Philippines Settles Low At 134th Place In World Press Freedom Index

Maria Ressa
Rappler CEO and Executive Editor Maria Ressa is escorted by police after posting bail in Pasig Regional Trial Court in Pasig City, Philippines, March 29, 2019. (Photo: REUTERS/Eloisa Lopez )

The Philippines slumped one notch lower in this year's World Press Freedom Index as produced by international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The agency cited continued attacks to local media as a contributing factor to the low ranking.

Last year, the Philippines was ranked 133rd - a significant six-notch drop from the previous year's rank of 127th. This year, the Asian country garnered a score of 43.91 amid President Rodrigo Duterte's warning shortly after he took office that journalists are "not exempted from assassination."

Earlier this week, reports on Duterte's family wealth were released to the public. In response to the alleged increase of his family's income, while sitting in the office, Duterte referred to Filipino journalists as "beggars," adding that local reporters who released reports on his family's wealth were "all paid."

In its report on this year's World Press Freedom Index, the RSF said the Philippine government "has developed several ways to pressure journalists who dare to be overly critical of the summary methods adopted by 'Punisher' Duterte and his notorious 'war on drugs.'"

Among the local outlets that the Philippine chief has thrown tirades at are broadcast behemoth ABS-CBN, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and Rappler. The latter's CEO and editor, Maria Ressa, has been arrested twice in just two months and her online news outlet is currently faced with 11 court cases.

RSF referred to Ressa's arrest as a form of "judicial harassment" by the Philippine government. The Malacanang Palace has since dismissed accusations that it harassed Rappler and its CEO.

Despite having to bail eight times to walk free, Ressa joined the prestigious ranks of TIME Magazine's most influential people this year. The TIME tribute was penned by former U.S. Secretary of State, Madeleine Albright.

The U.S. magazine's influential people list includes global leaders such as the 93-year-old Malaysian Prime Minister, Chinese President Xi Jinping, American President Donald Trump, and music icons Lady Gaga and Taylor Swift.

Meanwhile, Norway bagged the top spot in RSF's 180-country index, with Finland following close behind. Sweden, Netherlands, and Denmark took the third, fourth, and fifth places respectively while Malaysia jumped 22 places higher. Malaysia is now on the 123rd spot as freedom of reporting is said to have improved greatly over the last few years.

The organization attributed Malaysia's significant press freedom improvements to Prime Minister Tun Dr. Mahathir Mohamad's efforts in transforming the media environment ever since he took office.

Second, to the last on the index is North Korea while Turkmenistan finished last. The full list of rankings can be found here.

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