rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

Protecting journalists is a balancing act between dictums and dictators

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca for as little as $5 per month!

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte giving a speech in 2016 (Image: Wikimedia Commons)

The Philippines is facing another crackdown on media freedoms. 

On June 15, 2020, a court in the capital Manila, convicted former CNN journalist Maria Ressa and former Rappler writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. of cyber libel for publishing an article that implicated a prominent businessman who was allegedly involved in human trafficking and drug smuggling. 

The article was published before the cyber libel law was enacted, prompting rights activists to label the charges as another attack by the administration of President Rodrigo Duterte on press freedom and critical reporting. 

The case has been seen as a test of the country's media freedom. It is also a test of the independence of the judiciary. 

Rappler describes itself as "a social news network where stories inspire community engagement and digitally fuelled actions for social change." Ressa co-founded the website in 2012, and is its CEO and executive editor. Rappler's coverage of the state's crackdown on illegal narcotics, which has left thousands of suspected petty drug peddlers dead, soon attracted the wrath of Duterte.  

Since 2018, Rappler and Ressa have been charged 11 times, with cases ranging from alleged tax violations to corporate foreign control. Ressa has said that the multiple legal proceedings and arrests are all part of an official attempt to shut Rappler down.  

Other news outlets critical of Duterte are also facing similar pressures. In 2017, Duterte also accused the Philippine Daily Inquirer of tax evasion. Last May, broadcast giant ABS-CBN was forced to shut down after the Philippine congress failed to renew its franchise.  

The scene is reminiscent of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, who in 1972 declared martial law, closed down all newspapers and broadcast stations and put dozens of journalists in jail. When the presses and broadcast networks reopened, they were all owned by Marcos kin and cronies and were censored by the presidential palace.  

Duterte is said to be an admirer of Marcos, but he is using a 21st century strategy to control the media. It consists of flooding information spaces with disinformation and fake news while attacking legitimate purveyors of news. 

Many institutions are working to create free and safe environments for journalists and media workers with a view to strengthening peace, democracy and development. Unfortunately, leaders both North and South are actively challenging media freedom. Many of the journalists killed in the past decade (e.g. in Mexico) were local journalists targeted for covering conflict, corruption or gang violence in local communities. 

In response to what it described as a "politically motivated persecution" of Ressa and attacks on journalists worldwide, the Canadian Committee for World Press Freedom has urged Ottawa to "use its leadership role" to champion the need for international sanctions to protect media rights. It noted that such sanctions were proposed in a report by the first Global Conference for Media Freedom, co-hosted last year by the governments of Canada and the United Kingdom.  

"The government should hold up the Philippines as an example of where such sanctions would apply, while assessing what measures Canada could impose unilaterally to indicate its opposition to Ressa's prosecution," said World Press Freedom Canada President Shawn McCarthy. "If Canada is serious about taking a leadership role in the world, it is not enough for Ottawa to mouth platitudes on the importance of press freedom to democracy without sending a firm signal of our displeasure to offending regimes."

McCarthy also urged Ottawa to raise Ressa's case at the G7 summit in Washington, currently scheduled for September, and at the United Nations. 

Civil society has a responsibility to advocate for greater protection and zero impunity for attacks on journalists. Sadly, the Philippines is just the latest country where power and corruption are ruling the day.

Philip Lee is WACC general secretary and editor of its international journal Media Development. His edited publications include The Democratization of Communication (1995), Many Voices, One Vision: The Right to Communicate in Practice (2004); Communicating Peace: Entertaining Angels Unawares (2008); and Public Memory, Public Media, and the Politics of Justice (ed. with Pradip N. Thomas) (2012). WACC Global is an international NGO that promotes communication as a basic human right, essential to people's dignity and community. The article originally appeared on the WACC blog.

Image: Wikimedia Commons

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.