Teachable moment for Duterte and the media


THE row between President-elect Rodrigo Duterte and the media has transmogrified from a case of presidential defiling of murdered journalists to a surreal spectacle of boycott threats and the threatened substitution of state media for private media.

What started as a typical Duterte wisecrack and display of machismo, is now a full-blown crisis in government-media relations. It has enmeshed not only domestic players, but also international organizations, even the United Nations.

Who will blink first?

Both Duterte and the media have threatened a boycott against each other. When the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders urged journalists to boycott coverage of Duterte’s news conferences, he responded by banning all media coverage of his activities in Davao City and by canceling all press conferences. The result is a blackout on both ends of presidential-media relations.

The more experienced and mature media organizations have desisted from endorsing a media boycott of Duterte and his incoming administration.

Duterte has followed up by declaring that his activities will only be reported henceforth by the state-owned People’s Television Network and by a forthcoming government tabloid and media website.

Who will blink first in this quarrel? Will it be the tough-talking Duterte whose macho image would be dented if he changes his tune? Or will it be the media, which take pride in their reputation as a watchdog of government?

Intransigence and mutual dependence

Paradoxically, intransigence is a dead-end for both sides.

In fact, if the President-elect and the media can pause long enough to study their quarrel carefully, both sides could learn something that would enrich their service to the nation and make each more effective in their work.

The key is to regard the controversy as a “teachable moment”—an event from which to learn something constructive and useful.

With a little humility (leadership gurus like to use the term “strategic humility”), each side should decide not to let pride get in the way of thinking. By reflecting on where their interests truly lie, the incoming President and the media will both see that they need each other. They are both better off cooperating with each other than quarreling.

Despite the acrimony, there is a sound basis for cooperation between the President-elect and the media that can ultimately produce a mutually beneficial relationship. Quite simply, the two are mutually dependent on each other. Neither the President nor the media can perform their jobs effectively without the assistance of the other; cooperation is, therefore, beneficial to both.

The President must be able to communicate with the public through the media, and the media must have the administration’s cooperation if they are to cover the most important official of the government, and give the public an accurate assessment of the President’s activities and policies.

Probably because he is a rookie in national politics, and his press office is not yet organized and staffed, Mr. Duterte is unable to deal with the controversy with maturity and competence.

Obama handles similar controversy

I first came across the term “teachable moment” while reading an account of how Barack Obama dealt with a big controversy early in his presidency, and successfully surmounted it.

In July 2009, Harvard professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. was arrested at his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and handcuffed by the police. The incident garnered huge media attention in the US. Obama waded into the issue to take the side of the professor, who is black and whom he knew personally during his studies at Harvard. He called the arrest “stupid.”

` To defuse the volatile national debate that developed over the arrest of the professor, Obama sensibly acknowledged that his own comments had inflamed tensions.

He said: “My hope is that as a consequence of this event this ends up being what’s called a ‘teachable moment’, where all of us instead of pumping up the volume spend a little more time listening to each other and try to focus on how we can generally improve relations between police officers and minority communities, and that instead of flinging accusations we can all be a little more reflective in terms of what we can do to contribute to more unity.”

Obama placed calls to both Prof. Gates and the man who arrested him, Sgt. James Crowley, two days after saying the police had “acted stupidly” in hauling the professor from his home in handcuffs.

By reversing course to quash a dispute that had set off strong public reactions, Obama showed strong leadership and secured wide public approval.

Obama’s use of the phrase “teachable moment” attracted considerable comment in the American media and blogosphere.

By definition, a teachable moment in education is the time at which learning a particular topic or idea becomes possible or easiest.

The concept was popularized by Robert Havighurst in his 1952 book, Human Development and Education. In the context of education theory, Havighurst explained, “A developmental task is a task which is learned at a specific point and which makes achievement of succeeding tasks possible. When the timing is right, the ability to learn a particular task will be possible. This is referred to as a ‘teachable moment.”

Ending the acrimony

Imagine if Mr. Duterte and the media can approach their quarrel with similar maturity and generosity of spirit, as a teachable moment for both sides.
The acrimony will dissipate overnight.

Our new President will rise in stature if he shows the strategic humility to walk back his intemperate remarks about murdered journalists, and his wolf-whistling at a female TV reporter.

Consider how the media would reinforce public trust in it as an institution, if our media organizations and we, individual journalists, acknowledge that we have work to do individually, and, together, to stop corruption in our ranks and raise standards in our industry and profession.



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  1. Rudi Miranda on

    Thank you! Maintain and develop the government media and the public media as well.

  2. Jose Samilin on

    Teachable, yes for the media alone, locally and internationally, including Ban KeMon of the United Nations, but not applicable to Duterte, where all these negative commentaries were falsely drawn from truthful statements of Duterte. Mediamen used their own thwarted report to prove unlawful word of Duterte as if they were truly proclaimed by Duterte where there is no such single proclamation but mediamen’s mere misinterpretation of Duterte’s truth statements. If all these were tested in the highest venue in its final test in courts in it’s own proper jurisdiction, whether made through, jury trials or bench trials, in accordance with the rules on evidence against Duterte, I am very sory but all media men’s evidences and proofs will all be thrown out over the window. The point is all media people must examine their hearts and conscience in order to work with proper ethics accordingly, so these media men would uphold the highest dignity and reputation of their profession worthy for the protection of our constitution, as any illegal activities are not protected by the constitution, for every media men to know.

