PRESIDENT Rodrigo Duterte cracks a joke about himself now and then, but can he take a joke about him from others, especially members of the media?
We can only know big time if the National Press Club revives the Gridiron Night where the President and members of his Cabinet are subjected to good, clean, if irreverent, roasting. How about it, Paul Gutierrez?
Presidents Cory, Fidel V. Ramos and even Gloria Macapagal Arroyo gamely took it on the chin as they shared a moment of fun at their expense with reporters and editors at the Gridiron Night. FVR captured the spirit of the NPC-sponsored event when he said:
“I am happy to be here for a friendly exchange of barbs and jokes to ease the tension of having to deal with the many problems that beset our country today. With the kind of sparkling wit, good humor and acting expertise exhibited here tonight to ease all of us through all the pain, eventually we Filipinos shall overcome.”
Perhaps no Philippine President can bear with a spoof from others or make deprecating jokes about himself more than President Erap. He has an excellent sense of humor, made punchier by his perfect timing and acting prowess. It’s this sense of humor, often at his own expense, that continues to make him a favorite topic in gatherings years after his tenure in Malacañang.
However, not all Chief Executives have a keen sense of humor. This asset is notably absent in leaders with a dictatorial bent. They generally consider jokes about them as an insult and a challenge to their authority. Their leadership is generally characterized by attempts to downgrade the media,
Recently, US President Donald Trump called the press “the enemy of the people.” Researchers noted that this phrase was commonly used by despots on those critics that they want eliminated. The testy relations between Trump and the US media is accentuated by his refusal to attend the annual White House Correspondents Association dinner scheduled this April. This makes him the first US President since Ronald Reagan to fail to attend this event. Reagan couldn’t be faulted for his absence—he was recuperating from a bullet wound from an assassination attempt.
A White House spokesperson, Sarah Huckabee Sanders, didn’t hide Trump’s low regard for the press in explaining why he would absent himself from the yearly event: “He was not elected President to spend his time with reporters and celebrities.”
Trump attended a White House Correspondents Association dinner on April 30, 2011, with President Barack Obama as the principal guest. Reports said Trump was disgusted that media people joked about him when they could have joked about many other attendees. Some opinion writers cite this “unpleasant “ experience as the main reason why he’s not attending this year’s affair.
The Trump administration further showed that it’s onion-skinned when it barred CNN, BBC, New York Times and the Washington Post from a press briefing called “gaggle.”
President Duterte is sometimes called the “Trump of the Philippines.” Or, should we call Trump the “Duterte of the United States?” Whatever, it’s comforting to note that he hasn’t called the Philippine media the “enemy of the people.” Neither has he barred the Inquirer, ABS-CBN and Rappler from Malacañang presscons.
Or, will that be “not yet?” Heaven forbid!
The fact is, there seems to be a growing intolerance for criticism from the press under the Duterte administration. Social media is littered with venomous words directed at those who criticize the President, even if the critics meant well. Presidential Communications Secretary Martin Andanar tried to blacken the image of Senate reporters when he claimed without proof that they were offered $1,000 to cover a presscon where a retired Davao City policeman linked President Duterte to the contested existence of the Davao Death Squad.
A critical press is essential in a democracy. This was recognized by Obama who had a share of media bashing. He said at the White House Correspondents Association Dinner on March 11, 2013:
“While we’ll always have disagreements, I believe we share the belief that a free press—a press that questions us, that holds us accountable, that sometimes gets under our skin—is absolutely an essential part of our democracy.
“I know that there are people who get frustrated with the way journalism is practiced these days. And sometimes ‘these people’ are me. But the truth is our country needs you, and our democracy needs you.”
How I wish President Duterte would follow this tack of Obama and not of Trump, even if Obama once got his goat for commenting on his bloody war against illegal drugs. For this, he needs a sense of humor that can make him accept media criticisms as par for the course.
A friend remarked that media is getting intimidated by the foul-mouthed Duterte supporters. This shouldn’t be acceptable in a democracy. The President can show the way by not taking offense at criticism and of being roasted by media, even if for one night only.
So, is the stage set for the revival of the NPC Gridiron Night?