Commentary of an Academic
(Copyright @ 2018 by Chester B Cabalza. All Rights Reserved).
A week after Rappler Inc., a Filipino online news outlet was shut down, Philippines’ Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) finds probable breaches of nationality restrictions to the organization. Philippine media has long been touted as the “fourth estate” or the “fourth power” that juxtaposes a symmetrical power to President Rodrigo Duterte as the vox populi, vox Dei.
The current episode propelled a Pandora’s Box that questions power relations of the executive branch over the fourth branch of the government. How come that foreign ownership is pressed against a manufacturer of information like Rappler when most netizens across the globe paved way by critical infrastructures for news distribution remains borderless? How come that Rappler’s almost decade-long existence since 2011, no government administration has condemned its critical narratives and up-to-date news content, nonetheless, the reputable news outlet has even become steadfast and truth worthy source of information shared in the superhighway information. Is Rappler a threat to national security?
President Duterte’s trust and mistrust with media has been described in his roller-coaster journey’s ascent to power. His appeal to the masses massively constructed or deconstructed both by the traditional and new media are intermittently displaced whenever he disliked misinformation about his power projection. His upper hand denial to compromises and closure of media outfits in the Philippines are countered by ambiguously scrutinizing at flaws of family media owners despite robust contributions and legacy of these institutions to the country’s nation-building, using threats and fear as bold resolutions for submission to solidify his draconian rule.
Last year, he vowed to block the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise – the country’s largest network, and retaliated based from his rants when the media giant failed to air his political ad when he ran for presidency. He also singled out the country’s most read print media – the Philippine Daily Inquirer (PDI) for alleged slanted reportage about him and on his banner policy against the war on drugs.
Patterns of belligerence of the government against the manufacturers of information during the Marcosian years and to the present have seen astute and brave media in pursuit of press freedom; nevertheless, these select agents of change revolutionized Philippine society that spurred people power. The difference of media today than before, now there are quiet emergence of censored and uncensored websites, that cling to rampant disinformation that may entice millions of netizens. The appalling side of the information superhighway, it trespasses a country’s sovereignty, and that the absence of regulation on the internet, citizen journalists and traditional media practitioner may mete out wide-scale reparations and malicious information damaging the integrity of the complex political culture.
The daunting tasks of democratizing journalism in the Philippines, regarded supposedly as the freest in Asia, away from the social ills of political innuendos could spur a Cultural Revolution paved way by the advent of the dotcom era. The frequency of social media substantiated by the new media can become a constant catalyst of change to bridge the wall between elites and the masses subdued by stronger political patronage of mass media that manipulates the objectivity of information and obstructs the reliance of scoops to monopolize the subjectivity of truthfulness.
Ethical issues can escalate as to the extent of the president’s power to shut down institutions, particularly guardians of the right to communicate that have the capacity to expose abuses and inefficiency of leaders. The dichotomy between professional news and government propaganda exude discursive constructs of news gathering and news reportage under the mantle of trust and reliability despite that everything in the post-truth world are now deconstructed. People need critical thinking to absorb truths and realities; but if a leader is petrified of veracities, then he is not a wiser president.
Reality bites, Duterte’s media warfare has become asymmetrical with the emergence of non-state actors and individuals as truth in information has become subjective. Nationality restrictions sought to be justified on the ground of national security issue but not on political shenanigans that can become legitimate if the genuine purpose is only to protect national interests and not solely personal interest to consolidate power and perpetuate political survival.