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Predators

The gallery of 37 “press freedom predators” published by Paris-based media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) included Philippine president Rodrigo Duterte, listing him among world leaders noted for trampling on press freedom by creating a censorship apparatus, jailing journalists arbitrarily, or inciting violence against them.

In its gallery, RSF pointed to what it said was “collusion at all levels within the state apparatus” in the Philippines, which afforded the president an “arsenal that he can use to wage ‘total war’ against journalists.”

“The executive has enormous power centered on the president. Judges who don’t toe the line are pushed aside. Congress tamely endorses all the president’s decisions,” the report read, calling a “total war against independent media” the president’s favored “predatory method.”

“Backed by most of the private sector, Duterte easily imposes his line on media outlets owned by businessmen that support him. Independent media outlets have assumed the role of opposition, with all the risks that this entails.”

RSF pointed to the buying of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and the shutdown of broadcast giant ABS-CBN Corp. as examples of this predatory behavior, saying that the president’s “favorite targets” were the “last sources of resistance.”

To be fair to Duterte, he isn’t alone in the list as more than a third of the heads of state on the list come from the Asia Pacific region. And of course his government continues to reject the notion of weakened press freedom in the country, asserting that press freedom is not only “alive and well” under his rule, but has even generally improved since 2009, especially after he came to office.

In a country where the fourth estate that needs constant defending gets attacked by apex predators instead, other freedoms are bound to be lost as well. The Philippines’ steady drop in the World Press Freedom Index and the inclusion of Duterte in the RSF gallery of global press freedom predators does not bode well for freedom in this country. Will the ones responsible do anything about this worrying trend, or have they been gobbled up by predators?*

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