A Lukewarm Response to Charges, Silence from the Rest of Media
“DO NOT hesitate to attack or criticize me if I do wrong in my job. It is your duty.”
President Rodrigo Duterte directed this statement to reporters in a September 2016 press briefing. Yet he continues to express his animosity towards the media, both local and international. On March 30, President Duterte singled out in his tirades broadcast giant ABS-CBN and broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer for their supposedly slanted reports about his health, allegations of hidden wealth and the ongoing war on drugs.
In a statement, the Inquirer responded: “Since its founding in 1985, the Inquirer has upheld the highest standards of excellence in journalism. Even as we’ve courageously pursued the truth in our coverage, we’ve endeavored to get the administration’s side of any controversy. ABS-CBN did not issue any response.
On April 5, the president made more specific charges in his rant against the “oligarchs” of ABS-CBN and the network’s failure to air a campaign advertisement that he paid for. He also took a swipe against the Inquirer, saying that the paper owned Dunkin Donuts which, he claimed, had tax deficiencies that were settled during the tenure of former Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) commissioner Kim Henares. He continued to make these accusations in his succeeding speeches, such as in his April 15 meeting with OFWs in Qatar, during which he slammed the so-called “oligarchs,” Lucio Tan and the Prietos, who own Inquirer.
In a single line, an April 7 report in the Inquirer said: “The Inquirer does not own Dunkin Donuts.” Breaking the network’s silence, ABS-CBN chair Eugenio “Gabby” Lopez III said in the corporation’s stockholders’ meeting last April 6 that spats with the administration are “part and parcel” of media work, and that ABS-CBN will “deal with these problems not in the public eye but privately.”
Other members of the press were likewise unenthusiastic in pursuing this issue, as reports limited the coverage to quoting Duterte’s attacks. It was not made clear whether Golden Donuts, Inc., the exclusive franchisee of Dunkin Donuts in the Philippines, is a separate business venture of the Prietos, and whether the finances of the two businesses are kept completely separate from one another.
The media could have helped explain the tax evasion issue by checking with the BIR, but there were no news reports based on BIR records.There was also no reference to Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) papers to clarify issues about the Prietos’ ownership of the companies cited by the president.
Similarly, no one has tracked documents which might prove whether ABS-CBN had been remiss in its airing of Duterte’s ad.
So far, the president’s attacks have gone unchallenged. The media’s dismissive attitude towards the president’s allegations–and those of other officials—betrays the media’s lack of concern about the charges that are clearly of public interest. The press should be engaged in establishing the truth or falsity of these charges. Being specific targets of the president’s hostility, the owners of the Inquirer and ABS-CBN, and by extension their respective media organizations, become easier targets as these attacks condition the public mind into viewing independent media in the most negative light, as the president had set out to do since he took office.
Media’s tepid and almost silent treatment of Duterte’s accusations is unfortunate, not just for news organizations under attack but for the press as an institution and for all journalists in practice.