Anti-Drug Campaign: Swallowing Everything the Police Says
THE RECENT spate of killings and arrests of citizens suspected to be drug dealers and users has set in motion the six-month crime purge that newly elected President Rodrigo Duterte promised during the campaign. The death toll has risen to 59 since Duterte won the elections. Confessed drug users and pushers, meanwhile, are surrendering to the police by the hundreds, fearing for their lives now that the former mayor of Davao City has assumed the presidency.
Drug-related incidents and crime in general have been so commonplace that it is not surprising to see a drug user in handcuffs making the headlines. While it can be argued that issues of greater concern deserve more airtime or column inches, the routine reports provide an opportunity for the media to investigate the country’s pervasive drug problem and what can be done about it. Equally important, however, is whether the campaign targets suspects for summary execution, as has been alleged in Davao City when Duterte was mayor.
CMFR monitored the coverage of drug-related incidents by four primetime news programs (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, GMA-7’s 24 Oras, TV5’s Aksyon and CNN Philippines’ Network News) and the top three dailies (the Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star and the Manila Bulletin) from June 6 to 24.
Drugs in the News Agenda
Drug-related crimes have always occupied a top spot in the news agenda. It’s not surprising that the news media’s treatment of this issue remains the same, particularly in broadcast where drug-related reports are usually aired during the first half of primetime news programs and even included in the review of the day’s headlines. But shouldn’t the media be ringing alarm bells over the spate of killings of those supposedly involved in the drug trade, especially since little attention, if at all, is being given to such matters as whether suspects have actually been charged or convicted?
TV Patrol aired the most number of drug-related reports among the four programs — a total of 62 reports in 19 days. 24 Oras had 51 reports, while Aksyon produced 35 stories. Network News had the least number of reports at 19.
In print, drug-related stories took up considerable space in the regional and metro pages. The Bulletin led in covering this issue with 75 reports. The Star published 53 reports while the Inquirer had 43.
Provincial reports in the Bulletin are published in its Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao news pages.
These reports are usually about police “buy-bust” operations and the arrest or killings of drug suspects. Whether in broadcast or print, these reports merely replicate police blotter reports, following the usual formula of reporting who were arrested and with statements from police officers, investigators or anti-drug agency members.
Broadcast media make the most of their visual component, providing a semblance of action and drama with footage of actual operations, drug paraphernalia and suspects concealing their faces from the camera. Reports on TV also used graphics to report the latest count of arrested or killed drug suspects as provided by the Philippine National Police (PNP).
Instances of suspected drug lords slain by unidentified persons or supposedly killed when resisting arrest did make the headlines. Some of them, according to the media reports quoting the police, were operating in urban areas such as Caloocan, Malabon and Cebu, and were given a day or two of coverage. Drug lords operating from the New Bilibid Prison allegedly offered up to a billion pesos as bounty for Duterte and incoming PNP Chief Ronaldo dela Rosa.
Going Beyond the Police Blotter
Crime stories are usually covered as single, unrelated events. Incidents on drugs are no exceptions. At times tagged as exclusive reports, these stories adhere to the usual manner of reporting crime: Their being “exclusive” often offers little that is new or significant.
Drug-related reports may only seem trivial and meaningless when reported without context. The national relevance of these routine reports, especially in the new administration, should be the subject of investigation not only by police forces but also by the media. Whether they occurred in the same area or not, establishing the connection of one drug arrest to another would give the public an idea of how extensive and persistent the drug problem in the country is.
The news reports seldom, if at all, discussed the justice system and the right of every citizen to due process, such as reading a suspect’s Miranda rights, the requirement of search or arrest warrant, and his right to face his accuser in a court of law. Equally ignored are the rights of children who have also been targeted for arrests under the police’s RODY (Rid the Streets of Drinkers and Youths) campaign, or even the rights of individuals to congregate outside of their homes, shirtless or not.
There’s also the question of whether the allegations that are used to justify use of force all have basis, considering that some have complained that they or their loved ones were not at all involved in the drug trade. And surely, the usual police line that dead suspects tried to grab the police’s firearms, leading to the shootout, merits further scrutiny by the press. They, alas, did not and simply swallowed everything the police said.