Journalists on meeting UN envoy Irene Khan: ‘No democracy when journalists are jailed, harassed, killed’
January 24, 2024

United Nations Special Rapporteur (UNSR) on freedom of expression and opinion Irene Khan’s first day in the Philippines yesterday, January 23, Tuesday, ended with separate meetings with various media groups and another with the Presidential Task Force on Media Security.

The latter is considered by much of the media community as one of the government’s red-tagging mechanisms, asserted Altermidya chairperson Raymund Villanueva. “We believe that last night’s dialogues have shown who are press freedom’s champions and who are its real enemies.”

“With her background as a veteran human rights defender, Ms Khan would surely see that when journalists are in jail with trumped up charges, when daughters and brothers still cry out for justice years after their kin have been gunned down, when thousands of media workers lose jobs because of vengeful government officials, when colonial era laws such as libel is utilized to harass truth tellers, and when critical and independent journalism is labelled as anti-government activities, claims of a ‘vibrant democracy’ are only far from the truth,” Villanueva explained.

Altermidya is among several media groups that submitted and presented evidence to Ms Khan about attacks on press freedom perpetuated by state officials. Media groups described to the UNSR the inordinate amount of time and resources that journalists spend in courts fending off criminal charges, website blocking orders, illegal confiscation of newspapers and other dangerous attacks.

During the dialogue, the media groups also highlighted the plight of community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio (the youngest journalist in jail in the world today), and expressed hope that Ms Khan’s visit to the Philippines would be instrumental to regaining Cumpio’s freedom.

“We believe that truth is all that she is here for. Ms Khan’s mandate is created for the respect of free expression and opinion, to serve the higher aspiration of the people’s right to information,” said Villanueva. “Any power that systematically derides mass media’s freedom and duty to exercise these freedoms does not know the meaning of a vibrant democracy.”

“As long as there are journalists in jail or are killed, media entities denied their right to exist, media workers who suddenly become jobless, government officials and agencies that malign critical journalism, increasing derision of the independent press by the State, there simply is no democracy.”

“We trust that last night’s discussions will help guide Ms Khan in reporting the real state of free expression and opinion in the Philippines,” Villanueva ended.#

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