By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
SunStar Cebu and SunStar Superbalita
Must sense of nationalism stop Filipino writers from ‘badmouthing’ their country abroad? A ‘Manila Times’ columnist and former Arroyo publicist raises issue of patriotism.
Rigoberto D. Tiglao, columnist of “The Manila Times,” had a career in journalism that began in 1981 as reporter of a business daily based in Manila. His vast journalistic experience included past stints as bureau chief of “Far Eastern Economic Review” and columnist of “Philippine Daily Inquirer.”
Government service interrupted his work with publications when he was appointed chief of the Presidential Management Staff, press secretary and ambassador, among other posts. After president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo stepped down, Tiglao returned to journalism as “Times” columnist.
When Tiglao wrote last Nov. 17 about Filpino “political partisans” who “badmouth” their country in publications abroad, that drew a rejoinder from NUJP (National Union of Journalists of the Philippines), condemning him for “red-baiting” that may endanger the lives of the writers he deemed traitors. It can “push people into the line of fire in a country that remains deadliest for journalists,” NUJP said. Bulalat.com said it would hold Tiglao accountable for any harm on its writers.
Related issues raised by Tiglao’s attack and NUJP’s response are no less significant:
◘ Does a writer become a traitor if he writes abroad about unflattering conditions in his country? When does writing for media become bad-mouthing?
◘ In publishing ones dissent, does one become a propagandist of those who oppose the present administration?
In his list
Tiglao mentioned persons: Carlos Conde of Human Rights Watch, Sheila Coronel of Columbia Journalism School and Manuel Quezon III, columnist of the Inquirer and a TV public affairs show host. And news websites Bulalat and Rappler and media watch groups and Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR) and Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) Tiglao implied that CMFR and PCIJ were funded by CIA money.
Conde is a former journalist who researches for the New York-based NGO, Coronel is mainly with the academe.
Quezon, like Tiglao, is a newspaper columnist who occasionally contributes to foreign publications.
Tiglao accuses them of (1) being indisputably biased against President Duterte and (2) “badmouthing” the country as “a land where the rule of law has collapsed.” Their published materials abroad are “misleading and often totally false.”
Except about the dispute on the number of people killed in the war on illegal drugs, Tiglao gave no specifics on alleged deceptive and false information. Tiglaos gripe on Quezon is that the “Washington Post” where he guest-writes on the op-ed page doesn’t mention his past work as publicist and spokesman of then president Noynoy Aquino.
As to bias, the writers Tiglao rapped had written opinion pieces, not news reports. Opinions usually takes sides; it’s the fact or conclusion that may err. In which case, the administration’s massive propaganda machinery can dispute and correct any error. As to Quezon, they may ask the “Post” to include his former link to PNoy (a standard practice in, say, CNN), just as readers may also ask “Manila Times” to publish Tiglao’s past work as GMA propagandist.
Even assuming the writers scored by Tiglao are anti-Duterte or, worse, paid propagandists, they have the right to free speech and free press. On the other hand, the other side has its own gigantic propaganda apparatus, which allegedly includes newspaper columnists who, according to another Times” columnist (Kit Tatad, Manila Times, Nov. 24, 2017), push or defend administration agenda “while receiving fat salaries and obscene perks from the government.”
If bulatlat.com is run by “Communist propaganda cadres” and PCIJ and CMFR are foreign-funded, the public needs more than “allegedly” and “accused of” in the published slander against them.
Tiglao and those he criticized apparently held contrary views. What he called unpatriotic may be considered patriotic by those who did the act. As to whether they’re paid propagandists, Tiglao’s charge needs to be substantiated. Calling them out in a column is not enough.
Besides, how can dissent change color when its aired on foreign land? With today’s communication technology, no boundary limits the flow of ideas and facts. Thus, no “false and misleading” material can go unchallenged for long.
And, as pointed out earlier, the government is not without its army of publicists, officially connected and alleged mercenaries imbedded in private media or among “keyboard” troops.
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