The State Of Freedom Of Press Around The World

Feb 15, 2019
Originally published on February 15, 2019 9:42 pm
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

This week, Filipino authorities arrested the head of a news website critical of the Philippines government - again. Maria Ressa posted bail to avoid detention. It's her sixth time doing so, and her case has alarmed advocates for press freedom worldwide. One of them is here with me in the studio - Margaux Ewen. She's with the organization Reporters Without Borders. They published a yearly index of press freedom around the world. Welcome to the studio.

MARGAUX EWEN: Thanks for having me.

CORNISH: So tell us about Maria Ressa and about her news site. It's called Rappler.

EWEN: That's correct. It is an independent Manila-based news website that she is the editor of, and they are regularly uncovering allegations of corruption regarding Duterte and his government. And they have been repeatedly targeted, as you mentioned.

CORNISH: Right. I mean, she's been arrested multiple times. What is she accused of doing this time?

EWEN: So she is accused on a spurious libel charge in this instance. The article that was in question here is about alleged ties between a Philippine businessman and the then-president of the country's Supreme Court. It's an old article, as I mentioned, and these charges are related to a law that wasn't even in effect when the article was written.

CORNISH: So she's been accused of cyber libel over a report that's a couple of years old.

EWEN: Exactly.

CORNISH: Help us understand the atmosphere for reporters right now in the Philippines under Duterte.

EWEN: Well, there's repeated surveillance and harassment of journalists, draconian legislation and intimidating threats. It used to be a very deadly country for journalists. And in 2017, four reporters were actually killed there. And so we do have concerns about the safety, the physical safety, of Maria Ressa. She's been herself subjected to threats online for her reporting. And given that she's frequently - so frequently arrested, we worry that physical safety is also in danger.

CORNISH: Are you seeing that in other countries? I know people talk about Iran or Thailand or Vietnam. Are we seeing the same kind of activity in governments against journalists?

EWEN: Absolutely. And Vietnam is a really good example. There's a very hard line cybercrime legislation that was just adopted to make an already very censored country even more censored. Currently, there's 27 citizen journalists and one professional journalist behind bars in that country. You mentioned Thailand - a very well-known Vietnamese blogger actually disappeared one day after he visited the U.N. local office for High Commissioner for Refugees seeking refugee status. He contributed to many news outlets, including Radio Free Asia. And it's our fear that he may have been abducted by Vietnamese authorities.

So we're seeing this also extraterritorial reach of these regimes, which, of course, in this situation, we don't know what happened to him. But we do all know what happened to Jamal Khashoggi when he was murdered in his consulate in another country in Turkey.

CORNISH: So you're seeing countries use legislation to try and limit the actions of journalists and use it on grounds to make arrests. And in your Press Freedom Index, you've talked about this in the past, but it sounds like there - more and more, you're hearing language from heads of state against journalists.

EWEN: That's correct. We heard the president of the United States of America refer to journalists as enemies of the people. And we've seen a decline in the level of press freedom here in the United States. The U.S. ranks 45th out of 180 countries in our World Press Freedom Index, and that's just based on data, as I mentioned, from 2017. We haven't even published the report that will include data from 2018 whereas, you know, four journalists were murdered at the Capital Gazette shooting. So we're really seeing unprecedented levels of attacks on the press, not only in authoritarian states but also in countries that have been typically Democratic and pro-press freedom.

CORNISH: Margaux Ewen is with the organization Reporters Without Borders. Thank you for speaking with us.

EWEN: Thanks for having me. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.