Did Duterte justify media killings? Maybe not

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TWO top allies quickly sprang to his defense. The leader of his Partido Democratic Pilipino-Lakas ng Bayan party, Sen. Aquilino Pimentel 3rd, and his vice-presidential running mate, Sen. Alan Peter Cayetano, of the Nacionalista Party, both insisted that news reports misinterpreted his comments on corrupt media.

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Were incoming President Rodrigo Duterte’s remarks wrongly understood and reported?
Now that a week has passed since that news conference, and the controversy has somewhat died down, it may be good to dispassionately review what was actually said, and how it was reported.

As it happened, many newspaper and online articles here and abroad blared that Duterte “justified” the killings of corrupt journalists. Some further argued that he encouraged such murders.

That disturbing, if not enraging take on Duterte’s media talk may have, in fact, read a certain perspective into it even if other meanings could have also been intended.

On the other hand, the way the discussion went, and given media’s penchant to pick up the more controversial or alarming interpretation, one can understand why many journalists reported as they did, to the outrage of press and rights advocates.

Plainly, there are lessons for both sides in the whole episode and its post-mortem. And if President-elect Duterte and the media are to avoid misreading his words, there is clearly a need for greater care in his remarks and how they are reported.

Duterte did not justify killing media

So let’s dissect the President-in-waiting’s statement, with extra care to forestall any facile claims of misunderstanding what was said.

“Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch.”

There are two possible meanings to construe from this line: that unsavory journalists can be killed, or that they can provoke assassination.

The first interpretation is an obvious point, which didn’t even need to be said. Everyone knows, especially the media he was addressing, that many newsmen have been murdered, including corrupt ones.

Now, if Duterte was making the second point, his statement may suggest that corrupt newsmen are to blame if they are murdered. That is certainly how it came across to many media here and abroad, judging from the headlines about his remarks.

Still, the President-to-be did not actually state that the killing of corrupt or unsavory journalists was right and justified, as many media wrongly headlined, possibly feeding the murderous inclinations of some media-hating people.

Blaming the victims

Now, did Duterte blame the killing of corrupt or unsavory media on the victims?
He never said it out explicitly, but in the many things he said, including his remarks on assassinated Davao broadcaster Jun Pala, he seemed to put the onus on the dead.

On Pala, who was a tough Duterte critic, the outgoing mayor not only decried the late radioman’s supposed sleaze and nastiness. Duterte also said he knew who had Pala killed, and did not lay any blame on the unnamed murder mastermind.

Instead, Duterte cited Pala’s disrespect for the person who had him killed as reason—but not justification—for the killing. Notably, many media use “reason” and “justification” interchangeably in headlines and stories, so Duterte citing Pala’s purported sleaze as reason for his assassination was reported as “justifying” the killing.

Another remark suggesting that Duterte blamed corruption or nastiness for the death of journalists is his claim that “most of those killed, to be frank, [had]done something. You won’t be killed if you don’t do anything wrong.”

Again, Duterte did not say that killing journalists who do wrong is justified and right. But with all the criticism leveled at the murdered media, with no mention of culpability among those who perpetrated the killings, it’s hard not to conclude that he was blaming journalists’ failings for most media assassinations.

A further point: the assertion that most media killed did wrong has no basis and is probably untrue. Certainly, the dozens of journos decimated in the Maguindanao massacre of 2009 were innocents caught in a barbaric act of political and tribal bloodletting.

Moreover, if a pressman was corrupt, he probably would just be paid off, rather than killed. It is those who cannot be bought whom dirty politicians, crime syndicates, and unscrupulous business may then silence in a hail of bullets. “Most of those killed, to be truthful, had refused to do wrong,” is probably the correct line.

Boycott, boycott

In the national and international reactions to Duterte’s media comments, the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders called for a boycott of his news conferences. While media in the country did not heed that wrongheaded urging, Duterte retorted with his own boycott of the press. He stopped his media conferences, and even said he would give no more till his term ends in six years.

These mutual boycotts are, of course, unwise and unsustainable, if both the President and the press are to function properly.

For the media, boycotting the most important figure in Philippine news would be plain stupid and hurtful to the public. It would punish not Duterte or his government, but the people who need to know from impartial, independent news about the next administration’s views and actions.

Repression, threats to journalists, and government statements seeming to abet such violations of human rights and press freedom, are reasons for journalists to be careful and courageous, not for us to shirk our duty to the nation and the truth.

So what should have been the headline for Duterte’s media remarks?

Maybe “Duterte blames media sleaze for journo killings” or “Most media killed ‘did wrong’—Duterte.” They may not sell as many newspapers or get as many Facebook “Likes,” but they’re truthful.

