PRESIDENT Duterte has weathered so much and remains highly popular. His approval ratings are unperturbed despite the concerted efforts by his critics to paint him in a negative light, particularly in mainstream media. He continues to have the upper hand against his political enemies. Allegations of corruption are neutralized every time he sacks an erring official. He is being labeled as a dictator by people who ironically are free to call him as such without fearing arrest. There is hardly any report that political activists have been victims of forced disappearances, torture or illegal detention.
However, what is painted in the media, and mouthed by the political opposition, is a presidency that has inflicted random deaths on his people, that someone who is not familiar with the country will get the impression that we live under the rule of a draconian dictatorship ruled by a ruthless tyrant.
If there is any aspect of our political life where the coercive power of the state is imposed, it is on the issue of drugs and rebellion, which are necessarily considered as criminal acts for which the state has a monopoly of the legitimate use of violence. This is precisely why mainstream media keeps on reporting on drug-related deaths, and to a lesser extent, killings of civilians related to the leftist insurgency, in the context of extrajudicial killings, if only to lend ammunition to the perpetuation of the image of a state gone rogue.
And then we have claims that the Duterte administration also targets the media, which allegedly goes beyond the alleged harassment of Rappler, and the banning of Pia Ranada, but could even end up in journalists being targeted for killing.
Just days after the Rappler and Ranada brouhaha, the Philippine Daily Inquirer featured a story by Agence France-Presse on March 1headlined “Iraq, PH deadliest places for journalists, says media group.” Yet, this is based on the assessment made by the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) using data from 1990 until 2015 before the term of Duterte. It is clear that the intention of the story is to mislead those who only rely on reading the headlines and would readily think that this is the current reality. What is not highlighted is that while killings of journalists still happen, even IFJ has noted that it has declined in recent years.
Obviously, the story was deliberately published, even if the data used was not during the incumbency of President Duterte, to provide a narrative that can complement the image of the President attacking mass media and would be convenient to what is painted as a systematic assault on press freedom, which is now alleged as being done to Rappler and Ranada.
John Nery, the editor in chief of Inquirer online, has been quoted by the UST student publication The Varsitarian as having said in one campus forum that “the machinery of disinformation has a hands-on leader and that is President Duterte himself. He is a primary source of disinformation.” Nery further blamed the Presidential Communications Operations Office (PCOO), particularly Secretary Martin Andanar for his role in allegedly mainstreaming the disinformation work of PCOO Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson and pro-Duterte major bloggers RJ Nieto and Sass Rogando Sasot.
Journalists like Nery are hellbent in painting the President as a source of misleading information, and have repeatedly assaulted not only Uson, Nieto and Sasot, but all other pro-Duterte social media bloggers as the main propagators of fakery.
Yet, Nery and his cohorts in mainstream media rarely come out swinging against the incompetence and the malicious spins of their own kind. They hide in the general cop-out of a standard operating procedure that they have editorial policies, that they have accountability mechanisms, and that they apologize when they commit mistakes.
Well, apparently such mechanisms have failed in the very newspaper that Nery writes for. If indeed a rigorous vetting mechanism for truthfulness and accuracy exists, then such news on media killings lumping the Philippines with Iraq should not have been published for the simple reason that it was a dated piece of news.
In its defense, Inquirer can say that what they posted was factual. But it has to be pointed out that the context and timing of the story’s publication were aimed at giving a misleading spin. That may not necessarily be a lie but is designed to stir confusion and make some people use what appears to be factual material as fodder for propagating a lie, where such is made to appear to be the fault of the President. What is even patently and deliberately dishonest is when the Inquirer did not even mention that the IFJ statistics on media killings in the Philippines did not worsen, and even slightly went down, during the first two years of President Duterte’s administration.
One of the most abused words being hurled at the President and the social media bloggers who are supporting him is that they are propagators of “fake news.”
One of the clearest definition of “fake news” is that it is a “false, often sensational, information disseminated under the guise of news reporting.”
Clearly, the President, when he gives out statistics and makes claims in his speeches, is not in any way acting as a news reporter. Asec Mocha Uson, RJ Nieto and Sass Rogando Sasot are not news reporters. Mainstream media has repeatedly emphasized that people like them, and other social media bloggers, are not legitimate news authorities. Professional journalists like John Nery have emphasized the fact that social media is not journalism, and social media blogging is not news reporting.
Hence, they are the very ones who have denied social media the technical capacity to become bearers of fake news. As non-journalists, they simply cannot disseminate false information under the guise of news reporting. In fact, most social media people are not even acting as if they report news but are simply commenting on public issues.
Nery and his colleagues in mainstream media, on the other hand, are obliged to present facts when they report the news. They are not supposed to disseminate false and sensational information. This would include spinning what is factual in order to mislead.