PH dips in 2018 World Press Freedom Index ranking

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 25) — The Philippines' rating in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index fell following controversial decisions against media entities, citing the killing of four journalists last year and the revocation of Rappler's business permit.

According to media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (or RSF for  Reporters Sans Frontieres), the Philippines ranked 133rd among  180 countries assessed for media freedom, with a score of 42.53.

This is six notches lower than the country's ranking in 2017, when it got a 41.08 grade and placed 127th. The global score is scaled from zero to 100, with zero as highest possible score.

READ: PH rises in world press freedom index rankings

RSF said the Philippines was Asia's deadliest country in 2017, when four of five journalists "targeted by gunmen" where killed.

A tracker by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) listed three media personalities killed last year. These were Christopher Iban Lozada, a radio broadcaster from Bislig, Surigao del Sur whose shooting was connected to the city mayor; Leo Diaz, a tabloid columnist shot dead in Batangas; and Joaquin Briones, a radio commentator and columnist who was gunned down in Masbate.

The RSF said that although President Rodrigo Duterte created a task force on media security in 2016 to address media killings, his administration used several methods to pressure and silence journalists who criticized his anti-illegal drug campaign.

It cited online media company Rappler, which faces cases from several government agencies, most notably, the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

The SEC revoked Rappler's business license in January, saying the media outfit had engaged in fraud and circumvented the Constitutional provision on foreign ownership by failing to disclose over $1 million (around ₱50 million) in investments by U.S.-based Omidyar Network.

This decision led to the barring of Rappler's Malacañang reporter from Palace grounds and covering the President, a move widely-regarded as a violation of press freedom.

Duterte denied having a hand in the SEC decision,  saying that the decision was not an issue of press freedom, but abuse of power on the part of Rappler's owners.

"We never had a hand and I don't give a s*** if you continue or not continue with your network...Those people who have been attacking us below the belt...He who comes to equity must come with clean hands...if you're trying to throw garbage at us the least we can do to explain is (ask) how about you?! Are you also clean?" Duterte had demanded.

The President had also attacked the broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer and local television network ABS-CBN for alleged biased coverage of his administration.

But Presidential Spokesperson Harry Roque repeatedly said the administration was not against reporters critical of its policies.

"We will never prevent any media organization from practicing their profession. That is our firm commitment. We will never curtail the exercise of the freedom of the press, except access to the Palace is not part of the freedom of the press," he said in February.

The World Press Freedom Index serves an indicator of media freedom based on evaluations of pluralism, media independence, and respect for the safety and freedom of journalists.