Is the media serving justice to alleged victims of the Duterte administration’s war on illegal drugs?
No, if we go by the headline of the banner story of the Thursday issue of another national broadsheet about a five-year-old girl being the “latest fatality” in the drug war.
The headline made the story into a case of another drug-related killing, taking the police angle despite claims to the contrary by the family of the man who was shot in a Dagupan City incident, protesting against the police’s inclusion of his name in a drug watch list.
The story’s spin was that the granddaughter was what the newspaper called “collateral damage” in the government’s crackdown on the drug menace and its Pied Pipers across the archipelago.
Yes, a “gunman” had supposedly targeted the grandfather but missed, and accidentally shot and killed the young girl. Although early in the narrative the story did not make a connection between the shooter and the old man, the account segued to the police chief of the northern city where the tragedy happened as having “theorized that drug dealers were behind the attack.”
It was not clear from the story what the basis of the theory was. No detail was given about the local police chief’s comment, not even a qualifier saying the reporter made the necessary follow-up question about that drug-watch list and its basis, and if such question had received any reply. After all, it may not be a farfetched possibility that the assailant could have also just been trying to settle a personal score with the old man and that the shooting had nothing to do with illegal drugs at all?
Authorities, however, had to first produce the attacker, but the story said nothing more about what happened with the suspect after the incident.
The grandfather’s wife said her husband had never been involved in illegal drugs and feared that the “killers may come back for [him].”
Well, the old man survived the shooting and the burden to prove his innocence now lies with him. In the event he is as clean as a whistle, as his wife portrays him to be, then the description of the girl being “collateral damage” collapses.
If, on the other hand, the grandfather is guilty of any illegal drugs connection, then the entire sorry episode cannot be automatically blamed on the government’s war on drugs but on the individual shooter, as may or may not have been provoked by the victim himself. The local police chief referred to the attackers as “drug dealers.” The victim could have also been a drug user or a drug pusher even before the Duterte administration took over.
Obviously, the headline of the story chose to side with the police description of the matter as a drug-related killing perpetrated by private participants in the illegal drugs trade, punching holes in the government crackdown on this crime as nothing more than a bloody foray to meet a deadline and everything about a drive against criminality gone berserk.
There was this other story about a supposedly very young boy who was a heroin addict, according to Janet Cooke, the reporter who wrote the Pulitzer-winning piece for The Washington Post in 1981.
Cooke said in her report “Jimmy” injected himself with heroin. Her editors believed her, but later faced with incontrovertible proof that she had fabricated the story, the paper was forced to return her prize.
While the modern news media’s duty to report the facts now comes with the responsibility of connecting the dots for the readers, when faced with two conflicting sides in the same story, choosing to highlight the angle that favors one side without providing factual back-up for that choice could be as oppressive as hiding the truth itself.