PRESIDENT-ELECT Rodrigo Duterte's remark last Tuesday, May 31, on the murder of journalists stirred reactions from the media community and netizens. Is he tolerating the attacks or just assessing facts?
Duterte raised two points on his take on media killings: Those ‘corrupt’ ones under the pay of politicians and interest groups are the ones who get killed. Second is that ‘good’ journalists who pursue stories independently should not feel threatened for doing their duty.
Duterte's point on ‘bad’ journalists is unnerving but true. I've encountered them in every shape and name from ‘envelopmental’ journalist, manigbas, kongko, and haoshiao. I once worked in a community radio in Compostela Valley where a municipal head shooed me away from her office thinking I was one of those kind of reporters that would solicit fees to publish their stories. Elected officials felt obliged to give transportation allowance to reporters who come to their office. It is in this kind of setup in provinces where one finds papers and radio programs funded by politicos that are filled with loud and colored commentary.
Such setup can turn bloody such as the killing of a radio commentator in Tagum City recently on the managerial dispute and politics on Davao del Norte Electric Cooperative.
The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said there are 176 journalists killed since 1986, making us the second worst country in journalist killings. NUJP said that although media practitioners fall wayward on journalism ethics, this does not warrant the act of silencing these people. Media people themselves have to discipline their own ranks.
Stories that misrepresent facts can be addressed by transparency and engagement.
Duterte missed out the point that good jornalists were killed in the line of seeking out truth. For instance, my friend photojournalist Gene Boyd Lumawag of the award-winning Mindanews was gunned down in 2004 in Jolo, Sulu while his team was doing a story on local governance. Marlene Esperat from Tacurong and Edgar Damalerio from Pagadian City were gunned down to stop their articles uncovering corruption in local politics. Demalerio’s killer was a cop who was sentenced to jail. Dr. Gerry Ortega's anti-mining crusade on air in Palawan was snuffed by gunman linked to Governor Reyes who is now facing charges. The Ortega family felt hurt by Duterte's generalization, which is the sentiments of many journalists and other families of slain journalists.
The thing is, we see bad and good journalists, just as we see bad and good priests or government employees. But we don't go berserk and shoot bad lazy officials even if we feel pissed on how they make us agonize for hours lining up to be served while they do tsismis and texting during office hours.
So why do journalists get attacked? It is because the politics of patronage and monopoly thinks media is an extension of their control. They prey on media workers who are underpaid and vulnerable just as they prey on those who rattle their cages.
Duterte may be right in assessing the politics playing in media. But can he change this politics, or at least protect and improve the welfare of media workers to do their duty without fear of the gun? That is the question left hanging.