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IFJ demands congress resolve media safety crisis

(IFJ/IFEX) - November 19, 2010 - The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) calls on the Philippines President, Benigno Aquino III, to ensure the country's Congress takes strong action to protect journalists and media workers, who continue to fear for their safety almost one year since the massacre of 58 people, 32 of them journalists and media workers, in the country's south.

"While acknowledging that President Aquino has held office for just six months, the IFJ is outraged that violence against journalists and media workers in the Philippines continues unchecked," IFJ President Jim Boumelha said.

"Too little is being done by authorities and power-holders in the Philippines to achieve justice for those murdered on November 23, 2009 and to ensure such an atrocity never occurs again."

A Global Day of Action, coordinated by the IFJ with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), will be held on Tuesday, November 23, 2010 to mark one year since the Ampatuan Town massacre in Maguindanao province, Mindanao.

The massacre, the world's single biggest atrocity against journalists, was the lowest point in a decades-long culture of impunity for the killings of media personnel in the Philippines, bringing the toll of media killings in the country at that time to 136 since 1986, according to the NUJP, an IFJ affiliate.

Another four media workers have been murdered this year. Many other journalists across the Philippines continue to endure serious threats because of the content of their reporting.

Of 196 suspects in the massacre, 19 are now on trial while 130 remain at large. Most of those still free are police officers and members of private militias.

"The failure to charge and detain all accused, and the slow prosecution of the trials, is obstructing the delivery of a clear and firm message to the public and international community that impunity for media killings will not be tolerated," Boumelha said.

"With just four convictions recorded for murders of media personnel in the Philippines since 1986, the massacre trials must secure credible convictions that will provide justice for the families and colleagues of the Ampatuan Town victims, and assist to end impunity in the Philippines."

The IFJ and the NUJP reiterate their appeal to the Aquino Government to ensure the first session of the 15th Congress, ending July 2011, initiates measures to assure media of protection, so that journalists can safely fulfil their role in serving the public.

The following recommendations derive from the report of an IFJ-led international mission to the Philippines last December and an action plan submitted to Aquino on his inauguration:

• Allocate sufficient resources for the prompt and transparent conduct of trials for all suspects implicated in the Ampatuan Town massacre.
• Direct authorities and law enforcement agencies to provide all evidence in the massacre case to the prosecution.
• Direct authorities and law enforcement agencies to charge and prosecute all 196 suspects.
• Support the petition to the Supreme Court for live coverage of the massacre trials, in keeping with the demands of the NUJP and other civil society groups.
• Enact judicial and legislative reform to ensure that justice is delivered swiftly in all cases where media personnel are murdered, including compensation and counselling for families of victims.
• Establish an independent taskforce and/or rapid response teams to investigate promptly all threats and attacks against media personnel, and to ensure their protection, with special attention to members of the government, military and police involved in anti-media threats.
• Implement a secure witness protection program immediately, with requests for guidance from international authorities as necessary.
• Secure Congressional support for full enactment of the Freedom of Information Bill which was rejected by the previous Congress.
• Decriminalise libel and other measures which impede journalistic inquiry and freedom of expression.
• Issue a Congressional statement committing the Philippines to defending journalists' rights, in line with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and UN Security Council Resolution 1738, which reaffirms the civilian status of media working in areas of conflict.
• Take responsibility to lead a process of national reconciliation by conducting a series of public meetings and a public awareness media campaign in support of media freedom, democracy and human rights in the Philippines.

As a measure of the Government's commitment to achieving these objectives, every reasonable effort must be made to achieve significant progress by July 24, 2011, the nominal end date of the first regular session of the 15th Congress.

In the case of the massacre trials, the Government must direct judicial authorities to nominate a time frame for the arrest, trial and prosecution of all 196 suspects, and commit all required resources to achieving this goal.

The IFJ stands willing to provide assistance to achieve implementation of these recommendations, should the Government of the Philippines request support.

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