Duterte part of 2021 'press freedom predators' list

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, July 5) – President Rodrigo Duterte was included by international organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) in its 2021 "press freedom predators" list.

The international media watchdog said Duterte's method of limiting press freedom in the country is by waging a "total war" against independent media.

"Backed by most of the private sector, Duterte easily imposes his line on media outlets owned by businessmen that support him," the group said in its report.

"Independent media outlets have assumed the role of opposition, with all the risks that this entails," it also said.

RSF added that Duterte used the powers of the state in his "total war" against journalists in the country such as filing of spurious charges of defamation, tax evasion, or violation of capital legislation; denying broadcast licenses; getting accomplices to pay media outlets and bring their journalists into line; and using an army of trolls to subject journalists to online harassment.

"The local media quickly became collateral victims of his brutal methods, which tolerate no criticism or even nuanced coverage of his policies," RSF said.

Duterte joined 36 other world leaders in the notorious list compiled by RSF to warn that their leadership style toward the media represent a clear danger for freedom of opinion and expression, which is guaranteed by Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

In his five years in office, Duterte has a tumultuous relationship with Filipino journalists who are critical in covering his administration's policies, particularly in its centerpiece anti-drug war program.

Even before his presidency, Duterte has been known to lash out at the media with strong statements during press briefings, and even challenging reporters in coverages.

In March 2017, Duterte slammed broadcast giant ABS-CBN and news publication Philippine Daily Inquirer for their "unfair" coverage toward him.

He repeatedly targeted the two media entities and the independent digital media company Rappler in his succeeding speeches.

RELATED: NUJP fires back at Duterte for slamming Inquirer, ABS-CBN

The following year, the Securities and Exchange Commission revoked Rappler's license to do business for supposedly engaging in a fraudulent transaction and circumventing constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership.

Numerous tax cases were filed against Rappler after the SEC's revocation of its certificate of incorporation.

In June 2020, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and former researcher-writer Reynaldo Santos Jr. were convicted in a cyber libel case filed by businessman Wilfredo Keng.

In December last year, Keng filed another cyber libel suit against Ressa, which was junked by a Manila court on June 1.

READ: Rappler CEO calls arrest 'abuse of power' 

In July 2020, congressmen voted not to renew the franchise of the Lopez-owned television station due to its alleged unpaid taxes, labor issues, and "biased" reportage. They also questioned citizenship of its former chairman, Eugenio Lopez III.

TIMELINE: ABS-CBN franchise 

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility said in its November 2020 report that 19 journalists have been killed during the Duterte administration.

The Philippines ranked 138th among 180 countries in the 2021 World Press Freedom Index also released by RSF.