MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/31 July) – It’s normal for public officials to worry over negative reports coming out in the media on the economy, peace and order and other matters concerning governance – or the lack of it. And journalists may not find it worthwhile to be worried about occasional gripes from these officials on the supposed tendency of media to focus on the “negative” news, although I’m not sure if it’s proper to define news as either positive or negative. Problems arise however when a leader, the President in particular, oversteps the thin line between press freedom and censorship.
Last Friday, President Benigno S. Aquino III again chided the media for its “negativity and sensationalism.” There could be no greater irony than the fact that he did it during the silver anniversary of ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol news program where he was the guest of honor. Although directed at news anchor Noli de Castro, who happened to be Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s vice president, Malacanang’s communication guys were candid enough to say that the target was media itself.
Taking cue from this Palace admission, one may surmise that Aquino delivered his scathing remarks [against media as a whole] with the clear intent to make it come out with sanitized reports about this administration. Why, the President did it not once but twice, to paraphrase Susan Roces, and on the same day at that. He delivered the same message (read instruction) at the silver anniversary of BusinessWorld.
Aquino’s act was a pathetic case of shooting, I mean shouting at the messenger. My initial reaction to it was to say that media simply reports the events using a lens different from those that shape the view of PR people in or out of government. (Of course, there are PR practitioners disguised as reporters or opinion writers who are content with the cut-and-paste brand of journalism.)
It is not for Aquino, or any official for that matter, to dictate how media should report or interpret events. No one may blame the media for keeping some amount of skepticism and doubt on official statements and statistics on politics, the economy and foreign relations, among others.
Media is not to blame if it cites the growing number of Filipinos going hungry and without jobs amid government claims of an improved economy. It is not to blame if it reports that his “matuwid na daan” has several potholes, and that the fight for good governance does not end with impeaching a chief justice with questionable integrity. It is not to blame if it points out the apparent inconsistency in issuing strong pronouncements on Philippine sovereignty over the Panatag Shoal and withdrawing Navy ships from there, enabling China to strengthen its physical control of the disputed territory.
Finally, Aquino’s still high, albeit slipping popularity rating does not give him the license to tell the media to do away with skepticism – or “negativism” if you may – as a tool of the trade. He has no right telling the media what to do or not do. If he only wants to read or listen to fairy tales, he must be thinking that he is president of Neverland. (MindaNews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)