Duterte communications chief pushes for independent state media

Inday Espina-Varona

Posted at Jun 18 2016 10:54 PM

WATCH: Will the Philippines finally have an independent state broadcast network?

MANILA - President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s communications head has asked the Australian Broadcasting Corp. to help the Philippine state-owned PTV4 transition into a self-sustaining, independent network.

In an interview with ABS-CBNNews, broadcaster Martin Andanar said technological and management reforms in various state-owned media, including PTV4, would also mean revamping news operations to be “critical and independent.”

Andanar has asked the public media firm to help train staff. As a broadcaster, Andanar also trained with the Australian network. He added that the unified Presidential Communications Office under Duterte would also seek help from local commercial media. 

“The charter of ABC is patterned after the BBC,” the respected state network of the United Kingdom, Andanar said, noting the need to amend PTV4's charter.

Andanar believes Duterte, who drew protests for comments that seemed to justify the killings that hound Filipino journalists, backs press freedom and sees no need deprive state media of that right.

"The three important, primary values that he believes in are justice, fairness and equality," Andanar said. If you believe in these principles, “there’s no reason why you can’t give in to editorial independence.” 

He quoted Duterte saying a number of times, “that as long as we do our jobs right, as long as it’s for the people, then it (editorial independence) should be okay.”

WATCH: Duterte believes in editorial independence

NO PICNIC

Editorial independence won’t come easy, Andanar acknowledged.

Like journalists in commercial and alternative media, their counterparts in state corporations will need to assert the right to for the prompt and free flow of information from government agencies.

Duterte, Andanar pointed out, has promised to immediately install a freedom of information police in all offices of the executive branch.

“This means na no holds barred when it comes to information,” he stressed. “How can you exercise FOI if the information (from state media) is controlled?”

Change in officials’ outlook, however, will take time, given the practice of decades.

Part of the communications reforms Andanar wants to implement includes re-training information desks of government bodies to provide more relevant data and studies.

Those serving critical governance clusters also need to work together to give the public a more cohesive picture of reforms or setbacks, and their impact on people’s lives, he added.

Andanar wants to merge the Philippines News Agency (PNA) and the Philippine Information Agency (PNA) into a single body. He said the PNA was needed during martial law due to a dearth in other sources of information. 

Times have changed and the new body, he said, “will be the government’s newsdesk and should act like one.”

Even as state media pursues stories that commercial media may overlook, Duterte’s communications chief expects these units to probe deeper into official statements and gather data that verify or contradict state executives’ claims.

State media, he added, should not wait for press releases but should work like other media to uncover problems faced by various sectors and bring these to the attention of agencies.

Andanar said press freedom is a continuing struggle, even in more established democracies.

“They (ABC) have had their share of editorial independence questions, and problems and controversies, the same way that BBC has its own share of controversies,” he pointed out.

“There will be a number of obstacles and challenges ahead for PTV becoming a BBC in the Philippines but we will strive to work in having editorial independence. It’s going to be a tough battle, but it’s achievable,” Andanar said.

WATCH: What President-elect Duterte’s FOI thrust means to state media

ROCKY START

Soon after his election win, Duterte made a series of controversial remarks that drew a flood of protest statements from media groups. He stopped holding press conferences to focus on choosing his Cabinet and ensuring a smooth transition process. 

Duterte’s recent statements, coursed through former spokesman Salvador Panelo, have shown a change of tone and an attempt to clarify his stance on press freedom and human rights.

"He condemns all killings, harming of journalists regardless who these personalities are, whether or not they are for or against any administration," Panelo said.

"He will not allow any killing or arming of journalists. He will prosecute to the fullest anyone who violates the law," he added.

Read: Duterte condemns all killings of journalists -- Panelo

Panelo also answered calls by human rights groups by stressing that Duterte’s tough stance on crime – the central message of his campaign – would continue to recognize constitutional rights of suspects. 

His chosen national police chief, Ronald dela Rosa, claims the rash of killings involving suspected narcotics peddlers – 68, as reported by the Philippine National Police (PNP) on Friday -- could be the handiwork of “scalawag cops” out to remove traces of their ties to crime gangs. 

Read: Scalawags cleaning house? 'Bato' issues threat