Duterte and media killings: Pitfalls of working in local media

Melchizedek Maquiso
'While the world has already condemned President-elect Rodrigo Duterte for his brash but truthful take on the state of community journalism, his remarks serve as a warning that a pillar of our democracy is being threatened'

I watched two of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s press conferences where he received flak for saying that certain journalists deserve to die because they’re sons of bitches (SOBs).

While the “framing” of his statement – “deserve to die” – is harsh and unfit, the context in which it was conveyed holds truth – that these journalists described as someone “who get too personal”, “sinobrahan ang atake”, (went to far with the attack) and “binaboy mo ‘yung tao” (dehumanized the person). It also fits his third category of low life extortionists masquerading as journalists. 

And falling into such category has effectively made them “moving targets” or people whom the government can only do so much to protect. (READ: Duterte on media killings: ‘What can I do?’)

While Duterte didn’t mention anything, it is clear after dropping the name of Jun Pala that his statements pertain to members of the local media or “community journalists.” These are journalists who belong to smaller media companies and report on local politics, crime, etc.

In my opinion, it is fair to say that majority of the media in the provinces can be categorized as such.

Community journalism

I went back to my parents’ hometown in northern Mindanao shortly after graduation to celebrate overcoming the last 4 years of college. Thinking of what to do next in my life, I tried working as a journalist for a community newspaper. In my brief but yet memorable stint as a journalist there, I did not receive complaints about my stories.

I have reported on a variety of issues that Manila-based media wouldn’t pay much attention to. I wrote about topics ranging from banal (a beautician nuisance candidate, Christmas lighting in the provincial capitol) to the exciting (2004 presidential campaign to be exact, and its aftermath) and the violent (NPA rebels attacking a hinterland resort). Not once did I get any death threats on these topics I had reported on.

However, it is unsurprising that my “hard hitting” counterparts – especially those belonging to the radio – experienced the opposite.  

Hard-hitters can sometimes be disparaging and uncouth towards their targets. In a province where patriarchy is still the prevailing social norm and power structure, I could just imagine how an accused could stand being harangued on a daily basis, becoming a laughingstock in a tight-knit probinsya in the process.

His manhood and ego bruised, settling scores like what they did in the wild west could’ve been the only option left.  

DUTERTE AND THE MEDIA.  President-elect Rodrigo Duterte's controversial statement on the media killings sparks a flurry of criticisms from local and international media groups.

While it’s an indelible right of the community to have access to mass media, listening to or reading these (mostly) unsubstantiated attacks have become unusual means of entertainment which seems like dwelling on conspiracy theories.

And as Duterte has said, politicians may be inured to it, but others are not. And this causes the subject of attack to send his own assassins out on a killing spree. Definitely not warranted by law, but the absence of responsible and respectable dissemination of opinion from these hard-hitters gave rise to it nonetheless.

Weak institution? 

Duterte’s statements have exposed community journalism as a victim of a weak institution and it is an implicit perception shared by the community politicians in power. I, for one, was paid per story and this was not enough to fend for my needs. In one non-political event in a seaside town that I covered, I was asked straight up by a local politician: “Magkano po ba ang hinihingi nila?” (How much are you asking?)

This instance sent me back to reality and I began to realize why certain journalists have resorted to Attack Collect/Defend Collect (AC/DC) and “envelopmental journalism”.  And if these rogue opinion makers didn’t get what they want (extortion money), they went back on air and continued censuring and castigating their subjects – that is, provided that they were still able to delay being a dead man walking.

If journalism was my only source of income back then, I could have offered my services as the politician’s “attack dog” against his enemies. In this brief stint of being a community journalist, I had come to accept that the risks involved outweigh whatever “benefits” I could’ve amassed just by using the deceptive power of the pen.

While the world has already condemned Duterte for his brash but truthful take on the state of journalism  – emphasis on community journalism – in the country, Duterte’s remarks about the harsh truth of the media serve as a warning that a pillar of our democracy is being threatened.

Journalism is unequivocally a noble profession, but like any practitioner of the craft part of a weak institution, this weakness provides an immense opportunity for “scalawag journalists” to proliferate and use this same institution for their own selfish ends. – Rappler.com 

Melchizedek Maquiso graduated from San Beda College and worked as a correspondent for the now-defunct Freeman Mindanao based in Cagayan de Oro City. Maquiso moved to Canada and obtained a diploma in photojournalism from Loyalist College and shortly went to freelance as a photojournalist for Reuters, Philippine Graphic, and Toronto Star during one of his return trips to the Philippines. He is now completing his Master in Public Policy (MPP) degree at the Johnson-Shoyama Graduate School of Public Policy at the University of Saskatchewan also in Canada. 

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