OPINION: Duterte does not understand media’s role in a democracy

Ellen T. Tordesillas

Posted at Feb 22 2018 09:34 PM

Of the many things that Presidential spokesperson Harry Roque said to justify the banning of Rappler and its reporter Pia Ranada in Malacañang premises, one thing stood out that reflected President Duterte ’s misunderstanding of the role of media in a democracy.

Roque said: “Nag-isyu na ang Presidente ng order na hindi pupuwede si Pia [sa Malacañang]. (The President has issued the order that Pia is not allowed in Malacañang.)” 

The reason?

“Trinaydor siya ni Pia, dahil alam naman ng marami sa Malacañang Press Corps, itinuring siya na parang apo ni presidente. Pero para pagpilitan ang fake news, wala nang dahilan para siya’y manatili sa Malacañang kung puro fake news naman ang kanyang ibabalita." 

(Pia betrayed him, many in Malacañang Press Corps know the president treated her like a granddaughter. But for insisting on putting out fake news, there’s no more reason for her to be in Malacañang, if it’s it all fake news that will be reporting.)

There are several things wrong with this statement.

One, media’s role is to inform the public as accurately and to the best of the reporter’s skill what is going on. If the reporter is assigned in Malacañang, he or she informs the public about statements and activities of the President and other officials in Malacañang.

It’s irrelevant if the President is nice to the reporter or not. What is important is the reporter has access to the facts in order that he or she can convey to the public about the President and his actions and decisions.

Access to the information, which oftentimes is the President himself, is not a favor that Malacañang bestows to the reporter. It is part of a healthy, constructive relationship with media in order that the reporter can perform his or her job of informing the public accurately about what the President is doing.

Whether the report is favorable to the President or not is not the reporter’s concern. What should matter is the truthfulness of the report.

What did Duterte expect, since he treated Ranada like his granddaughter? That she would close her eyes if she discovered some information not favorable to him?

Two, it’s not media role to make the President look good to the public. That’s the job of his propagandists. Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar has a vast machinery for this and he is doing a great job as shown by surveys. 

Roque said the President decided to ban Ranada in Malacañang because they put out fake news.

In a press conference in Sara, Iloilo, Inquirer reporter Leila Salaveria asked Roque about it. His answer:

“Ang nangyari rito, pinapasok ang Rappler, si Pia, sa tahanan ng Presidente; dahil ang Malacañang naman po ay tahanan ng Presidente. Eh nabastos po ang Presidente kasi hindi lang nag- fake news ang Rappler, pinagpipilitan pa na katotohanan ang kaniyang fake news matapos ang imbestigasyon ng Senado." 

(What happened was Rappler, Pia was allowed into the President’s home because Malacañang is the President’s home. The President was disrespected because not only did Rappler release fake news, they still insisted on their fake news after the Senate investigation.)

Roque must be referring to Rappler’s report about the President’s Special Assistant, Bong Go, allegedly intervening in favor of a supplier in the Philippine Navy’s acquisition of two frigates. 

Roque continued: “Iyong pagpapatuloy po ng coverage ni Pia Ranada at Rappler, ito po ay tinutulan na ng napakadaming abogado sa Malacañang matapos sabihin ng SEC na kontrolado ng dayuhanang Rappler. Pinagpatuloy nga lang ng Presidente dahil malapit sa kaniya itong si Pia." 

(Pia Ranada and Rappler’s continued coverage is opposed by many lawyers in Malacañang after the SEC said it is controlled by a foreigner. The President just allowed Ranada because he is close to her.)

“Pero itong pagpilitan niya sa kaniyang fake news bagama’t na-establish na sa Senado na walang katotohanan, iyan po talaga ang nagging dahilan kung bakit tuluyan nang ipagbawal si Pia at ang Rappler sa Malacañang." 

(But for them to insist on their fake news after the Senate insisted that it’s not true, that’s really the reason why Pia and Rappler were banned in Malacañang.)

“Kayo naman po, sa sarili ninyong tahanan babastusin kayo ng bisita, masisisi ninyo ba kung palabasin sa tahanan ninyo iyong nambabastos? Ganoon din po ang Presidente.” 

(If you are disrespected by a visitor in your own house, can you be blamed if you show the disrespectful visitor the door? Same with the President.)

True, Malacañang is the President’s official residence. He holds office there. Reporters go there not to attend a private function but in performance of their duty to inform the public about activities and developments in the Office of the President.

If Malacañang feels some reporters are being irresponsible in their reporting, they can always clarify it with what they believe is the correct version of the news. They have premium access to news organizations.

If they feel they are victimized by inaccurate reports, they can always charge the reporter and the media outfit with libel.

And look who is complaining about fake news?

This is funny if it didn’t violate the constitutional guarantee of freedom of the press.


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Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.