Wed, 26 Jan 2022

This Week in Media (November 22 to 26, 2021)

CMFR
29 Nov 2021, 17:13 GMT+10

THE DUTERTE administration continues to be a source of deep shame among concerned Filipinos for its continued display of incompetence, the lack of coordination among key officials, and the country's loss of sovereignty over its own territory.

China's aggression in WPS

The Chinese Coast Guard (CCG) on November 16 attacked with water cannons, wood-hulled Filipino boats delivering supplies to Filipino soldiers stationed on BRP Sierra Madre in Ayungin Shoal. Media did not report the story until November 18, when Foreign Affairs Secretary Teddy Boy Locsin tweeted about it. Coverage quoted DFA condemnations of the CCG attacks, along with those issued by military and strategic allies such as the United States, Japan and Australia.

Palace statements were limited to assurances that the government will continue to assert sovereignty and sovereign rights, and ensure that supply lines to the Marines will remain open.

No strong words of condemnation came from Malacanang, and the media were uncritical about it. And yet the story about national sovereignty had to be reported, drawn from the context of Duterte's submission to Beijing, his claims of deep friendship with Xi Jinping, his assurances about this partnership as beneficial to the country that media has recorded faithfully during his entire term.

Media could have recalled all these for background and recent history, as it is part of the story, made timely by the latest incident. These episodes had been reported in the past, and the recollection would have accurately presented the bold and blatant hostility on the part of the Chinese as a natural and logical result of Duterte's decision not to question Beijing's agenda from the very start.

Only some accounts, citing other views. included the necessary background. In an interview with ANC, maritime law expert Jay Batongbacal accurately observed, "now we have trouble pushing back, to recover, because we have allowed them (China) to come so close." Some online reports quoted the statement of Pamalakaya, an organization of fisherfolk, that Duterte's pronouncements were "too little, too late" and were only made to advance "his political interest rather than an assertion of national sovereignty."

The president spoke about the shameful incident only in his speech delivered at the November 22 ASEAN Summit. He said the country "abhors" what happened and that the incident did not "speak well" of the "partnership" between the Philippines and China. President Xi Jinping, who was also in the summit, maintained that China has always been and will always be a good friend and neighbor - a statement belied by a chain of incidents in which Chinese vessels harassed fishing boats and other vessels manned by Filipinos.

Media reports failed to stress this context, missing entirely the long chain of hostile confrontations between Chinese and Philippine vessels in Philippine national waters. There was little reference to the statements by President Duterte that he had given fishing rights to the Chinese. Media accounts did not refer to the near-drowning incident of Filipino fishermen in 2019 which Duterte himself dismissed as merely "a maritime incident."

While coverage followed sources that revived discussions of the Mutual Defense Treaty between the Philippines and United States, hardly any reports touched on the different ways of drawing the line to protect territorial sovereignty without provoking war. Journalists have allowed Duterte's repeated refrain about the futility of a war with China, leading the public to think that the president's surrender could not be helped. In truth, and media sadly missed amplifying these other truths, our neighboring countries have done a better job of standing up to China's bullying and experts have discussed other ways of checking China's abusive behavior.

Inconsistencies on PH position on ICC

In a letter dated November 10, the Philippine Embassy in the Netherlands requested the International Criminal Court (ICC) to defer its investigation into alleged crimes against humanity committed by Duterte and his administration in the course of the "drug war." Reports said this was to give way to the Philippine government's own efforts to investigate the crimes. On November 18, the Office of the Prosecutor agreed and "temporarily suspended its investigative activities while it assesses the scope and effect of the deferral request."

The decision to suspend was not well-received by surviving families of drug war victims. Prosecutor Karim Khan said he would continue analyzing information already with the ICC, and that he would ask the government to provide proof of genuine investigation by the Philippine government.

Duterte has so far remained silent on this development. On November 25, acting presidential spokesperson Karlo Nograles said the request contradicts the Philippine government's position that the ICC has no jurisdiction over the Philippines. Why file for a deferment, then?

