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Aquino stokes adversarial role of media

Publication Date : 13-01-2014

 

Philippine President Benigno Aquino III started the new year by picking a fight with the independent news media. Firing broadsides at his critics in the press, he pledged that as his New Year’s resolution, he would “just ignore” them.

He castigated his press critics, calling them “hopeless” and saying they belonged to a “cottage industry… of people who make a living out of criticising” him.

“They see nothing good in whatever I say and [in my efforts] at solving the problems of this country,” he said.

In defining the media as a “cottage industry”, Aquino betrayed a gross misconception of the function of the press in a democratic society and trivialised the principle on which the relationship between the press and the government pivots.

Aquino's speech refuelled the antagonistic relationship between the press and his administration during the first half of his term. It put the administration on a confrontational path with the media from which the government had little to gain.

Ignoring media criticism slams the shutters on a healthy debate over contentious issues involving the administration’s lackluster performance in revitalising the economic growth and responding promptly to the emergency needs of thousands of victims of Supertyphoon “Yolanda” (international name: Haiyan) in the Visayas.
The press is not craving to return the presidential snub and is also ignoring him.

Delusion
The administration will be deluding itself if it expects the media to go easy on scrutinising its performance.

On the contrary, the press is more likely to intensify criticism to counter the deluge of information produced by the government’s vast propaganda machine, presenting the administration’s point of view on contentious issues and defending its policies and programmes using taxpayer money.

The press cannot disengage from scrutinising the administration’s performance without being remiss in its function and responsibility as the watchdog of public interest.

Journalists do not look at their coverage of the presidency the way the administration sees it. They take their jobs and public responsibility seriously, reporting public affairs accurately without fear or favour.

Journalists cover Malacañang and the presidential retinue not because they love to be seen with government officials. In covering public affairs, they are keenly aware of their role as the eyes and ears of the people, to whom they owe primary loyalty. They cannot be the government’s propaganda mouthpiece.

In covering the presidency and public affairs, the journalists abide by the creed that reporting the news from the seat of power is too important to be entrusted in the hands of government propagandists, much more so now that the president controls the legislature, the centre for countervailing political power under our system of checks and balances among the three branches of government.

Balance
The balance has been undermined by the weakness of the multiparty system in which there is no strong opposition party, thrusting on the independent press the burden of serving as the platform for the expression of ideas and perspectives contrary to that of the government.

The presidency is the most important source of news on public affairs that affects our lives. It sets the agenda of the public debate. What the president does or fails to do have an impact on our lives.

This is the reason an independent press is crucial to scrutinising government policies, programmes and decisions. This is the reason the media cannot disengage from focusing on government activities. They must keep government officials on their toes by making them aware that they are under constant watch for performance.

The press is called upon to dispel the administration’s claim that journalists are a class of people “who make a living out of criticising” the president.

Aquino’s resolution to ignore his critics puts a stop to the dialogue between the government and the press on the validity of policies and programs. It blacks out the exchange, indicating intolerance of a review of its actions and errors.

The freedom of the press is defined by “Your Dictionary” as “a right guaranteed in the United States by the First Amendment for journalists to print whatever they want without government control”.

“The right of a journalist to write an article critical of the president is an example of freedom of the press.”

 

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