Media News Analysis

Boycotting the boycotters

President-Elect Rodrigo Duterte’s response to the call from global media watchdog, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RWB), for the local media to boycott his press briefings has seriously backfired, with Duterte’s classic tit-for-tat response that he will be boycotting the press – a position he has now held since the beginning of June. And the impasse looks likely to run up to 30 June, the date of his inauguration.

But Duterte has the best hand here. First of all, to cover his activities, he has at his disposal the state-run broadcasters – People’s Television Network with 29 stations nationwide; the Philippine Broadcasting Service and its affiliate stations which come under Presidential Communications Operations Office. Plus, of course, there will be those networks that come to heel – a press boycott by the president, by extension will mean a press boycott by his Cabinet and every facet of government. Second, there are the billions of pesos of government advertising that the networks stand to lose. And third, there’s the little matter of regulation of the industry which come under the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), an attached agency of the Office of the President under the administrative supervision of the Department of Information and Communications Technology. Appeals against NTC decisions can only be handled by the Supreme Court

RWB had joined a growing swell of outrage over Duterte’s comments that the Philippine press is corrupt and that that journalists could pay for that corruption with their lives. Press briefings should be snubbed until Duterte issues a public apology, it said, adding that media organisations should use the country’s defamation laws to sue him for his remarks. Earlier the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines had expressed its concerns over the incoming president’s remarks. In a statement it said: “He has, in effect, declared open season to silence the media, both individual journalists and the institution, on the mere perception of corruption”.

In its response, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) was more conciliatory: “President- elect Duterte was correct in saying that irresponsible, biased, paid-for reporting and comment do lead to a journalist’s being killed . . . CMFR has never discounted the possibility that some of the journalists killed since 1986 were corrupt, or had been irresponsible. . . CMFR hopes that the President-elect’s statements are not interpreted by those who would silence journalists for whatever reason – whether they feel they have been abused by the media, or whether they have something to hide from the public – as a license to kill journalists. As President of the Philippines, Mayor Duterte would hopefully be more circumspect”.