Cebu Citizens-Press Council

Being accountable comes with being free

Killing media SOBs; where Duterte’s right and where he’s wrong

June 3rd, 2016 · No Comments

By Pachico A. Seares

Why should President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s statement about murdering corrupt journalists appall journalists here and abroad?

Because it’s only partly true. Not being exempt from violence is true. The killing part is horribly false.

Killers don’t spare journalists if they want to and need to kill them. Journalists are not conferred by the Constitution or any edict, human or divine, with immunity from lethal physical assault by those infuriated by what they publish.

What is not true is that journalists believe they’re invulnerable to assassination. If there are who do–who think their press card doesn’t just open doors but also dodges bullets–they’re dumb enough not to know the risk of their line of work.

And our country’s record of slain media personnel (174 since the end of martial law) should stop any debate on that and dispel any illusion that media practitioners are as safe as any journalist not assigned to a war zone.

Being upright

It’s also false, as Duterte contended, that most of the slain journalists had done “something wrong” and “if you are an upright journalist, nothing will happen to you.”

Findings of media watchdogs such as Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR) and National Union of Journalists-Philippines (NUJP) show that being upright is no guaranteed protection against violent reprisal. The cases over which national and global media have agitated for justice involve the rubout of reporters and editors who exposed venalities of public officials.

But wait, Duterte might think that a journalist behaving badly is one who criticizes a public official and fights City Hall or Capitol.

(Was that why broadcaster Jun Pala was gunned down in Davao City and his murder was never solved?)

When journalists are corrupted, it’s usually politicians who corrupt them. What happens then: would each politician “salvage” reporters or editors who are not his SOBs and spare those who are his?

Standards, values

Media recognizes that not doing something wrong helps. Precisely, most newsrooms and news outfits set standards and values for their journalists.
Fairness, accuracy and verification are preached and, in most instances, practiced. Guides on safety and protection of journalists emphasize good journalism as some shield against unlawful assault.

Media watchdogs like CMFR and, locally, the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) promote accountability.

But safeguards don’t always work: casualty stats clearly show that. There may also be factors that render them ineffective.
— Such as when a newsroom is so preoccupied with surviving economic straits that it can’t bother itself with ethics.
— Or when the locality is ruled by politicians who use violence to stay in power, where enemies are killed with impunity because police and the courts don’t dispense law and justice adequately.

Then there’s the inherent resentment of anyone accused of corruption, which is stronger in media. Being used to examining and chastising others, it can hardly bear themselves being examined and made to account for their faults.

Duterte, who comes from Mindanao, should be aware of deplorable conditions in many community newspapers and broadcast stations.

But then, again, that may may explain media corruption but won’t justify it. Neither does it condone the penalty of death meted on the corrupt, journalist or not.

Bounty hit list

No extrajudicial killing of a journalist can be justified. Not when the highest penalty for libel and corruption is a prison term and there is no death penalty for any crime.

Has Duterte then just included journalists in his list of targets for assassination?

Not quite. Duterte encouraged, by justifying, the murder of corrupt journalists but he has not gone to the point of including “media SOBs” in his bounty list.

The line of thinking though fits in snugly with his frame of mind and campaign vow: a bloodbath to rid the country of crime before the end of the year.

All the corrupt?

P.E. Duterte’s concession to the legal process is the condition that the criminal or crime suspect resists. But with the huge bounty being offered (P3 million in Manila and P50,000 in Cebu per fallen target) and the presidential policy laid down, would the police strictly enforce the PNP manual of operations? How effective would the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) be in overseeing rights of slain people when police tend to lean towards the commander-in-chief or, in the local setting, the mayor or governor.

So that’s Duterte’s passion. And apparently, he wants violence struck on those he’d want eliminated to bring peace and order.

Pursuing the same line of thought, would he also justify the killing of corrupt officials, corrupt police and corrupt military even without trial?


The danger is that media might shift attention from more crucial issues such as vigilantism and disrespect for law and order and spotlight on itself and its sins.

While Duterte had warned that many of his utterances are not serious or, at times, preposterous, his reaction to the recent murder of a broadcaster could not be ignored.

It tended to sap the strength of those who prosecute accused media killers. It’s dispiriting to ranks of media that must now realize that the country’s leader may be at best naive about problems of media and at worst cynical about free speech and press.

His recent outburst dashed hopes he’d abandon the gospel of death he preached during the campaign and bring the changes he promised without destroying democratic institutions and values.

Being poked at by the incoming president distracts but media, knock on something, might still keep its focus.

[This article was published in Sun.Star Cebu on June 3, 2016. Seares is public and standards editor of Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita (Cebu) and executive director of Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC).]

Tags: Media issues · News

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