Two Philippine journalists face two months in prison for coronavirus reporting
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) calls on Philippine prosecutors to abandon all proceedings against journalists under a new law that supposedly combats “false information” about the coronavirus crisis but in fact constitutes a grave violation of press freedom.
Two journalists based in Cavite, a province just to the south of Manila – Latigo News TV website editor Mario Batuigas and video blogger and online reporter Amor Virata – are facing the possibility of two months in prison and fine of 1 million pesos (17,500 euros) as a result of charges under the new law brought by the police on 28 March.
They are accused of spreading “false information on the Covid-19 crisis” under section 6(6) of the "Bayanihan to Heal As One Act," which President Duterte signed into law on 25 March, the day after its adoption by the Philippine congress with the aim of addressing the COVID-19 pandemic.
It confers special powers on the irascible president and is supposed to remain in effect for three months, but can be extended by the pro-Duterte congress. “Bayanihan” means “communal action.”
“We urge Philippine prosecutors to abandon all proceedings against journalists under article 6(6) and we call for its immediate repeal,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“The article is supposed to penalize ‘false information’ but this is not a concept the exists in Philippine law, so it poses a major threat to the freedom to inform. During the coronavirus crisis, when information is especially crucial, the authorities must let journalists do their work, regardless of the kind of media they report for.”
Bulatlat, a non-profit alternative media outlet that covers subjects affecting low-income sectors, has meanwhile been arbitrarily denied the accreditation that is now required in order to report on quarantine areas on Luzon, the Philippine archipelago’s largest and most populous island.
The Philippines is ranked 134th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index.