OPINION: Crackdown on media reeks of fear

Inday Espina Varona, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Feb 21 2018 03:32 PM | Updated as of Feb 23 2018 07:26 AM

For all the bluster President Rodrigo Duterte likes to exhibit on live video feeds, his fear buttons are increasingly coming to the fore.

No less than Mocha Uson, assistant secretary of communications, bared the real reason for Malacanang’s ban on reporter Pia Ranada of Rappler.

In a video post on her Facebook page, Uson collapsed press freedom into an issue of personal trust -- in a very patriarchal context. 

“What can we do,” she said, “if President Duterte has lost all trust in Rappler?” 

She proceeded to insist the digital news outfit has been reporting “fake news” – a catch-all phrase for any reportage critical of the Duterte government.

Her reasoning was different from that of other Palace officials, who tried to frame the ban as related to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) decision to strip Rappler of its corporate status.

The official response since then has been slip sliding; it now displays clear fascist tendencies:

  • Earlier, Uson’s putative boss, Martin Andanar, said Rappler could continue its news operations, though it could starve financially because of the SEC decision;
  • Duterte called press freedom “a privilege” – at the mercy of his good graces;
  • Soon after the Presidential Security Group stopped Ranada, Duterte spokesman Harry Roque said she could still cover his press conferences and other events while Rappler appealed the SEC decision.
  • By afternoon, the word came down – total ban, a direct order from Duterte; and,
  • PSG Commander Brigadier General Lope Dagoy now claims that soldiers questioned for implementing assaults on the press have the right to physically harm journalists.

Uson is pretty much a mental alter ego of the President, and her video post displays the Duterte mindset towards media.

During the 2016 presidential campaign, she recalled, the former mayor of Davao City “treated Pia Ranada like she were his child.”

“You even ate with him,” she said, admonishing reporters to be careful “not to destroy the President’s trust”.

The loss of trust, Uson warned, is enough reason to ban a journalist. Access is a privilege, she stressed.

This is pretty much a take-off from the gospel of Duterte.

The President claims not to mind critical reportage but unleashes vicious attacks (including imaginary, hallucinatory claims) on reporters whose questions and claims give discomfort.

Uson insisted Malacanang’s ban on Ranada has no bearing on press freedom.

Ranada can watch the President’s speeches on live stream recordings, she pointed out.

And there we go to the heart of the matter.

This communications expert who gets paid by the people is clearly ignorant of the parameters of press freedom.

That’s not really a surprise; Uson has defended lies and disinformation as the privilege of bloggers, who she believes are not covered by the rules of ethical behavior. Respectable bloggers disagree with her. 

Watching isn’t journalism. Listening isn’t journalism. Transcribing may be part of a journalist’s bag of skills, but in itself is not journalism.

A live stream video is a controlled environment. It focuses only on what the government wants to show the public. News organizations merely tap into that controlled environment. 

The ability to observe and engage is a crucial component of journalism. 

Reporters see nuances that a video camera does not catch. They can spot potential news sources to approach for reactions or clarifications. 

Denial of access hampers journalism. It hampers the ability for truth-telling. 

Uson leaves out one of the most important duties of a journalist – to ask the tough questions.

Ranada is tenacious. Duterte’s tantrums don’t work with her. The vitriol from Uson and her mob slides off Ranada.

A journalist will find a way to documents and news sources, with or without government consent. Malacanang’s ban simply betrays its fear of being asked the right, tough questions.

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