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UNESCO cites Phl positive steps for protection of journalists

The Philippines has taken “positive steps” in protecting journalists, the 2021-2022 “World Trends in Freedom of Expression and Media Development Global Report” released recently by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO).

Undersecretary Joel Sy Egco, Executive Director of the Presidential Task Force on Media Security (PTFoMS), ib welcoming what he called “a comprehensive and impartial report” said this is “proof of the real commitment of the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte to safeguard press freedom in the country through the PTFoMS.”

The UNESCO Global Report highlighted the Philippines as among the very few countries in the world that have undertaken “good practices and positive measures” in the safety of journalists, Egco said.

The official said that the UNESCO report took note of the concrete measures undertaken by Duterte administration through the PTFoMS, such as “establishing and implementing stronger protection, prosecution, prevention, and reporting measures to enhance the safety of journalists,” “implementing national and subnational monitoring mechanisms for the safety of journalists,” and “improving reporting mechanisms, sensitizing and building the capacity of the law enforcement system, and creating extensive policy frameworks at the national level are all important steps for promoting the safety of journalists.”

The UNESCO report also cited the establishment by the Philippine government of “a special task force for the safety of journalists.” Because of the creation of PTFoMS, there is now a “special reporting mechanisms for journalists, such as hotlines” in the Philippines as mentioned in the report which media workers in danger can directly contact 24/7, Egco added.

Presidential Communications Operations Office Secretary Martin Andanar, co-chair of PTFoMS said that “This is a validation of the tangible efforts of the government through the PTFoMS in protecting media workers in the country amid the pandemic. Rest assured that the Duterte administration will always uphold press freedom, especially in the upcoming elections.”

The Philippines is believed to be the first country in the world to establish a government body devoted exclusively to media security. On October 11, 2016, President Duterte created PTFoMS by virtue of Administrative Order No. 1 to establish an inter-agency task force with the goal of protecting the life, liberty and security of media workers. Task forces have now been set up by other countries to protect journalists, according to the UNESCO report.

Egco said that despite the rhetoric of some groups critical of President Duterte, UNESCO’s report shows that the government has made tremendous strides in protecting journalists in the country, adding that “What President Duterte has started in PTFoMS is now being copied and imitated in various parts of the world.”

Although not mentioned in the report, the PTFoMS has been conducting intensive capacity building for the safety of journalists. Last year, it has successfully concluded a series of regional webinars aimed at protecting journalists during their coverage of the pandemic and the upcoming elections, with CNN’s Dr. Freddie Gomez and veteran journalist Joe Torres as resource persons.

This year, the Task Force strengthened its capacity to protect media workers with the formal launching of the Media Security Vanguards composed of the Public Information Officers of the Philippine National Police. Egco said that the vanguards serve as the “first line of defense” of journalists all over the country as they are the first to receive and respond to all threats leveled against any media worker.

The PTfoMS also spearheaded the first-ever Philippine Summit on Online Media Security on January 28, 2022, dubbed as a “crucial milestone in the history of Philippines journalism,” with the support from various media organizations, such as the National Press Club of the Philippines (NPC), the Kapisanan ng Mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) and the Philippine Online Broadcasters Association or POBA.

Last March 3, 2022, the PTFoMS organized the first Cyber Security Forum for Media Practitioners in cooperation with security experts from various law-enforcement and government agencies. Egco stated that the forum was very successful as it was attended by more than 400 media practitioners from all over the country.

While UNESCO noted that “approximately 85 percent of the world’s population experienced a decline in press freedom in their country over the past five years,” Egco emphasized that the Philippine media remains free, independent and pluralistic as ever under the Duterte administration.

He pointed out that the PTFoMS continues to actively engage with the international community in the promotion of press freedom and safety of journalists. Needless to state, Egco said that the PTFoMS will continue to remain proactive, unwavering and relentless in its mandate to defend press freedom in the Philippines.

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