts and human rights activists, to answer 50 questions designed to assess a country’s level of press freedom.

The RSF ranking put the Philippines among the lowest 20 percent of the index and "betrays the growing occupational hazards being faced by Filipino journalists, particularly those in the provinces," according to Cebu Rep. Eduardo Gullas, whose family founded The STAR’s partner, The Freeman, one of the oldest newspapers in the province.

Gullas said the 2005 index was based on "press freedom infractions" that transpired between September 2004 and September this year alone. The infractions do not include human rights violations in general.

"The index measures the state of press freedom globally. The index reflects the degree of freedom journalists and news organizations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by states to respect and ensure respect for this freedom," he said, quoting RSF.

Gullas said the RSF’s 2005 country report on the Philippines recognized that Philippine authorities have achieved "significant progress" in their investigations of the murders of journalists, but also lamented that "impunity continues to undermine all efforts, encouraging killers and those who give them orders to commit further offenses."

The Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility previously noted that only two of the 54 most recent killings of Filipino journalists have been resolved by authorities in a manner that resulted in the criminal conviction of the culprits.

The 52 other cases were still being investigated either by the police or the prosecutor’s office, were pending in court or had been dismissed for lack of evidence.

The RSF country report listed five journalists killed in the Philippines this year as Edgar Amoro of Radio dxKP, Marlene Garcia Esperat of Midland Review, Klein Cantoneros of Radio dxAA, Philip Agustin of Starline Times Recorder and Rolando Morales of Radio dxMD.

The five Filipinos were among the 55 journalists killed worldwide this year, according to the RSF. The group also listed five media assistants killed, 111 journalists imprisoned and three media aides jailed this year.

In 2004, the RSF reported that six Filipinos were among the 53 journalists killed worldwide.

The RSF also listed at least 16 cases of Filipino journalists who were either "physically attacked or threatened" in 2004.

Based on the 2005 World Press Freedom Index, the 10 countries with the greatest press freedom, ranked from first to 10th, are Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, Switzerland, Slovakia, the Czech Republic and Slovenia.

The 10 countries with the poorest press freedom, ranked 158th to 167th, are Vietnam, China, Nepal, Cuba, Libya, Burma, Iran, Turkmenistan, Eritrea, and North Korea.

Iraq ranked 157th, immediately above Vietnam.

Chief News Editor: Sol Jose Vanzi

All rights reserved