PHILIPPINE lawmakers must renew the licence of 54 Church-run radio stations in the country, according to an international media watchdog.
The application for renewal has been pending since January last year and has been repeatedly blocked in the House of Representatives, for what Reporters Without Borders (RSF) believe are political reasons.
In a statement released Wednesday, the French-based organisation called on the government to address the concerns of the Catholic Media Network and allow it to renew its licence, which it has held for over 25 years.
“It should be a mere formality, nothing more than a stamp on a four-page document,” said Daniel Bastard, the head of RSF’s Asia-Pacific desk.
“Given the Catholic Church’s criticism of the Duterte administration, this refusal to renew clearly seems to be politically motivated.”
Religious leaders have found it increasingly difficult to stay neutral during the term of President Rodrigo Duterte’s, who has challenged the moral right of the Catholic hierarchy to criticise his policies.
Duterte has been openly critical of the Church in the past, telling of the trauma he suffered as a child from allegedly being sexually molested by a Catholic priest. He has also insulted priests, calling them “sons of bitches,” “monkeys,” “child molesters” and “corrupt,” and openly challenging them to a “showdown.”
In response, the Catholic Church has largely abandoned its softer tradition in favour of more overt political opposition to the president, particularly over his crackdown on suspected drug dealers.
Calling the campaign “anti-poor” and a “reign of terror,” the Church has been at the forefront of major anti-government protests.
With his popularity still intact and secure control over Congress, Duterte has been increasing the pressure on his religious opponents. The failure to renew the operating licence is the latest example of this.
The religious media organisation joins other outlets that have recently been targeted in a mounting media crackdown in the Philippines.
RSF also condemned the online attack against Kodao, an alternative news outfit known for its coverage of human rights, the environment and the decades-old, on-off peace talks between successive governments and the Maoist left.
Kodao’s website was attacked last week after publishing a story on arrested rights consultant, Rafael Baylosis.
A sad day for democracy and press freedom. We at Rappler received the SEC’s kill order revoking our license to operate – the first of its kind in Philippine history. This is a clear, distinct attack on media by govt. We won’t allow it. https://t.co/fOjzA23OPC
— Natashya Gutierrez (@natashya_g) January 15, 2018
“Meanwhile, as Kodao is well known for its uncompromising criticism of the authorities, its suspension also has all the hallmarks of a reprisal against the free press,” Bastard said.
On Jan 15, a government spokesman announced the withdrawal of the licence of Rappler, the country’s leading news website, which has appealed against the decision. RSF said it had referred the case to the United Nations, who expressed “deep concern about this violation of media freedom.”
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is organising regular “Black Friday” demonstrations in support of media outlets that have been the victims of government hostility.