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Death of reporter in Philippines highlights dangerous conditions for journalists


It has been a deadly few days for journalists, both in Mexico and the Philippines. In Mexico, two reporters were murdered within 24 hours of each other last week. It is not clear if the killings were directly tied to their work. And last week also brought word of a journalist - another one - gunned down in the Philippines. There, too, authorities are still investigating the motive. It is not clear if Orlando Dinoy was killed because of his work as a radio reporter, but we do know the Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries in the world to be a journalist. Sheila Coronel, who was an investigative reporter there, calls Dinoy's death emblematic of the dangers that reporters face working there. Coronel joins us now from New York, where she teaches journalism at Columbia University.

Sheila Coronel, welcome.


KELLY: Tell me about Orlando Dinoy. Who did he work for? What did he cover?

CORONEL: Well, Orlando Dinoy worked for a local radio station in the southern part of the Philippines. He was a radio commentator. He was also stringing for newspapers in Manila. So he basically covered everything - local politics, local events.

KELLY: Did we know if he was working on any projects or had particularly been engaged in reporting that would have been controversial that would have drawn attention?

CORONEL: So far, there is nothing that indicates that any specific story he was working on was the reason for his death.

KELLY: So when you say that - while again, we don't know what happened here, the investigation continues - but when you say his death is emblematic of what it's like to work as a journalist in the Philippines, explain what you mean.

CORONEL: Well, Dinoy was the 21st journalist killed since President Duterte took over. And since 1992, which is when the Committee to Protect Journalists started reporting on deaths worldwide, they said there have been 87 journalists killed in the Philippines because of their work. And most of these people are journalists in provinces far away from Manila, where they report on local controversies that may put them, you know, sort of at odds with the powers that be in their communities.

KELLY: Why would it be more widespread for journalists to face these kind of dangers outside Manila?

CORONEL: In Manila, you play in a bigger field. I know of only one journalist who was killed in Manila, and that was somehow linked to organized crime. The Philippines is a very paradoxical country. There are robust protections in the constitution for press freedom. And in Manila, there is freedom to criticize until President Duterte took over and clamped down on the press and weaponized the law and social media to harass and intimidate journalists in the provinces where the rule of law is very weak. And many communities are in the thrall of local political bosses. Critical journalism becomes life-threatening.

KELLY: Speaking of paradoxes, it's interesting because there's been - one of the most famous journalists in the world at the moment is Maria Ressa - just won the Nobel Prize for courageous reporting out of the Philippines.

CORONEL: Indeed.

KELLY: How does an example like that contrast with what you're telling us about local reporters being targeted?

CORONEL: Maria Ressa has faced a dozen lawsuits. Until recently, she's been unable to leave the country. She's been convicted for cyber libel. All of these are regulatory and legal harassment techniques used to intimidate and silence critical journalism. But they stopped short of killing. In the provinces, the techniques that are used to silence journalists are, shall we say, more brutal. And basically, the resort is, you know, a bullet in the head.

KELLY: Sheila Coronel, professor of journalism at Columbia University, talking about being a journalist in the Philippines.

Sheila Coronel, thank you.

CORONEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Ashley Westerman is a producer who occasionally directs the show. Since joining the staff in June 2015, she has produced a variety of stories including a coal mine closing near her hometown, the 2016 Republican National Convention, and the Rohingya refugee crisis in southern Bangladesh. She is also an occasional reporter for Morning Edition, and, where she has contributed reports on both domestic and international news.
Mary Louise Kelly is a co-host of All Things Considered, NPR's award-winning afternoon newsmagazine.
Amy Isackson