In the Philippines, Newsbreak editors arrested on libel charges

New York, March 7, 2007—The Committee to Protect Journalists denounces Wednesday’s arrest of Gemma Bagauaya, editor of the online newsmagazine Newsbreak in a 100 million peso (US$2 million) libel case filed by Ilocos Sur provincial governor Luis Singson.

Newsbreak Managing Editor Glenda Gloria and Editor-in-chief Marites Vitug were also charged by Singson.

“The authorities in the Philippines are using criminal libel as a battering ram against press freedom,” said CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon. “Government officials should not rush to a prosecutor every time a journalist writes critically about those in power. The charges against the Newsbreak editors should be dropped.”

Bagauaya was taken by police around mid-day at Newsbreak’s offices in Manila, according to local media reports and the National Union of Journalists. Her bail was set at 10,000 pesos (US$200) and she was released later in the day.

On February 12, Newsbreak ran a lengthy article analyzing the changes in political factions surrounding President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The article, “Where Factions Thrive: the Arroyo government is dominated by hard-core power players,” written by Glenda Gloria, identified Singson as one of five people who helped Arroyo survive the political fallout from an alleged election rigging scandal in July 2005.

President Arroyo’s husband, Miguel Arroyo, has filed similar suits against 46 journalists. In response to politicians’ use of criminal libel suits, a coalition of more than 600 journalists and 30 local and foreign international media freedom organizations issued a joint petition calling for the decriminalization of libel.