The Philippine press is no longer on the Filipino people’s side

Growing up, I read the Bulletin Today, Times Journal and Daily Express. These were the broadsheets in circulation for a “martial law” baby such as I. Newscasts then were perfunctory. The news was read without any commentary, in English. If you wanted the news in the vernacular, there was the AM radio stations.

The shift began after the assassination of former Senator Ninoy Aquino in 1983. GMA was the only independent network. Public affairs programs were on this channel. They made Dong Puno and Randy David popular. Then came the mosquito press for print. These were all anti-Marcos but weren’t widely circulated. Post-Marcos saw the establishment of new broadsheets with the evolutionary cycle claiming some in a short span of time. Only the Inquirer and the Philippine Star are left standing in terms of circulation. All are owned and controlled by oligarchs with vested interests.

The pertinent question is, with this kind of environment, how can the press be objective? What’s worse is news anchors and program hosts have become celebrities in their own right. So much for the rule about the journalist not being the news.

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The line between journalism and entertainment has been crossed also because the rumor-mill about the personal lives of these “celebrities” is also the focus of the media companies which employ them. It is a vital cog in the grand PR scheme of developing a following for both the individual and the personalities. This Inquirer editorial “An endangered press” focuses on press freedom…

Indeed, shortly after winning the elections, President Duterte issued a not-so-veiled warning that “corrupt” journalists are “not exempted from assassinations.”

Other attacks have been carried out, including the denial of a franchise to ABS-CBN, leading to the closure of the country’s biggest radio-television network. Even campus journalists are being red-tagged by authorities.

The claim is old. The press has run afoul of every post-Marcos President. The audacity of former President Joseph “Wrap” Estrada in launching a boycott of the Inquirer was a factor in his downfall. How can one who is not part of the establishment challenge it? The same is true now with Duterte. But in his case, he brought to the fore the elephant in the room.

The Inquirer‘s owners had long benefited with the lease on the prime Mile Long Arcade. ABS-CBN’s bias against Duterte as a candidate was evident. It crossed the line when it aired the campaign ad placed by former Senator Antonio Trillanes in the campaign lead up to 2016 which was a last-ditch attempt to prevent a Duterte victory.

Aren’t these actions questionable in terms of the fourth estate’s ethics and integrity considering they are supposed to be serving the public? Instead, the press has become a power bloc in the country’s social and political scenes. They played a large role in Erap’s ouster and subsequently that of the late Chief Justice Renato Corona whose only crime was to go against the wishes of the Aquino family insofar as their landholdings were concerned.

The press today claims that their freedom has been curtailed by a populist, authoritarian, dictator and fascist. Despite their ongoing concerted effort to paint the President in a bad light, he remains popular. This is not because of his giving in to what the people want, but by being genuinely responsive to their needs.

The press is not on the side of the people anymore. This is why their efforts to discredit the President have largely failed. The people can see through the insincerity and hypocrisy of those in media who have nothing good to say because they are in cahoots with their employers and political patrons to get power back. There is nothing wrong in being critical and acting as a fiscalizer.

The fourth estate is supposed to call out government’s and its official’s excesses. What we have now is a situation where the press has abandoned its traditional role because it has been swallowed whole by the toxic high brought by money and power. The public has no choice but to protect itself from the wolves in sheep’s clothing who claim they are the good in the fight against evil.

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