BY disallowing reporter Pia Ranada of Rappler from covering the presidency up close, Malacañang has conceded that the pen is indeed mightier than the sword. The ban, which was claimed in part to have legal basis, shows how the seat of power deals with fake news.
Ranada’s sharp questioning of administration policies and actions as well as her style of reporting has irritated the President himself and his overzealous defenders. At the same time, the Palace keeps in its stable primary producers and peddlers of misinformation and disinformation in the persons of Undersecretaries Mocha Uson and Lorraine Marie Badoy at the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO).
Sadly, the President considers Ranada as a producer of what he calls “fake news,” but not Uson and Badoy.
Obviously, the President and his administration define fake news differently. To them, fake news is anything that is critical of what they say and do, regardless of the facts presented. To them, legitimate news is propaganda, even if it is supported by facts that are twisted to suit their interests.
By banning Ranada from the Palace, the administration somehow makes a heroine out of her. They concede that she’s able to influence public opinion through her thinking and writing than the manner by which the administration’s aggressive war on drugs and corruption is carried out to effect change.
Ranada was simply doing her job as a journalist. Professional journalists ought to be inquisitive, persistent, courageous, patient in digging up facts to be able to give their audience—readers, listeners or viewers— facts, context, and analysis of what they cover. They are not supposed to please the people they cover. They’re not supposed to kowtow to the persons they cover, regardless of positions.
I have been telling journalism students that I teach that they should be aggressive without being arrogant, persistent without being pesky.
I don’t know Ranada in person, but I know some of her editors. I consider some of her editors at Rappler to be among the best journalists in the country today. They may not be squeaky clean but their values are far higher than most in the industry today. Perhaps that’s why they’re getting brickbats instead of praise from those who needed to pay their way into the news, and those whose decisions cannot stand public scrutiny.
If Malacañang has a problem with Ranada’s style of reporting, if they find her stories malicious, or “fake news” as President Duterte has claimed, why don’t they take her to court for libel?
If what presidential spokesman Harry Roque said is true that Duterte felt betrayed by Ranada because he treated her like his own granddaughter, it shows how petty this administration is…that it could be threatened by a woman who probably weighs not even 100 pounds.
To avoid criticisms that banning Ranada from the Palace involves a press freedom issue, Roque said she can still write and report whatever she wants but she cannot have physical access to the Palace or to the President. He went on to say that the Palace is the official residence of the President who has every right drive out any visitor that he finds to be behaving rudely.
Those behind the decision to disallow Ranada from entering Malacañang, the country’s seat of power, should be reminded of the provision in the Constitution that says, “Public office is a public trust. Public officers and employees must at all times be accountable to the people, serve them with utmost responsibility, integrity, loyalty, and efficiency, act with patriotism and justice, and lead modest lives.”
In libel cases involving public officials, the courts always cite a Supreme Court decision that says “public officers, especially those who were elected, should not be too onion-skinned as they are always looked upon to set the example how public officials should correctly conduct themselves even in the face of extreme provocation.”
Malacañang’s handling of its problem with Ranada is out of place. If it does not want “fake news,” then what justification does it have for keeping the likes of Uson and Badoy right under its “presidential communications” office, being paid much more than what longtime workers in government are getting and enjoying the perks and privileges of foreign and domestic travels using public resources?
Ranada is a victim of the “arrogance of power” on the part of people who are insecure about their competence.