Journalism under digital siege, foreign envoys warn

Foreign envoys yesterday expressed concern that journalism is under digital siege, warning about the amplified impact of misinformation and disinformation in the Philippines, in a statement released on World Press Freedom Day.

The envoys, composed of Ambassadors Anke Reiffenstuel (Germany), Peter MacArthur (Canada), Laure Beaufils (United Kingdom), Jana Šedivá (Czech Repubic), Grete Sillasen (Denmark), Bjørn Staurset Jahnsen (Norway), Jorge Moragas (Spain), Annika Thunborg (Sweden), Alain Gaschen (Switzerland), Luc Véron (European Union) and Charge d’Affaires Pieter Terpstra (the Netherlands) signed an article reflecting on the importance of press freedom.

The diplomats said that World Press Freedom Day, celebrated every May 3, is a timely opportunity for reflection on the crucial importance of media freedoms and the vital role of journalists in democracies.

This year’s World Press Freedom Day theme, “Journalism under digital siege,” spotlights the multiple ways in which journalism is endangered by surveillance and digitally-mediated attacks on journalists and the consequences of all this on public trust in digital communications.

“The readiness of malign actors, including some states, to suppress media freedom and weaponize misinformation and disinformation, and to use digital tools to influence, harass and suppress citizens should be a source of concern for all,” they said.

The group said a brief survey of the global landscape illustrates the urgency for action, referring to a report from the Committee to Protect Journalists that recorded at least 27 journalists killed over their work in 2021 alone, including two in the Philippines.

“Authoritarian regimes have redoubled efforts to control narratives, as well as circumvent norms and institutions meant to uphold fundamental liberties,” they said.

“Much of this occurs in the digital domain, where malign actors have leveraged social media tools to flood feeds and inboxes with misinformation and disinformation, to undermine public confidence in democratic institutions and to subvert democratic processes,” the diplomats said, noting that the “rights to freedom of opinion and expression too are under pressure.”

The Philippines, according to the diplomats, is “no stranger to the misinformation and disinformation phenomena.”

Since as early as 2010, academics and experts have been tracking its explosive growth in the Philippines.

They said that World Press Freedom Day – celebrated just 6 days before millions of Filipinos will go to the polls – is auspicious and provides opportunity for reflection.

The 2022 elections, the diplomats said, are unprecedented as they take place during the COVID-19 pandemic, a time when there is an even greater need to protect and promote the crucial role of independent media.

Despite the challenges, the diplomats highlighted the growing civic awareness and the vibrant and dynamic civil society found across the Philippines offer hope.

Forums like the Media Freedom Coalition, Freedom Online Coalition, the G7 and the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance are part of efforts to support media freedom, reinforce democracy and combat misinformation/ disinformation are being pursued, in close partnership with government, media networks, advocacy groups, NGOs, academe and the private sector, the group said.

They stressed that these efforts contribute to improve fact-checking, build civic literacy, build capacity of media and democratic institutions, combat corruption, enhance transparency and ensure accountability.

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