MANILA - Reporters covering President Rodrigo Duterte should avoid interpreting his statements, a media watchdog said Saturday, after his recent comments triggered a diplomatic gaffe with the United States.
Duterte had maintained that he did not curse at US President Barack Obama and accused media of "spinning" his statements. Obama cancelled a meeting with Duterte in Laos this week after those comments.
"I would imagine that in certain cases, things become a matter of interpretation. But it is up to us journalists to say, 'Is this, Mr. President what you mean exactly?'" Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility chairman Vergel Santos told ANC.
"Many of our practitioners today tend to be intimidated, or charmed, or even disarmed by Mr. Duterte. Whether the media are prepared to carry out their job boldly, this territory does not choose [the] president or the media. It's a matter of what the president likes to happen," he said.
Upon his arrival from Indonesia on Saturday, Duterte said media was free to criticize him on his work. Santos said such a declaration was "very encouraging."
"This is our job. We don't have to be told if we should criticize or we shouldn't. But it is nice to hear the president say that he would be open to criticism now," he said.
Santos said Duterte should also make sure that his spokesmen speak with one voice.
"I have been observing his alter egos saying 'This is probably what the president means,' or 'This is what he thinks.' The people around him themselves don't know exactly what he means," Santos said.
Presidential Communications Office Secretary Martin Andanar defended Duterte, saying he had made himself more accessible to the press compared to his predecessors.
He said the media should always take the president's statements in the proper context. Referring to drug-related deaths as a "kill list," for example, would imply that there was an assassination list.
"Libre magtanong ang media sa kanya [The media are free to ask him questions]. I don't see any reason why or anything negative about what the president is acting now towards the media," Andanar said in a separate ANC interview.