Duterte and the media, from the perspective of a student journalist
The old adage “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me” proves to be obsolete as President-elect Rodrigo Duterte readies himself to take on the most sought-after position in this country.
Weeks ago, the Davao mayor ran his mouth once more on national television, wolf-whistling of the respected Mariz Umali. At the same time, Duterte brought to light his encounters with corrupt media practitioners, effectively blaming a journalist’s dishonesty for his murder.
The president’s behavior did not sit well with the press.
It was but natural of Duterte to take offensive approach rather than a defensive approach, in a situation that leaves him with no chance at being the bigger man. He challenges the press’ authority to scrutinize his actions, and reiterates his need for leg room while he hasn’t taken up the position. In the crudest manner, he looks directly into the camera lens, and tells the press not to mess with him.
Just recently, Duterte started his own boycott of the Philippine press, allowing no access to any local new station to his Thanksgiving parties (save for PTV4, a government-controlled station), and denying any interview or press conference until the end of his term.
It was within his rights as a citizen to react to what was published. Duterte is allowed to challenge the statement of the press, however crude and inappropriate his defense may seem. Legally speaking, he is allowed to refuse interviews and press conferences. The president is a public figure whose privacy is still valued. It is an option, and whether or not his option is ethical or not can be debated by the people.
I, however, find this move of Duterte a particularly dangerous one — and not just for the president or the press.
The bigger issue
The situation forces the president and the press at a stale mate. The media cannot report on what it does not know, and while there are other informants available, there is no denying how crucial it is to hear the executive perspective. This is a serious matter the media is facing.
However, there is another issue — equally disturbing and urgent — that many fail to recognize. Duterte has manipulated the psychology of the Philippine people by turning the reputation of the press into a villainous one.
For years, Filipino journalists and media practitioners have received backlash from its audience. At best, they lose their stamp of credibility from their viewers; and at worst, a whole lot of them are murdered and raped for exposing a risqué story.
The way Duterte handled the grilling of the journalists only heightened the public’s general distrust of their watchdogs. His words make a neutral party look like his biased predators.
And where does it leave students like me?
There are still many young, aspiring hopefuls who want to become the future of the Philippine press. Entering the mass communication college of prestigious universities has effectively brainwashed students like me into believing that diving into journalism gives them a higher purpose.
There are people I know who are willing to die for a story, in hopes that such story will shake the status quo. Journalism is a calling and it is a calling that is being attacked by the future of Malacañang.
I have been dissuaded by the people around me to pursue the opportunity to work for the Philippine press. Their arguments are all clear. The president-elect does not sit well with journalists, and the president-elect is a trigger-happy, gun-slinger.
Within the next 6 years, journalists will slowly be pulled out of their profession each time they keep a watchful eye on the president. Some would go as far as to call his ways Marcosian. Censorship looms at the corner of every newsroom.
At best, people tell me that I will be part of the problem. If I choose to play by the rules of Duterte’s school of journalism, I will be recycling blank sheets of paper as my daily column. At worst, I won’t be in business the day after I print something that’s not in his favor.
They say that this is just the beginning.
Six years down the line
For me, this involves the reevaluation of a chosen career path. Perhaps I was simply not born with the iron will of a good journalist, but because of Duterte, I will never be able to try.
When a president takes the press a little too personally, things go wrong for future media practitioners. We become discouraged to act and speak critically, because then we become critics of the president.
If continued, this will inevitably lead to a bleak future for media practitioners. The press is driven by the passion of those who stay in spite of the jeers of the people, but its credibility still lies with the people. The Philippines is currently being led to believe that the entire press is against the man who fights for change, when really, it isn’t.
Where will this lead us 6 years down the line? Where will students like me be 6 years down the line?
To be honest, I do not see this as a time to set up a solid defence against the president. The press should not waste anymore time saving face. They have spoken up, and delivered their memoranda. While many attack them, many still defend them. They no longer have time to be scorned by Duterte.
What can we do?
Instead, it’s time for the press and the future press to continue doing their job. There has been a very discouraging hurdle thrown in front of them and it is up to them to work around it.
For the respected press, continue to be critical of the president and his cabinet. Report every move that affects good governance and public safety. Question and probe when necessary, and investigate when no one seems to be helping. Let your determination to get the story rule your heart, but keep your media ethics lingering on your mind.
Just like the president, you’re currently under fire. One step out of line could cost the credibility of the entire profession to tumble down. We salute you for your bravery, and wish you luck as you lay the foundation of democracy for the next 6 years.
As for my fellow students who are studying to be a part of the press, always remain vigilant. If this is what you were called to do, then stand by it. Heed the warnings of your family and friends, but maintain the delusion that what you are going to do will still matter. You will be at risk. Don’t risk your life for the sake of a story — but don’t pass up the opportunity to tell it.
We can show the president-elect that we can be good sports, in the moments that he cannot.
Together, let us suffer under the consequences of his words for the sake of the people. They may hate us, but there will be people who will still rely on us. Let us do our jobs.
If we end up changing the Philippines in the process, well then, we’ll deserve a good old coffee break after everything. – Rappler.com
Angelica "Ica" de Leon is an aspiring journalist taking up BA Broadcast Communication at UP Diliman. She is currently in her second year. She writes short essays and stories from time to time.