Reports did not record any questions about the evidently contradictory positions taken by the DFA and the Palace. Journalists did not even ask whether the Embassy and the Palace coordinated at all on any issues. Lack of coordination is a failure of good and effective leadership, a fair way of framing this news development.

Candidate and Drug Use?

It is a legitimate question. The public should know whether a candidate has or had a record of drug use. But depending on candidates to make charges without themselves doing the work of investigating the truth is a shameful failure on the part of the media.

President Duterte claimed on November 18 that a presidential candidate who comes from a rich family and has a "weak" character uses cocaine. He said in another public event that he and his allied parties PDP-Laban and PDDS could not support Lakas-CMD's adoption of Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos, Jr. as presidential candidate, because the latter was a "spoiled child" and a "weak leader." All of these were subjected to stenographic he-said-she-said reports.

Duterte's allegation prompted Marcos, other presidential candidates and his own daughter Sara Duterte-Carpio to take voluntary drug tests, or show drug records in Manny Pacquiao's case. VP Leni Robredo and presidential candidate Leody de Guzman did not act on the matter.

Media reports merely followed what the candidates did, with some accounts picking up the expressed doubts on social media about the authenticity of drug test results that Marcos and the others presented.

Coverage that relies only on recording words is a failure of media responsibility. Picking up on what candidates have to say about one another follows the agenda set by candidates and their campaigns which is to yield the lead of journalistic coverage.

Journalists must actively investigate on their own the background and records of those seeking high public office, yes, including drug use. This is what they owe the public — especially during a campaign that has relied on historic revisionism, candidate substitution and other kinds of propaganda - misleading people about the reality of their claims.

If journalists are to reclaim their place of trust, they have to do the hard work, investigate the truth of any claim and inform the voters what they have found without fear or favor.

COVID-19

The second year of Philippines under the pandemic is nearing its end. CMFR notes how government remains lacking in providing clear public information regarding the implementation of its programs.

News organizations reported government announcements about its ambitious national vaccination days scheduled from November 29 to December 1, which emphasized the big target of 15 million vaccine recipients. News accounts included Duterte's assurance that employees availing of the jabs won't be considered absent from work.

But the news did not include the necessary step-by-step procedure for those wanting to get vaccines. Neither did reporters check what preparations have been made to achieve the targets. Journalists did not further investigate the logistical and manpower challenges and how local government were providing for the program.

Four days before the vaccination drive, Frontline Tonight noted that tens of thousands more volunteer vaccinators and record-checkers are needed onsite, but did not go around LGUs to find out if these had been hired. Media organizations also failed to call on their provincial correspondents around the country to check on the plan for the big vaccine program where it is most needed.

As some officials have openly pushed for less restrictions and relaxation of travel and business operations, the media simply publicized these without referring to data provided by Inquirer.net: daily reported cases may be decreasing but the number of patients in critical condition are doubling. The situation should flag the lack of official appreciation of the continuing danger, which calls the media to check and confirm the reality of what is going on.

CMFR calls on the media to do their job and highlight the continuing threat of surge experienced in other countries around the world. Continued protection, monitoring of hospital conditions and patient cases are part of the full story.

Ampatuan massacre, 12 years on

Coverage of the Ampatuan massacre this year highlighted the stories of surviving families and their continuing call for justice. As coverage has done in past years, protest actions by journalists' groups were documented.

But Rappler provided crucial information: "Lawyers of different groups of journalists said they are yet to be ordered by the Court of Appeals to submit their briefs, which means the prospect of a resolution by the appellate court remains in a far horizon. This matters because without resolution, the families of the 57 victims killed in the worst election-related attack in Philippine history will not receive the damages yet, 12 years since the incident in 2009."

The slow progress on the Ampatuan massacre is emblematic of the failure of the Philippine judicial system. The case should be a reminder to journalists that vigilance against impunity is needed, not just for their fallen colleagues but for victims of the various wars that the state wages on its citizens.

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