The Freedom for Media Freedom for All (FMFA) coalition, in solidarity with the media community nationwide, condemns the death threats against VERA Files for fact-checking and countering disinformation. VERA Files is one of the internationally accredited groups for reviewing news stories posted on social media, particularly Facebook. It fact-checks and rates the accuracy of these stories.
FMFA includes the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), Philippine Press Institute (PPI), and MindaNews. The five NGOs have joined together to undertake campaigns and advocacy for media freedom, not just as a right of those working in the press but of all citizens in a democracy.
Sent through Facebook messenger by a certain “Melbert Abarquez,” the threats — accompanied by a photo of two men brandishing rifles — came after VERA Files published a fact check that belied Sen. Ronald dela Rosa’s claim that former President Duterte’s comments about killing police linked to the drug trade were only said out of frustration.
Some may see death threats as something that comes with the work of a journalist but these should not be ignored or normalized. FMFA notes the gravity of the challenge particularly during the Duterte regime when President Duterte publicly expressed his personal animosity against mainstream media.
Subsequently, his supporters, including troll armies, launched a coordinated disinformation campaign against journalists. Propaganda popularized the labels “presstitutes” and “bayaran” (bribed) to describe journalists on social media. These led to actual assaults, surveillance, harassment and intimidation as other government officials followed suit in their dealings with the media.
In a climate of violence, words threatening to kill become inciteful of actual actions. Such words heighten the impunity with which attacks and threats are hurled at journalists and media workers. CMFR and NUJP both monitor and report the increase of such actions against journalists around the country and the involvement of state agents or public officials in numerous cases.
President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has stated that “fake news” has no place in modern society. He has also expressed his intent to improve the low ranking of the Philippines in the World Press Freedom Index. He must back these actions with words and order the Philippine National Police, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Presidential Task Force on Media Security to work together to find out who are behind these threats.
FMFA calls on the media community to stand in solidarity with the victims of these attacks and threats. The attack on one is an attack on all. These threats weaken the media as an institution and as a community and erode the capacity of journalists to provide factual news that citizens need in a democracy.
Fellow media workers and allies of press freedom and journalist safety may co-sign the statement through this link