Human rights group slams SMNI's red-tagging of journalists

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Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, May 5) — Human Rights Watch (HRW) on Friday condemned the red-tagging of some journalists by anchors of Sonshine Media Network International (SMNI) on World Press Freedom Day.

During their show "Laban Kasama ang Bayan" that aired on Wednesday, SMNI anchors Lorraine Badoy and Jeffrey Celiz claimed that the NUJP (National Union of Journalists of the Philippines) is a "communist-led" organization.

They also tagged NUJP Chairperson and news section head Jonathan de Santos as part of communist organizations during his younger years.

In the show, Badoy and Celis repeatedly accused De Santos and other journalists affiliated with NUJP such as Nestor Burgos Jr. as being members of communist front organizations.

In a statement on Friday, HRW Senior Researcher Carlos Conde slammed the red-tagging, citing security concerns of journalists as many activists similarly labeled have become victims of extrajudicial executions.

"That the SMNI hosts did their abominable red-tagging on World Press Freedom Day, arguably the most important day for journalists in the world, is not only ironic — it is tragic, and only underscores the need for journalists to defend their freedom to report the news and hold power to account," he added.

CNN Philippines has reached out to SMNI for comment.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility recently reported 75 cases of violations against media workers since President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. took office.

READ: CMFR logs 75 press freedom violations under Marcos admin

Although SMNI’s red-tagging is not new, Conde said it is alarming that the show has been allotting most of its airtime accusing people of having communist affiliations.

In a post, De Santos also expressed his concern for journalists who have no immediate access to safety and security when they are boldly tagged as communists.

"Marami sa mga red-tagged — lalo na sa probinsya at lalo na sa community at alternative press — ay walang kaparehong safety at security kaya mas malaki ang impact sa kanila ng ganito," he said.

[Translation: Many of those who are red-tagged — especially in the province and more so in the community and alternative press — do not have the same safety and security, so the impact on them is greater.]

Meanwhile, Cagayan de Oro-based journalist Cong Corrales on Friday filed a complaint with the National Privacy Commission to compel Facebook owner Meta to disclose anonymous users who red-tagged him on Facebook.

The NUJP said Corrales' filing of a complaint is an important first step in unmasking and eventually holding perpetrators to account in court, and not in the court of public opinion, referring to red-tagging Facebook pages and groups.

"We have always held that the attacks on Cong and on others, especially those that are done by anonymous pages with apparent links to the military and police, are part of a strategy to discredit and bully into silence journalists as well as activists and rights defenders working towards a better democracy and a better Philippines," the NUJP said.