By TISA NACIONAL
NAGA CITY — International media organizations are appalled over the National Telecommunications Commission’s order blocking online access to Bulatlat and fellow alternative news Pinoy Weekly, which the Philippine government accused of having terror links.
“Blocking access to independent media organisations under the justification of alleged terrorist affiliations is a clear attempt at censorship and media control,” said the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), the world’s largest organization of journalists, adding that the Philippine government must immediately restore access to all media sites affected by the blocking order.
On June 8, the NTC ordered all internet service providers to block their respective users from accessing Bulatlat and 26 other websites following the supposed “request” of the National Security Council. In the said letter request, the security council cited resolutions of the Anti-Terrorism Council(ATC) designating several groups and individuals as terrorists.
Critics have earlier argued that the controversial terror law has no provisions allowing blocking or taking down of a website.
“Press freedom and freedom of expression are rights guaranteed in the constitution of the Philippines and under international human rights law. They must be protected,” the IFJ said in its statement.
In his statement, Deputy Asia Director of Human Rights Watch Phil Robertson slammed the Philippine government for its red-tagging and harassment of journalists and activists, calling the NTC memorandum a “brazen attempt” at censoring progressive groups and the media.
“What’s astonishing is how easily the government escalates its defamatory rhetoric, moving from red-tagging them to classifying them as terrorists, in effect terrorist-tagging them,” Robertson added.
Since the memorandum’s publication, the National Security Council (NSC), which requested the NTC memorandum, has not yet been able to provide evidence to back up its allegations that the groups in its list, including news organizations, were affiliated with terrorist organizations.
Robertson urged both the Philippine Senate and the House of Representatives to review the Anti-Terrorism law, which he said allowed the NSC to do this.
Both Bulatlat and Pinoy Weekly have been subjected to unabated red-tagging over the years. They were also among the news websites targeted by massive cyber-attacks since 2018.
Last year, a wave of cyber-attacks against Bulatlat was traced to the Philippine Army.
Stand in solidarity
The Philippine chapter of the International Association of Women in Radio and Television – Philippines (IAWRT) also stood in solidarity with the independent media following the NTC directive and called this latest attack “appalling.”
“The recent blocking is carrying red-tagging to another level of recklessness and irresponsibility that brutally attacks press freedom and the right of the public to know,” the group said in its statement.
“This recent attempt at muzzling the independent press, carried out in blitzkrieg fashion, has only resulted in media people holding each other’s back in defense of press freedom and gaining broader support from the public,” it added.
The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (FOCAP) also expressed its concern over the memorandum and its constitutional violation of the right to freedom of expression.
“Actions taken by government agencies to censure independent media that comprise the country’s diverse and vibrant Fourth Estate is lamentable. Attempts to control narratives and suppress criticism of government policies violate democratic principles,” said FOCAP in its statement.
Bulatlat’s wire partner Progressive International also condemned the memorandum and called it an attempt to “muzzle PI Wire partner and tireless voice of the people, Bulatlat.”
As of Friday, June 24, 2022, Bulatlat remains inaccessible to users of Globe, Smart, Converge, and other internet service providers. Readers may access its mirror site here. (JJE, RVO)