CJFE criticises government pressure on newspapers in the Philippines

Tuesday, July 27, 1999

CJFE criticises government pressure on newspapers in the Philippines

27 July 1999

His Excellency Joseph Ejercito Estrada
President of the Republic of the Philippines
Office of the President
Malacanang Palace
Manila, Philippines
Fax: +63 2 735 6152

Your Excellency,

On behalf of Canadian Journalists for Free Expression (CJFE), a non-governmental organisation that promotes freedom of expression worldwide, I would like to express my serious concern over the ongoing advertising boycott of the “Philippine Daily Inquirer,” one of the Philippines’ top newspapers. Persistent evidence indicates that the boycott may have been instigated at the urging of President Estrada’s office.

Open criticism of the “Inquirer” by the President has recently prompted many large private and government-run corporations to withdraw their advertising from the “Inquirer”, despite the fact that the newspaper is the largest-circulation daily in the country. The president criticises the paper, contending that the “Inquirer” publishes only negative stories about him - a charge the “Inquirer” denies.

Movie producers - whose ads constitute an important segment of the newspaper’s revenue base - have stated in the local international press that they withdrew their advertisements from the “Inquirer” as a “gesture of sympathy” for the President. The pullout came after a group of producers met with the President to request a tax break for their industry. The President’s spokesperson has since announced that the tax breaks have been approved. It is suspected that the advertisements were pulled out of the “Inquirer” in exchange for the tax incentives.

This is but one example of how the government has exerted its undue influence to affect the ownership or editorial integrity of the media in the Philippines. Such abuse of power works to undermine the guarantees set forth in Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which establishes the right to free expression “without interference”.

The strength of the free press in the Philippines has been the envy of journalists throughout the region, and the preservation of this tradition is crucial to maintaining the health of any democracy. Even the appearance of governmental interference with the media can have a profoundly chilling effect on the state of press freedom in the country.

I respectfully request that the President publicly urge an end to the advertising boycott of the “Inquirer” and disavow any support for such a strategy of harassment.

Sincerely,

Wayne Sharpe
Executive Director

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