How to cover the President

|September 17,2016 - 10:04 AM

TOON_17SEPT2016_SATURDAY_renelevera_MEDIA COVERING DUTERTEIn the wake of President Rodrigo Duterte’s outburst over a foreign correspondent’s question regarding the possibility of US President Barack Obama raising the issue of human rights to his attention, his statement encouraging media not to hold back in their criticism on him is both surprising and something to watch out for.

Surprising in that President Duterte blamed media for the fallout that ensued over his controversial remarks that led to Obama canceling his scheduled meeting with him on concerns of whether it would “be productive.”

With Duterte admitting that he skipped on an Asean meeting among fellow world leaders and Obama, the incident merely confirmed his administration’s direction toward less dependence on the US and more about pursuing an independent foreign policy that hopefully won’t be dictated by interests such as the communists whom Duterte apparently shares common beliefs with.

But that’s for another time. As Cebu media gears up for its annual commemoration of Press Freedom Week, the President’s remarks should serve as a useful reference point on how his administration would deal with the national and local media in the next six years.

The President’s communications chief Martin Andanar, a former broadcaster, clarified Mr. Duterte’s statements by advising the media to do their job well and responsibly.

But to be accurate, the more inflammatory questions and issues were raised by netizens on social media who are either affiliated with or are against the Duterte administration.

The Duterte sympathizers, for one, don’t hesitate to inundate both mainstream media and netizens with hate comments whenever they raise issues that they deem to be relevant enough for the President to address and resolve, which include the extrajudicial killings.

President Duterte prefaced his advice to media by recounting an incident in which a TV news chief supposedly apologized to him for asking questions related to the incidence of extrajudicial killings which he was said to have accepted.

We take the President’s statement at face value hoping that he sticks true to his commitment to ensure freedom of speech and the press as he showed when he signed an executive order ensuring Freedom of Information by the public in accessing records and information from offices under the executive department.

At the same time, it cannot be helped that media are on guard against the President’s mercurial temper which can be ignited by any question that he deems to be offensive and so far, such questions involve his unrelenting campaign against illegal drugs.

But there’s been no threat of a libel suit though there had been a previous boycott of media coverage, so who knows how media can get a handle over the President. For now at least, covering the President is a day to day challenge.

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