See threat to press freedom in Philippines

By: Mark Fitzgerald by Mark Fitzgerald

Two press freedom groups say the libel suit Philippine President Joseph Estrada filed against The Manila Times threatens the nation's independent press.
Estrada dropped the lawsuit after the paper printed a front-page apology. The paper's top editors resigned after the apology, saying they believe the Times, owned by the family of tycoon John Gokongwei, withdrew the story that angered Estrada because it feared government pressure on its vast business holdings including department stores, airline operations, food manufacturing, and real estate. The article at issue said Estrada had served as an "unwitting ninong," or godfather, in a contract deal between the National Power Corp. and Argentine IMPSA Engineering Ltd.
In an April 13 letter to Estrada, the Committee to Protect Journalists says it is "deeply disturbed by the threatening signals your administration has sent to the independent press in the Philippines."
"This libel suit has indeed set a dangerous precedent for journalists who attempt to explore sensitive issues such as the awarding of government contracts."
The World Association of Newspapers (WAN) also condemned the libel suit.
"The Philippine press has enjoyed a reputation as one of the most diverse in Asia, but this recent criminal libel complaint and its reverberations threaten to curb media freedom in your country," the Paris-based WAN says in an April 10 letter to the president.
"We respectfully remind you that the heavy fining of newspapers is a wholly inappropriate means of dealing with the alleged issue of defamation and is a clear restriction on the right to freedom of expression."

?(Editor & Publisher Web [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher May 1, 1999) [Caption]


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