It has been a busy few weeks for members of Philippine media. Their love affair with incoming President Davao City Mayor Rodrigo Duterte seems to have ended abruptly. Some members of local and even foreign media have called on their colleagues to boycott covering Duterte until he apologises for his remarks about media killings. Apparently, some have interpreted what he said about media killings as “condoning” the murder of journalists. Of course asking Duterte to apologise is basically asking him to tell you to go to hell. True enough, calls to boycott him backfired. Duterte said he doesn’t really care if journalists boycott him.
Those who called for boycotting Duterte didn’t think things through. They have no choice but to cover the activities of the office of the President so they obviously aren’t going to win this power struggle. Not covering Duterte will be their loss, not his.
Duterte’s nightly press conferences in Davao City, where he prefers to stay instead of Manila, had become some kind of one-man show featuring the President-elect. Duterte loves going on these long monologues on topics he is passionate about. So when a journalist asked him about media killings, he had a lot to say. He enumerated three kinds of journalists. Before that, the first thing he said was, a lot of the murdered journalists were corrupt:
Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch…
Most of those killed, to be frank, have done something. You won’t be killed if you don’t do anything wrong…
That can’t be just freedom of speech. The constitution can no longer help you if you disrespect a person…
According to Duterte, the three kinds of journalists in the Philippines are: the crusaders – these journalists tell the truth, baring it all before the public. They seldom die because they are respected by the community. Then there are the mouthpieces of vested interests. They act as agents who defend businesses and enterprises. And lastly, the third kind are the vultures of journalism. These are the ones who extort from politicians and businessmen in exchange for keeping quiet about certain damning information. Some of them also engage in publishing malicious information against their sponsors’ rivals. We’ve seen a lot of those so-called “investigative” journalists in the last three decades especially during President Benigno Simeon Aquino’s term.
This is not the first time I’ve heard about corrupt journalists. I don’t even know why some in the industry were outraged because, surely, they themselves know of “journalists” who do it for the love of money, not for the love of the truth. The first time someone told me journalists who get killed are corrupt, I was shocked at the thought of how someone could easily dismiss the killings. The second and third time I heard it, my reaction was like “Okay, it seems journalists in the Philippines have a really bad reputation”. It’s either that or the value of life is not really that high in the Philippines. Either way, the situation for Filipino media people isn’t too good. Members of Philippine media should accept the fact that they have a bad reputation. The public doesn’t see the industry as bastion of integrity & honesty. To fix this, they should start policing one another.
The problem with some of the members of Philippine media is they engage in partisan politics. They put colour in the news. This was evident prior to the 2010 Presidential Elections when then candidate BS Aquino quite often occupied the front pages of the Philippine Daily Inquirer compared to his rivals. They helped condition the minds of the public that he was popular. Their alliances with the Aquinos were too obvious for some people to ignore. Other media outlets like ABS-CBN also have a reputation for being allied with the Liberal Party. The TV network even featured the life and times of then Vice Presidential candidate Leni Robredo in their popular show Maalaala mo kaya even before the official campaign period started.
The Inquirer was also first to headline controversies involving BS Aquino’s rivals like the late former Chief Justice Renato Corona, outgoing Vice President Jejomar Binay and former President Gloria Arroyo. But they hardly reported on news about allegations of corruption involving BS Aquino’s allies like Budget Secretary Butch Abad and former Cabinet Secretary and losing Presidential candidate Mar Roxas. Likewise, The Inquirer didn’t seem to bother digging deeper into allegations of electoral fraud in the recent Presidential Elections, which some are alleging to have resulted in Senator Bongbong Marcos being cheated out of the Vice Presidency. The only publications that gave in-depth analysis about the electoral fraud are The Manila Times and The Standard.
The late former Singapore Prime Minister Lee Kuan Yew also spoke about the divisiveness of Philippine media in a speech given during the annual convention of American Society of Newspaper Editors in 1998. According to Lee, “a wieldy partisan press helped Filipino politicians to flood the market place of ideas with junk”. Apparently, the Philippine press before Martial Law enjoyed all the freedom but failed the Filipino people. Lee added that the Philippine press “confused and befuddled the Filipino people so they could not see what their vital interests were in a developing country. And because basic issues like economic growth and equitable distribution was seldom discussed and were not tackled, the democratic system malfunctioned.”
After the EDSA people power “revolution”, Philippine media promoted wholesale mediocrity. They were not interested in reporting the failures of the housewife who replaced the so-called “dictator”. Former President Cory Aquino got away with condoning corruption of the people allied with her. Even a letter written by her former Vice President Salvador Laurel expressing his disillusionment with the icon of democracy wasn’t highlighted by the media. They weren’t interested in exposing the truth because they probably didn’t want to taint the image of Cory as the “hero” of EDSA. Some excerpts from his letter are worth republishing here:
“But the true state of the nation must be told. And the painful truth is that the nation has gone from bad to worse, while you choose to stand aside in the puerile hope that the problems would simply solve themselves. The ‘new moral order’ to which we were solemnly committed has been perverted. It has become a haven for assassins and a den of thieves. Corruption, betrayal of the public trust and other high crimes have been laid at your door, including a complaint for impeachment, which your chief ally in Congress has already consigned to the archives.“We promised our people morality and decency in government. What do we have instead? The very opposite. It is now openly admitted by many, including your former Solicitor-General and some of your own close relatives in Congress, that the stench of “accumulated garbage”—I’m quoting your own first cousin, Congressman Emigdio Tanjuatco, Jr. —rises to high heaven; that the past years of Marcos are now beginning to look no worse than your first two years in office. And the reported controversies and scandals involving your closest relatives have become the object of our people’s outrage.
If only the Philippine media did not play partisan politics, the Filipino people would know the true state of the nation under the Aquinos and their allies. For thirty years, the public was duped into thinking that only former Ferdinand Marcos was the reason why the Philippines could not progress. Indeed, the Philippine media is responsible for the dumbing down of Philippine society in the last three decades especially with their moronic television programs.
President-elect Duterte is right in calling out the hypocrisy of Philippine media. It’s about time someone stood up to them. The public will benefit from Duterte not being beholden to members of the media. Frankly, some of them are acting like a bunch of crybabies. Instead of acting like victims, journalists should help investigate the murders of their colleagues. It is sad that journalists get murdered, but a lot of ordinary Filipinos get murdered every day without being reported by the media. Every murder in the Philippines should be treated by the authorities with equal attention.
I do not understand why some people are shocked by Duterte’s no-holds-barred speech. He has been talking the way he does even before announcing his candidacy and during the campaign period. Some members of the media simply need to act less emo and continue to cover real news instead of being part of the news.