Cyberattacks on news websites, Gadon’s verbal assault vs Robles show attacks on press freedom in all fronts

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The recent series of cyberattacks against the websites of Vera Files, ABS-CBN News, and Rappler along with the circulating video of lawyer and senatorial aspirant Larry Gadon’s barrage of violent and misogynistic insults against journalist Raissa Robles portray the increasingly hostile and violent online environment threatening press freedom in all fronts in the country — on top of the deadly challenges and threats and the culture of impunity that they face on the ground for their work.

It is also condemnable that these cyberattacks were conducted at a time when the public is in need of timely information to brace for the arrival of Typhoon Odette. Rendering the websites of news outlets through these distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks is not only a threat to press freedom: it imperils the people’s right to freedom of information. The lack of access to information in far-flung communities brought by ABS-CBN’s closure also showed us the dire consequences of such attacks.

Moreover, the targets of these DDoS attacks clearly show a pattern: these are news organizations that have drawn the ire of President Rodrigo Duterte for their critical coverage and fact-checking work. They also follow similar attacks on the websites of alternative media outfits such as Pinoy Weekly, Kodao Productions, Bulatlat, and AlterMidya, as well as against our own website — some of which have been traced to the Philippine Army and the Department of Science and Technology.

Such cyberattacks are simply cowardly, but the price tag for such attacks is also no joke — which is why we ask: who pays for these targeted cyberattacks? Who benefits from them? Clearly those who want to silence journalists and human rights workers amid the deteriorating state of press freedom and human rights in the country are the only ones who benefit from such attacks, if they are not the ones directly behind them.

These attacks do not only threaten the media outlets and journalists that they target: they undermine the freedom of the press, and therefore our democracy. With the 2022 national elections drawing near, these attacks should be a cause for concern and alarm. We join our friends and colleagues in the media in their call to investigate these cyberattacks and hold their perpetrators to account, and to disbar Gadon for his conduct unbecoming of a lawyer.

Cristina Palabay
Karapatan Secretary General