Part 1: The Tiff
GENERAL SANTOS CITY, June 27, 2016 – At a May 31 press conference, reporters asked President-elect Rodrigo R. Duterte what he would do about the long-nagging issue of media killing. The same question had been asked of past presidents and the outgoing President Benigno Simeon C. Aquino III; they had been criticized for failing to stop the killing of journalists with impunity.
Asking the question was timely. How it was asked and initially answered, we are eager to see in quotes. It is unbelievable that a question of significant national concern had turned into a confrontational media subject for two weeks after May 31– the President-elect pitted against Philippine and international media organizations and the United Nations human rights agency including UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon.
As Rappler, June 3 recalled, Duterte was asked “what his administration would do about media killings in the Philippines”. He was “dismissive” about the question “saying that ‘most’ slain journalists are corrupt”, elaborating that “the best solution is a more honest media”; dismissively, “To end this problem, it has to end in your court, not in mine.”
How Duterte dismissed the question must have stung the reporters; they bombarded him with questions which angered him. As Philippine Daily Inquirer, May 31 reported: “At one point during the press conference, Duterte was apparently irritated by a barrage of questions from the media”, remarking he would like the reporters shot.
The reporters must have been seeking from the President a policy statement and action plan. The Aquino and past administrations “had acknowledged the problem and had pledged to put behind bars the killers of media personalities to deter future attacks. In 2006, the Arroyo administration created Task Force Usig to investigate the murder of media personalities and activists (Rappler, June 3).” Yet, the killings have continued.
Is Rappler right in speculating that “Duterte may become the first Philippine leader since the Marcos regime without a declared policy against media killings”?
That might be jumping the gun behind the clash of words and emotions. Duterte must have media killings on target in his vow to stop criminality together with drug menace and corruption.
Evidently, the reporters fell into silence as Duterte lectured them spiced with curses, expletives and censure. Interestingly, the truth was admitted while the sting must have been felt deeply and the threat of more killing with impunity was met with fear, loud protests and condemnation. This hogged the headlines for more than a week.
Media got Duterte’s message: Corruption in the media and irresponsible reporting are the root causes for the killings of journalists in the country. Journalists who engage in corrupt practices are not exempted from assassination. Freedom of expression the Constitution guarantees cannot protect them.
Duterte classified journalists into three: (1) the crusaders; (2) mouthpieces of vested interest; (3) the lowlife. MindaNews, June 3, quoted Duterte’s description of each:
“The crusaders are telling the truth, baring it all before the public. Sometimes they hit big business or those who cannot tolerate the truth being exposed in the public. And they do not accept money. What is very important to them is their profession and telling the truth to the whole world.”
The “mouthpiece of vested interest (groups) — it could be mining, defending the miners. It could be anything, something, which is an agent of whatever and those engaged in business or enterprises which need to be defended and therefore (are) called the publicists and the PROs (press relations officers).”
“The lowlife of journalists — ito yung nagba-byahe (they are unscrupulous, resourceful enterprisers), accepting money from illegal sources, in return (for) keeping their mouth shut …. These are the guys whose greed is unlimited. They are paid now, (they) ask for more. If there’s nothing coming their way, they talk more, they destroy people and family and they die.”
The NUJP (National Union of Journalists in the Philippines) and the NPC (National Press Club), two leading organizations of Filipino journalists admitted some truth behind Duterte’s tirade and severe scolding. They should have rested there. They could have, perhaps, had Duterte not been blunt and scorching in conveying his message.
Boycott, Media Ban
But they were hurt. No past President including the outgoing Aquino had censured them. They accused Duterte for generalizing. They were appalled by his justifying of the killing of corrupt journalists; they feared it can incite more media killings. The Journalists Sans Frontieres, a Paris-based organization that promotes and defends freedoms of the press and information, urged Filipino journalists to demand an apology from Duterte and to boycott his activities if he does not.
The more they angered Duterte. In his June 2 press conference, he clarified his earlier statements – differentiating the “crusaders” from the “extortionists”. He dared the journalists to boycott him, calling them “cowards” if they would not. NUJP responded:
“As for your dare to boycott you, we are very sorry but we will not, cannot, indulge you. Besides, it was not a call made by the Philippine media; for, while we may have our differences, as we have had with past presidents, it has never occurred to us to abdicate our duty, which is to keep watch on government and help ensure it does right by the governed and to scrutinize and ask the hard questions.” It continued its critical objection to Duterte’s position on media killing. (MindaNews, June 3).
That did not pacify Duterte. “If you hit me, I will hit right back. … There are politicians who would accept and swallow [your attacks]. Not me (Inquirer, June 4).”
Then he declared his own boycott of media. That June 2 press conference would be his last; he will not call any other until the end of his term. Media can monitor him and the activities of his administration through the state televisions and information service.
He meant it. Last June 5, Manila televisions were banned from covering live on site “DU31”, the grand Duterte victory party at Crocodile Park in Davao City; last June 7, reporters were again banned from the meeting of Duterte and outgoing Speaker Feliciano Belmonte Jr. On June 30, private televisions will not be allowed inside the Palace; they can monitor the inauguration from the Malacanang ground through state-run PTV4.
To complete the boycott, will Duterte also prohibit his cabinet members from giving interviews to media until the end of his term?
(To be continued: Part 2: Opportune Moment)
(Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate. You may e-mail your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org)