By RAQUEL ALVAREZ
MANILA – An international group of women journalists launched a digital safety platform for their colleagues here in the Philippines as the 16-day campaign to end gender-based violence ended on Friday, International Human Rights Day.
The Digital Safe House provides women journalists with an online platform where cases of attacks, harassment, abuses, and other gender-based violence against them may be reported. It also links them to services they need such as legal and medical assistance, to name a few.
The launch of the online journalist safety project also coincided with veteran journalist Maria Ressa’s receipt of the Nobel Peace Prize, along with Russian journalist Dmitry Muratov, for their “courageous fight for freedom of expression” in the face of authoritarian governments.
“This project is being launched to the public in light of events that have been plaguing the country’s news industry for the last five years: journalist killings, arrests, red-tagging, filing of libel charges, to name a few,” said the Philippine chapter of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) in a statement.
Continuing attacks on Filipino journalists
The launch also took place a few days after the Supreme Court upheld the controversial Anti Terror Act of 2020, declaring only portions of two provisions as unconstitutional. Human rights lawyer Josalee Deinla of the National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers (NUPL) said the recent decision can pose challenges to journalists as the law may be used as a potent tool for repression.
Deinla cited the case of community journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio who was charged for terror financing, on top of illegal possession of firearms and explosives charges.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) pointed out that the systematic red-tagging of the NUJP, media outlets, and journalists has intensified in the past five years, “endangering the lives of members of the press toiling hard to keep the people informed.”
“Aside from being branded as enemies of the state, journalists have reported receiving threats telling them to stop being critical of the government or be silenced,” NUJP said in a statement.
Last week, at least 17 journalists and editors were charged with libel cases over their reportage on the Malampaya controversy. Veteran journalist Jesus Malabanan, who helped Reuters in its investigative report on Duterte’s “war on drugs,” was shot dead in Samar.
The Digital Safe House project manager and journalist Lady Ann Salem said the safety platform is important in light of the increasing risks among their colleagues.
On the same day that Salem was arrested on Dec. 10, 2020, IAWRT member in Afghanistan Malala Maiwand and her driver were killed during a coverage. IAWRT members, too, in Afghanistan needed to be evacuated after the Taliban took over, following the US pull out of their troops.
“In times of crisis when we are in a situation of uncertainty, the DSH will play a vital role. This is not just a concept for IAWRT, it is something of a need, something of urgency that we pushed to do so that we can help women journalists around the world,” said Salem.
She added that when IAWRT began in 1951, “it wanted to put women in leadership positions in media to ensure their safety but this is not the only problem of women journalists now, it is also the systematic targeted attacks that they need to face.”
During the launch, NUJP Chairperson Jonathan De Santos also pointed out that their study shows that 40 percent of Filipino women journalists have experienced online violence.
“Online threats have often stepped over to the offline world with online attacks often laying the premise for justifying further harassment attacks and arrests,” De Santos added.
The online platform was spearheaded by the international board of IAWRT together with the partnership of International Media Support (IMS) and the IAWRT Philippine Chapter.
Among their partners are National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, National Union of Peoples’ Lawyers, Foundation for Media Alternatives, Center for Community Journalism and Development, Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines, The Peace and Conflict Journalism Network, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Pilgrims for Peace, Promotion of Church People’s Response, and the Media Defence. (JJE, RVO)
Editor’s note: The Digital Safe House can be accessed through https://www.digitalsafehouseph.net/