Pass or fail? Women journalists rate PH presidents on respect for press freedom
MANILA, Philippines – In celebration of International Women's Day, several veteran women journalists were asked to rate the 6 post-EDSA Revolution presidents on their respect for press freedom under their watch.
During the Forum on the Role of Women in Media at the University of the Philippines in Diliman on Thursday, March 8, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) Executive Director Malou Mangahas asked the 4 journalists to rate former presidents Corazon Aquino, Fidel Ramos, Joseph Estrada, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, Benigno Aquino III, and Rodrigo Duterte.
On the panel were Chuchay Fernandez, managing editor of Interaksyon; lawyer Jo Clemente, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) chair; GMA-7 reporter Kara David; and Ces Drilon, ABS-CBN lifestyle content head.
Aside from rating the presidents on a scale of 1 to 5 – with 1 being the highest – they were also asked to share their experiences on how the presidents dealt with the media. (READ: From Cory to Rody: Presidents and their beef with Palace reporters)
Corazon 'Cory' C. Aquino
Fernandez rated Cory Aquino's relationship with the press a 2.
"It doesn't mean that her relationship with media was perfect, in fact, she was the target of a very publicized boycott, but there are times that the Malacañang Press Corps said that she stands out from the rest," Fernandez explained.
She also added how Mrs Aquino answered difficult questions from the press after 7 coup attempts.
"She gets questions like, 'Are you going to declare martial law to deal with this?' Sometimes she was 'hiding under the bed,'" Fernandez added.
Fernandez was referring to the claim of the late journalist Louie Beltran in his Philippine Star column that Mrs Aquino got so frightened during the December 1989 coup attempt that she literally hid under her bed. She filed a libel suit against Beltran in 1991. (A Manila court ruled in her favor, but the Court of Appeals eventually overturned the decision.)
David and Clemente also gave Mrs Aquino a 2 rating.
Fidel V. Ramos
Fernandez described Ramos as "seems open but not really" especially when there were questions about governance and the "politically-sneaky" move to change the Constitution.
Fernandez recalled that Ramos was already a darling of the press when he was defense chief during the first Aquino administration.
Fernandez gave Ramos a 3, David gave him 2.5 to 3, while Drilon gave Ramos 3 to 4.
Joseph E. Estrada
Estrada liked to talk to the press, according to Fernandez. He didn't shun ambush interviews and was very accessible. However, this changed when he was hounded by controversies.
"When crunch time came, he revealed his true colors. When the Manila Times incident came, he became paranoid, and also to Inquirer, when he called for the boycott of advertisers," Fernandez said. "He can be very charming but at the same time, can do lethal moves," she added.
In 1999, Estrada filed a P100-million libel suit against The Manila Times over an article he claimed attacked his “reputation, honor, and dignity” and “honesty and integrity as a public official.”
Fernandez and David gave Estrada a 4.
David recalled that Arroyo was really difficult to interview. She said she never had an interview with Arroyo in her entire presidency from 2001 to 2010.
She said that Arroyo did not usually grant press conferences, but when she did, the questions and those asking questions were screened. No ambush interviews were allowed.
Arroyo, whose administration was hounded by corruption allegations, did not entertain political questions. Fernandez said this was apparently because Arroyo was very "testy and insecure" when it came to the media when she became president.
David and Clemente gave Arroyo a 4 in terms of respect for press freedom.
Benigno S. Aquino III
Aquino was very open and talkative, as described by David. The problem, however, was that becaue he talked too much, David found it difficult to get soundbites from him.
Recalling her experience with Aquino, David said, "Magtatanong ka sa kanya, tapos ang gagawin niya ang maghihistorical background, tapos makaklimutan na niya ang sagot niya (If you asked him a question, he will give you a historical background, and then he would eventually forget his answer)."
Aquino is known for giving lengthy context to his responses.
The 4 women journalists agreed that Aquino had a good relationship with the media throughout his term, but not as good as his mother, Cory Aquino.
Rodrigo R. Duterte
Drilon said while there appears to be a free press in the country, actions taken by the President himself have created a "chilling effect" on the media.
"There are appearances na mukhang free [press], but parang nakakatakot eh. Kahit walang threats of arrest, and just the specter na pwede kang masara, 'di ka mabigyan ng franchise – may chilling effect 'yun," the former Bandila anchor said
(It seems like a free [press], but it seems intimidating. Even if there are no threats of arrest, and just the specter of the possibility of being shut down or they will not issue a franchise [to operate] – it has a chilling effect.)
Drilon was apparently referring to the threats made by Duterte against media groups that he believed were "unfair" to him, like Rappler, which is under threat of closure, and ABS-CBN.
Clemente, for her part, said: "When you wake up each morning, something might happen. Who are they going to incarcerate again, and things like that."
Duterte got a failing mark from the journalists in terms of respect for press freedom.
Women in Media
David, in an earlier statement, said the status of women in media is not far from the general status of women in the Philipines.
"You can see in television and in other forms of media that there's still a stereotype in women, there's still objectification of women, then I don't think we've come far enough," she said.
She also pointed out that even government officials are the ones who degrade women in the first place.
"It doesn't help when the highest officials of the country are saying words or phrases that are obviously sexist or derogatory to women," she said.
It can be recalled that then President-elect Duterte was called for wolf whistling GMA 7 reporter Mariz Umali. As a presidential candidate, Duterte was highly criticized for his rape joke involving an Australian missionary.
Fernandez urged other women journalists to keep fire of truth-telling burning.
"Always keep in our hearts the passion for safeguarding public interest for they remain timeless," she said. – Rappler.com