Only a tyrant would shut down the media – NUJP
MANILA, Philippines – The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) labeled as tyrant-like the pronouncement of President Rodrigo Duterte about his intent to block the franchise renewal of TV network ABS-CBN.
"What we do know is the last time a president actually shut down the press, it did not end well for him, like it almost always never ends well for tyrants," the NUJP said in a statement on Friday, April 28.
The NUJP was referring to the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos who ordered the closures of several news organizations during Martial Law.
Duterte issued the warning on Thursday, April 27, after meeting with Sultan Hassanal Bolkiah of Brunei who is among the heads of state presently in the capital for the ASEAN Summit on Saturday, April 29.
House committee on legislative franchises chairman Franz Alvarez clarified that ABS-CBN's franchise is still valid until 2020 and is not up for urgent renewal, but the NUJP nevertheless took Duterte's warning seriously enough to issue its own call to the news industry.
"If there is a time for the Philippine media community to set aside our differences and unite to oppose any and all attempts to silence us, it is now. Not to do so is to seal our doom and to betray our role as the Fourth Estate, the people’s watchdogs against bad and abusive governance," the NUJP said.
Duterte has been relentless in hitting ABS-CBN and broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer in a series of speeches, accusing both media outfits of serious offenses – Inquirer, for supposedly having tax liabilities through another Prieto-owned company, Dunkin Donuts.
ABS-CBN has been hit for supposedly not airing Duterte's television ad during the 2016 presidential campaign even though he had already paid for it. Duterte also warned ABS-CBN he would slap them with a swindling case.
Duterte has also been vocal in his criticism of the news media, focusing also on ABS-CBN and Inquirer for supposedly being biased.
"By issuing such threats, Mr Duterte is blatantly dangling the powers of the presidency and of the state, signaling his willingness to use these to stifle freedom of the press and of expression," the NUJP said.
Media coverage of Duterte's public statements has been tricky in the sense that his spokespersons have, on many occasions, clarified the President's words mainly by saying he was just joking.
"Lest his mouthpieces attempt to excuse him by invoking hyperbole or his peculiar sense of humor, he was clearly not joking," said the NUJP.
The media group added: "Just as he was not joking when he declared human rights and due process anathema to his brand of governance and now, it seems, so are a free and critical media."