Once again, President Benigno Aquino III has shown a penchant he shares with a number of past leaders: shooting the messenger instead of looking at why the messages seem to be getting worse over time.
It is deplorable that this president, who promised a regime of good governance and respect for fundamental rights and freedoms, has shown that he is not above attempting to enlist the services of others to carry out his wish of making media toe his line.
After inducting the officers of the Advertising Board of the Philippines (AdBoard) in Malacañang recently, Mr. Aquino complained to the advertisers that “truth seems to be a forgotten concept by some of our media practitioners” and asked their help “by encouraging media to police its own ranks.”
This is, of course, not the first time Mr. Aquino has acted with petulance in reaction to what he perceives as media’s obsession with portraying the negative, his latest examples being the reportage on his armored Lexus and the corruption scandal hounding the military.
We really do not care what Mr. Aquino thinks of the Philippine media. Like anyone else, he is entitled to his opinion. What we do take exception to is the highest official of the land unabashedly drawing on his authority to suggest, not so subtly, that advertisers place their ads only in networks and newspapers that “uphold truth and fairness” as he sees them.
This was seconded by his factotum, Palace spokesman and former journalist Ricky Carandang, who told reporters that what all Mr. Aquino wants advertisers to do “is put their money into media that is responsible.”
This is just a notch below what former president Joseph Estrada did during his term, when he actually pulled out government ads and convinced his friends in business to do the same from media outfits that had caught his ire.
Last we looked, we were supposed to be a democracy as this government and other governments before it have professed, never mind that this claim is belied by the murders of 143 journalists since 1986, and of hundreds of dissenters, in a society where the free flow of opinion and expression are supposed to be guaranteed.
It is a credit to the AdBoard, through its chairman Andre Kahn, who unequivocally said they “do not use the advertising as a tool” and, in an apparent allusion to what Estrada and, perhaps some other president as well, did, added: “There have been some administration(s) that tried to do that but we in the advertising business, we do not accept that as a valid way to try and get cooperation.”
Pray tell, Mr. Aquino, what is fairness, what is the truth? Would it be fair or truthful if media stopped reporting on the corruption in the military, or in government in general, while the people continue to starve for the good governance you promised, as well as literally starve for physical sustenance, even as the nation’s coffers continued to be plundered? Is it unfair, would it be untruthful, to report on your acquisition of luxury vehicles, even if it was your own money you
spent or these were given by generous benefactors, when you promised to set an example of modesty?
May we again remind you, Mr. President, and you as well, our former colleague, Mr. Carandang, that the media DO NOT create the bad news, they merely report on it, not out of spite or any perverted desire to sow chaos, but because the it is the people’s right to know.
Mr. President, you promised our people transparency. The media simply hold you to that promise, on their behalf, whether you choose to keep it or not. Just as we will continue to hold you accountable for every media killing that remains unsolved during your promised rule of good governance and justice.
Rowena Paraan, NUJP secretary-general