As for “Duterte justifies media killings,” while alarming rights and media advocates, that unwarranted banner might have those who have killed journalists or are thinking of it, feel right in their criminal act or intent. That undermines the truth twice over.

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18 Comments

  1. Rudi Miranda on

    Thank you! Congratulation! Keep up and move on with a well thought piece of opinion! Truthful and reliable…

  2. I already lost my respect to the PDI because of their ubiased reports. I already stopped reading their articles. Good that Manila Times are doing its job in “true” journalism. Keep it up and you will gain my respect. Saludo ako sayo Ricardo for this article.

  3. Patricio Jose Camaquin on

    So the next there is a journo killed, the media should also dig in or investigate as to why their fellow got killed.

  4. Amnata Pundit on

    Duterte must clearly draw the battle line by boycotting the Inquirer and ABS-CBN. This will crystallize the issues more clearly for the public in the coming hard battles ahead. These outfits are hiding behind the cloak of democracy and freedom when in reality they are actively engaged in partisan politics, and their objective is to bring down Duterte and install that widow Mrs Robredo. Digong, huwag kang kukurap, baka ka ma-Erap!

  5. Media’s habit of cherry-picking phrases and their failure to consider the context of statements will naturally lead to all this gnashing of teeth and screaming headlines. Knee-jerk reactions and contrived controversies will indeed sell newspapers and airtime. Keep it up and expect no media openness from Duterte.

  6. The people who voted Duterte knew exactly who they voted for and are patient and willing enough to give him leeway to grow into his presidency. The substance of his platform – simple and clear, are what we are looking forward. We are not fooled by him – but the media can be exasperating when they play these mind-games with the public. I’m glad there is a press moratorium for now. It gives me pause in throwing my dinner plate to the reporter’s head on TV, or crumpling newspapers with misleading headlines.

  7. The answer is simple yes……Justify,many media today is all bias not independent on Judgement just to destroy a person…..another Idiot media…..Action of the President not media that wll make change this great nation….Gossip Media…..

  8. Victor Arches on

    When President-elect Duterte challenged the reporters present during that fateful presscon in Davao by saying, “Kayo, alam ninyo kung sino sa inyo ang corrupt at humihingi ng kotong” or something to that effect and then asking, “Why don’t you expose them?” the ensuing silence was deafening.
    To me, the silence blatantly exposed the hypocrisy of the so-called Fourth Estate.

  9. I watched the live press con that night, in its entirety. I was completely surprised the next morning to read the articles from various local media. It never crossed my mind while watching the live press con that Duterte justified in any way whatsoever media killings, hence my surprise the next morning. So for me, anyone who says that Duterte justifies media killings or that ALL media killings were because of their (media’s) corruption, has either poor listening skills (of what Duterte said during the press con, assuming they in fact listened to the press con) or is deliberately putting a spin / twisting what he said for whatever purpose intended or is taking at face value, without proper discernment, whatever media reports.

  10. you know what? Prody is a natural “maru”. woe to anybody who cannot “jump off” from his “cargaderas”. Study first the person.

  11. One thing that is not discuss in any forum is Duterte might be the first president of the Philippines to resign in the first year of service. Knowing his temperament, he just cannot control himself. So , brace yourself for a bumpy first year.

  12. To all parties involved, please do not use misinterpreted again. I am not a stupid guy and my hearing is still intact. Please do not insult my intelligence and all Pilipinos intelligence. The words are very clear. It is his temper he cannot control.

    • May be your hearing is impaired! Or you are a loyalist to the Yellow team. That’s all it is.

  13. D30 knows what he is talking about when he classified media according to their preferences, thats a reality
    But for media people its hard to accept. President of media groups should set an example and discipline their own ranks. Refrain from envelopmental journalism. Dont demand and when the person donot accede to your gusto you will write negative about the person nefarious activities. So media people should not have an adverse feeling against d30. Totoo lng ang kanyang position and i admire the president for that he knows where he is going.

  14. Well-said.

    I usually don’t read Manila Times because I found most articles hogwash.

    But as a Duterte supporter, I can see that you are more impartial than most. You may be classified under the first of three types of journalists: the type that speaks only of the truth.

    Please keep up this fair writing.

    I will follow your articles from now on.

  15. The blame is totally on the media for the misleading headline. These headlines are designed to elicit anger and provoke the readers especially those who do not bother to read the entire article. The editorial staff is the last line of defense and clearly they are failing in their jobs.

    • Agree! The quality of news reporting has deteriorated. They sensationalize topics just to sell their papers or programs. I really hope that President Duterte confines his appearance and interviews to PTV 4. They cannot say that’s limiting FOI since anyone is free to watch it.