  3. I don’t really care if i don’t hear about Duterte from mainstream media because it has been so unfair and mean to him. They only highlight what will appear sensational and will cause some controversy. They even have the gall to distort truth, even for the sake of whoever is paying them. They are not there to report the truth.it’s all showbiz reporting…I wouod prefer that Duterte just acts on his promises and plans without distractions. Duterte won by amlandslide despite news black outs from media so why should he need you now? We don’t need propaganda. We want results that we can feel. Social media is enough, even by word of mouth. We will not miss the big networks.

  4. Luzy Canilao on

    President Duterte is already set in his ways because of his age. It will be difficult if not impossible and too unfair to change him just because he is the president. Tao lang naman kasi yun. For as long as his heart is for the good of the majority of the people (not only a segment or particular sector like the top 1%) and he is able to make good his campaign promises and will deliver as a true public servant in substance (kasi yun ang importante, hindi ang porma lang), then, he will be a good president and a great leader. Never mind the media and others na nagdudunong dunungan, nagpapa importante at nakakagulo lang. Private media needs him more than he needing them. Self-righteous at mayayabang din kasi some media personalities. They should now know their right places. Otherwise, if they don’t adapt, magiging irrelevant na sila especially na meron ng social media ngayon. Peole can already go directly to the source of information, no need for medium ng traditional media.

  5. “By reflecting on where their interests truly lie, the incoming President and the media will both see that they need each other….” Media – who??? There are pro and anti personalities, there are also new comers who do not even know how to field the appropriate questions with proper timing. Mr Duterte (under his belt) has 3-decade of hands-on political experience managing a city of globe-wide level, so your “teaching moment” is more of an adjustment times by some of the media runners in dealing with culture and personality norms of the newly elected leader of the republic….just my 5-cent view.

    • Amnata Pundit on

      Right! And how can you have a teachable moment for the likes of the Inquirer and ABS-CBN who are as just as partisan as the Pharisees who went after Jesus of Nazareth? Duterte reflects the masses’ virulent objections to the abuses of the 30 year old yellow elites. We are at war with these elites, and as these hypocrites have been teaching us for the past 30 years, all is fair in love and war.

  6. Mainstream media is not the only channel of communication with the public. Social Media is more powerful in this respect and the feedback is immediate and unfiltered. Traditional media tends to exhibit bias and is burdened by motivational baggage by its practitioners. Reporters, editors, publishers and media owners can always shape the news without necessarily keeping the public interest in mind but instead, their own interests as individuals and as organizations. There is always the element of doubt on how news is gathered and presented. Is mainstream media still a necessary or important layer between government and the governed? By what right or privilege does this set-up have to prevail?

  7. The problem is Duterte is not that kind of a person. President Obama is a statesman. A seasoned politician, one of the best president of the US. It is not right to compare Obama to Duterte. It is Mission Impossible.

    • Mr Duterte (under his belt) has 3-decade of hands-on political experience managing a city of globe-wide level, so comparing Duterte to Obama is very revealing…for one – Obama is a current president of 50+ already American federal states, whereas Duterte is the incoming-elected president of the republic and yet to be future president of Philippine federal states.

    • Jose Rodrigueza on

      Obama might be a statesman but he is not the best president of the US. He is responsible for inciting riots and division in this country. In my opinion he is one of the worst president of the US. Why even compare Obama and Duterte, at least the later speaks truthfully. Obama is your typical politician, he will say what you want to hear and make promises he could not deliver.

  8. As a matter of fact duterte has still the media- Government nga lang and all others are supposed to get their info from them. Fair enough

  9. THe problem is, there are media that are trying to destroy Duterte. Those media started it all by reporting his negatives rather than the essence of his message. Nature tells us to hide if there are vultures hunting for us.

  10. This a very good advise to the media media magrereport lang donot comment on your report let yhe people do this di no quarrel mr duterte during that interveiw ay naghambin ng pootdahil sa mga atake coming from several campa using the media sabi nga may mga media na hungry for scoops kaya maski medical rort niya ay hingiin just like that give him space to sort this all maybe both should forgive each other ihope those foreign media should comment but refrain from giving orders to our local press our pilipino reporters can manage i commend mariz she showed professionalism and to mr president keep going buttone down a little good luck digong

  11. Catalino Garcia Jr on

    The media should be crucified for using words like “transmogrified” and other high sounding words. We are simple folks so please just use simple words or itagalog mo na lang. Mga egomaniacs kayo.

  12. media this day are no good and no respect….The media looks they are thee power behind the politics and government………..No way San Jose….That is not the case………

  13. What you call “intemperate remarks” by President-elect Duterte regarding the death of journalists is a statement of facts. We cannot dispute that it is true that some pseudo journalists really deserve scorn because their pens and loyalties are for sale to the highest bidder not to mention that they are also two-faced. This is what Duterte pointed at. I too have only contempt for these kinds of writers.

    Anent the whistling of an appreciating man, it is simply a form of appreciation (as explained by Duterte himself, it is not an invitation to a sexual encounter) and it is not demeaning for a lady to acknowledge the whistling with a smile and a simple nod meaning “thank you”. It is utterly petty for a woman to make much of this gesture of admiration or appreciation. No doubt, people who make much of this are ignorant of the culture of other countries where whistling is considered an approbation just as a smack in the buttocks is.

    To me it is a sign of crudeness not to understand the meaning of a whistle.