By Corina Oliquino i FilAm Star Correspondent

The Philippines has slipped a spot on the World Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières, RSF), from 2018’s 133rd to 134th this year after scoring 43.91.

The Paris-based watchdog has cited a string of legal cases and “online harassment campaigns against news website Rappler and its CEO Maria Ressa and President Rodrigo Duterte’s Government’s attacks against the press and their accompanying coordinated cyberattacks.”

RSF has labelled the prosecution against Rappler a “grotesque judicial harassment campaign,” with Ressa’s company facing separate cases for tax evasion, cyber libel, and violation of the Anti-Dummy Law, as well as allegations of illegal foreign ownership.

“Pro-Duterte troll armies”
In a report by GMA News, RSF noted that the armies did not only target Rapp;er, but also “launched cyberattacks against alternative news websites such as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines to block them.”

Moreover, the watchdog said the murders of three Filipino journalists this year were “most likely by agents working for local politicians, who can have reporters silenced with complete impunity,” claiming the Government has developed “several ways to pressure journalists critical of the president’s war on drugs.

“In response to all these attacks, the Philippine independent media have rallied to the call to ‘Hold the line,’” the report noted.

The GMA News report also cited a recent mission by New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists which found increasing levels of intimidation and a “shrinking space for the country’s free press.”

Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo claimed the Philippines had been removed from the RSF’s list of deadliest countries for media workers last year, despite the watchdog describing in 2018 the country as one of the world’s deadliest countries for bloggers and journalists.

Hatred of journalists by populist and authoritarian leaders
In another report by GMA News, RSF noted that the number of countries journalists can work safely is plummeting as “hatred of journalists stirred by populist or authoritarian leaders denigrate into violence across the world.”

“Political leaders’ hostility towards the media has incited increasingly frequent acts of violence that have fueled an unprecedented level of fear and danger for journalists,” the report noted.

“If the political debate slides towards a civil war-style atmosphere, where journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” RSF chief Christophe Deloire said.

The report also noted that the period since President Donald Trump’s election in 2016 “has been one of the American journalism community’s darkest moments,” citing the president’s notorious anti-press rhetoric with terrifying harassment aimed at women and journalists of color.

Press freedom was in good health in less than quarter of the 180 countries covered by the index, with the United States sliding to 48th place.

“Hatred of the media is now such that a gunman walked into the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, in June and killed four journalists and one other staff member,” the report said, noting the rising tide of strongman leaders no longer seem to know any limits, citing the murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul.