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Number 1 Shimbun

Freedom of The Press - Coronavirus and global press freedoms



In June the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan (FCCJ) issued statements through its Freedom of the Press Committee on press freedom issues in the U.S. and The Philippines.

Firstly, the FCCJ expressed its firm solidarity with journalists in the USA, who according to a report on June 1 by Nieman Journalism Lab, had been attacked by police “at least 140 times since May 28.”

“It's becoming clear that attacks by police on journalists are becoming a widespread pattern, not one-off incidents,” the report stated. “While violence against press-credentialed reporters covering the protests may still be dwarfed by violence against the American citizens who are protesting, incidents are piling up and are getting more attention in part because the journalists being attacked include those from large mainstream news organizations.”

London Media Organization Condemned CNN Arrest

The Chartered Institute of Journalists (CIoJ) in London has meanwhile condemned what it describes as “the outrageous arrest” of a CNN news crew covering the protests in Minneapolis, (USA) following the death of George Floyd.”

CIoJ President Professor Tim Crook (a longstanding expert and author of books on international media law) said in a May 29 statement that: “The public humiliation of a professional news team is one of the most blatant and outrageous attacks on freedom of the media that we have seen in a long time.”

The CIoJ, he added “stands in solidarity with those CNN journalists so improperly arrested and completely agree with CNN when they complain such behaviour means that free and fair gathering of the news is arrested too.”

The FCCJ likewise stands in solidarity with journalists in the U.S. and elsewhere against attacks on legitimate and essential press freedoms.

Philippines Court Ruling Draws Alarms

In mid-June the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan and its Freedom of the Press Committee were alarmed by reports that Rappler editor Maria Ressa and former Rappler reporter Reynaldo Santos Jr. were convicted of “cyber libel” in a Philippines court for doing legitimate and necessary reporting.

In a statement, the FCCJ said, “We believe the decision is an assault on press freedom and an attempt to stifle any reporting that is critical of President Rodrigo Duterte's administration. Human Rights Watch reported that the judgment was retaliation for extensive reporting Rappler had done on Duterte's “war on drugs”, which involved extra-judicial killings and police-linked death squads.

Dubious Claim

Ressa was convicted on a technicality: In 2014, she made a minor typographical change to an article linking Filipino businessman Wilfredo Keng to drug dealing and human trafficking. Keng then used “re-publication” as a basis to file a libel case and the Justice Department quickly supported that dubious claim. This comes after the Duterte administration shut down ABS-CBN, the country's broadcast network, which had also been critical of Duterte. We are deeply concerned by this pattern of assaults on the press.

Ressa herself said in her acceptance speech for CPJ's Gwen Ifill Press freedom award two years ago, that the events in her country are related to a worldwide erosion in press freedoms, saying that American President Donald Trump's attacks on the press, “give permission to autocrats (like ours) to unleash the dark side of humanity and extend their already vast powers with impunity.”

Ressa now faces up to six years in prison. The FCCJ strongly believes she should be allowed to go free and to continue her important journalistic work.

Published in: July 2020

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