Author Archives: Melanie Pinlac, CMFR (Philippines)

Defend and support press freedom

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Endless possibilities: advocacy and information campaigns online

The increasing number of social media users has made blogging, microblogging, and social networking online an integral part of information and propaganda campaigns around the world. The Internet has been an effective platform for increasing the reach of advocacy campaigns initiated by the press and by civil society organizations.The recent national elections in the Philippines is a good example.

The May 2010 national elections were the first fully automated national elections in the Philippines. After years of planning, the automation of the elections was finally implemented. But the government failed to supplement the automation process with a strong and effective information drive. As in past elections, the press and members of civil society organizations had to step in to ensure the integrity of the electoral process through their own voters’ education campaign.

Because millions of Filipinos go online daily, many news organizations and election advocates decided to integrate online and social media tools into their voters’ education campaigns.

The press and civil society organizations created blogs and social networking pages solely dedicated to the national elections. Profiles of candidates were posted online, providing the electorate the opportunity to scrutinize how the future president, vice-president, and senators had dealt with public policy issues in the past. Other online news sites contained interactive guides on how the voting machines worked. Interactive maps were also used to those areas, known in the Philippines as election hotspots, where violence and fraud were likely.

The two biggest television stations based in Manila also asked viewers to upload or post reports online on any election-related incident they may encounter in their communities, which they described as a form of citizen journalism. (The broadcast companies hired professional editors and journalists to vet the reports from viewers and netizens.) Many “citizen journalists” provided the broadcast companies photos and videos of electoral fraud and election-related violence in their localities. (For more information on how the Philippine press covered the 2010 national elections, please visit CMFR’s Media and Elections microsite.)

Bloggers in the Philippines also put up their own sites like Blog Watch (http://www.blogwatch.ph/) and 100Araw (http://www.100araw.com) in time for the elections. This was a way of supplementing the work of mainstream media, people behind these initiatives said. Bloggers were also accredited by the Philippine Commission on Elections so they could cover election-related events with journalists.

Even candidates–from the presidential down to the village council level–used Facebook and Twitter to broadcast their political platforms and advocacy.

These are just a few examples of how interest groups, like members of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX), can utilize online media and social networking tools in their advocacy campaigns. The ways an organization can utilize online tools in the advocacy campaigns seem endless. Whether in the form of maps, graphs or animation, the important thing is that the tools an organization will use must effectively communicate the message so as to move citizens to action.

Fighting Impunity

GETTING JUSTICE for the victims of journalist killings, extra-judicial killings and human rights violations has been a difficult task in countries like the Philippines despite the existence of an allegedly vibrant press community and civil society.

With the continuing problems resulting from impunity—the inability of the state to punish  killers and criminals and the weakness of the  rule of law, the fight for justice led by press freedom advocacy groups and human rights organizations has moved at a snail’s pace.  The few murder cases filed against the killers of journalists in the Philippines have taken at least a year to resolve resolution.

Despite the reforms initiated by Chief Justice Reynato Puno to restore the court’s integrity and eradicate impunity, many powerful personalities involved in the cases of media harassment and journalist killings continue to take advantage of the sorry state of the Philippine judiciary—its minute budget, its overworked staff, its clogged dockets, its poor archival system, its dependence on testimonial evidence, et cetera.

Journalists and press freedom advocates called on the government to put a stop to the killings during the Global Day of Action against Impunity last 9 December 2009. (Melanie Pinlac/CMFR)

These same circumstances are true of other countries too. Regardless of a country’s economic power or its geography, an ineffectual judicial system—and the culture of impunity that it helps create—inevitably leads to the  degradation of democracy and press freedom.

Free expression advocates, journalists and human rights defenders around the world have  proposed a number of measures  to counter  impunity and have not been short of ideas on how to promote justice and the rule of law. The continuing exchange among concerned groups has also helped build a worldwide counter-impunity network.

In the Philippines, the counter-impunity campaign involves initiatives to reform the problematic criminal justice system. Press freedom advocates and legal experts have proposed the amendment of the Revised Penal Code and the Rules of Court; modifying the witness protection program law; training forensics experts and police investigators; and reviewing the prosecutorial system. This is an ongoing campaign that hopefully can bear fruit under the new administration in which some media practitioners have assumed critical posts.

This May 31, press freedom advocates and media practitioners involved in the counter-impunity campaign will again gather at the general meeting and strategy conference of the International Freedom of Expression eXchange (IFEX). Emerging trends in the continuing attack against press freedom and free expression worldwide will be discussed and analyzed. And, hopefully, new campaign strategies that will strengthen the counter-impunity campaign can be developed.