Philippine media groups condemn China’s claim of ‘manipulated’ coverage of maritime tension

Water cannon used against a Philippine ship

Screenshot of video showing the use of water cannons by China's Coast Guard against a Philippine ship (middle) en route to the disputed Second Thomas Shoal. Source: YouTube video channel of Inquirer.Net based on a video supplied by the Armed Forces of the Philippines

Several media groups in the Philippines have released statements condemning claims by Chinese officials alleging that videos showing the maritime tension between both countries in the South China Sea are “manipulated.”

The South China Sea is known in the Philippines as the West Philippine Sea. China is claiming almost all parts of South China Sea, which includes the Spratly Islands (known to China as Nansha Qundao, and Kalayaan in the Philippines). Both countries are also claiming the Second Thomas Shoal (named as Ren'ai Jiao Reef in China, and Ayungin Shoal in the Philippines), although a 2016 ruling of the Permanent Court of Arbitration has recognized that it lies within the Philippines’ exclusive economic zone. China did not participate in the proceedings and has continued to reject the arbitral ruling.

In 1999, the Philippines deliberately stranded a World War II warship in the Second Thomas Shoal to assert its maritime sovereignty. China has protested this and has consistently called for the ship’s removal. China has agreed that basic supplies can be provided to Filipinos stationed in the vessel, but warned against the delivery of construction materials that can be used to rehabilitate the deteriorating warship.

The tension has escalated in recent years after China’s repeated “dangerous maneuvers” against Philippine ships intending to deliver supplies to the Second Thomas Shoal. During numerous occasions, China used water cannons to disrupt the Philippine supply mission. Journalists have been able to document the “near collisions” and the water cannon attacks made by Chinese ships, and these incidents have been reported as well by international media outlets.

During a press briefing on March 28, Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesperson Lin Jian questioned the involvement of the media in the supply operation of the Philippines.

Whenever the Philippines carries out an operation in the South China Sea, it brings journalists along, including photo journalists from third countries. Why would the Philippines do that?

Who's been stirring up trouble and making provocations on the South China Sea issue? Who's been breaching the common understandings between our two countries and reneged on their own commitments? Who's been staging a show and hyping up tensions? Who's been pulling forces outside the region to interfere in the issue?

In a post published on X (Twitter), Chinese Assistant Foreign Minister Hua Chunying accused journalists of “(manipulating) the videos they recorded to make sensational news and project the Philippines as a victim.”

Pro-China commentators added that the operations of the China Coast Guard are “legitimate, professional, and restrained.” This was disputed by Filipino officials who accused China of continuously conducting “illegal enforcement operations in the West Philippine Sea to advance their greedy intention and unlawful ambition to occupy the waters that fall within the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone.”

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) assailed the remarks of Chinese officials and defended the independence and integrity of journalists covering the maritime dispute.

The media is not a party to the dispute and should not be demonized by parties for airing contending views on the issue and unflattering reports on incidents in the West Philippine Sea.

Except for operational and national security considerations, state forces have no say in the production and editorial decisions on these reports.

In reporting on the West Philippine Sea, the media cannot avoid referring to incidents they witnessed, the Philippine position on the (West Philippine Sea), the 2016 Hague ruling, and the impact China's actions in our waters affect our fisherfolk and coastal communities.

Journalist Jonathan de Santos, who heads NUJP, wrote about the dangerous implications of China’s accusation:

As much as casting doubt on the integrity of the media covering these resupply missions, China’s labeling of media as “troublemakers” and propagandists is dangerous because it paints them as participants in the incidents that they are there to document.

The Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines described the claim of Chinese officials as false and baseless, “barefaced lie,” and also “an insult to the integrity of journalists and an alarming attempt to muzzle an independent press.” It also vouched for the integrity of the media coverage.

A free and independent press reports not what they are told, but what they observe, framed by historical and political context. The footage seen in the press is vetted by multiple sources and newsrooms.

The Defense Press Corps of the Philippines rejected the charge that journalists are engaging in “manipulated sensationalism.”

The journalists who join these missions risk their lives in the face of unwanted aggression to bring the unvarnished truth to light. It is unfortunate some would still call the work of these independent Filipino journalists as manipulated sensationalism.

Journalist JP Soriano, who was among those who covered the supply mission, posted his sentiment on X (Twitter):

Watch the video shared by the Philippine government about the “dangerous maneuvers” of Chinese coast guard ships in the West Philippine Sea.

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