Doing what we do
I suppose I should be scared — along with all the other Inquirer employees and correspondents — now that the President of the country, no less, has directly targeted this newspaper.
President Duterte has accused the Inquirer and broadcast giant ABS-CBN of being “unfair” in their coverage. In an expletive-laden rant before a group of councilors, the President accused these two media outlets of being “really vicious and virulent” in the way they or their reporters cover his activities and interpret his statements. He followed that up by accusing this newspaper’s owners of failing to pay the proper taxes on a property in Makati, while dragging in the name of a former official—whom he mistakenly identified as a son-in-law of the owners of the Inquirer, and whom he accused of receiving excessive allowances during his final year in office.
This isn’t the first time the Inquirer has come under fire from the most powerful people in the land. Indeed, I’ve often said that to its credit, this newspaper has been an “equal opportunity”—shall we say—“oppressor” of public officials. Every administration, starting with Cory Aquino all the way to her son PNoy, and now, as he so strongly complained, Mr. Duterte himself, has griped about the way it has been treated by the Inquirer.
Former president Fidel V. Ramos once quipped that often, when reading newspapers, he “wanted to commit suicide,” but there were other times when he was “tempted to commit homicide.” Former president and now Manila Mayor Joseph Estrada didn’t really try to kill anyone in this paper, but he and his friends did try with all their might to “kill” this newspaper by leading an advertising boycott designed to bring the Inquirer to its knees.
True, the boycott did hurt a lot, but with fortitude and steely determination, and the help of friends and supporters, the Inquirer owners and board stuck to their guns.
Then there is also the faith we have managed to build among our community of readers. I remember spotting a letter on our company notice board with a P100 bill stuck to it. It was from a reader who wanted to do his bit to keep the paper alive with his humble contribution. I’ve always believed that with goodwill like this, a newspaper that believes that “the truth will set you free” will overcome all odds.
I’d like to tell Mr. Duterte that it’s nothing personal, even if he seems to take personally the way the Inquirer delivers news concerning his governance and interprets his actions and statements.
The media play an important role in a democracy. We are not just a channel of communication, delivering the news. We also interpret the news, and in these Op-Ed pages, we study and comment on the news, all in an effort to provide our readers and audience the information and formation they need to become involved and concerned citizens. Informed and aware individuals become better voters and wiser members of the national and international community.
In all this, credibility is crucial. And I’ve always maintained that a media outlet or practitioner—even in this unregulated age of bloggers, social media denizens, tweeters and rumor mongers—whose credibility falls into question will sooner or later lose whatever following they’ve managed to attract through controversy and crudity.
Unfavorable and perhaps even critical coverage may rankle and enrage, but learning to live with it is precisely part of statecraft. Politics is not just making friends and making nice. It also entails accepting the good with the bad, and prevailing over the daily testing to which one is subjected. The official who feels himself or herself under siege should seek to prove critics wrong not by closing down their media outlets or looking into their tax returns, but by governing better, making better policies, and overcoming one’s petty peeves to achieve a higher goal.
I suppose I should be scared. And maybe I am. But my calling as a journalist—and the Inquirer family’s commitment to this duty—compels us to continue doing what we do, even if someone doesn’t like it.
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