Media's Public

Duterte and the press: ‘I am not your enemy’

By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
SunStar Cebu and SunStar Superbalita

The president doesn’t have to wage war on media or be chummy with it. He only needs to know how, where and when to engage the press. Tougher for journalists if he is media-savvy. But their “adversarial role,” which Duterte admits, is supposed to protect public interest.

“Wala tayong away. I don’t hate anybody or else I won’t be inviting you to my place.”
— President Duterte to the Malacañang press corps

CONTRAST President Duterte’s statement to the Filipino press with President Trump’s potshots at the U.S. media.

Trump has called journalists “the enemy of the American people” and “the opposition party” and branded news reports he dislikes as “fake news” and reputable news organizations (such as New York Times, Washington Post, NBC and CNN) as “failing” enterprises.

Duterte admits the press is an adversary. “(The relationship) is always adversarial,” he told the Malacañang press corps as he partied last Dec. 12 with reporters and photographers covering him.

“Adversary” means of course “opponent or enemy.” Unlike Trump though, Duterte claimed he doesn’t hate journalists. At least, those who were at his Christmas party. He said he wouldn’t have invited the Palace reporters if he hated any journalist in the room.

News reporter and news source need not love each other; if they do, that’s disastrous to the public that the reporter serves as surrogate. They need only to be civil to each other.


Trump has taken it out of the realm of civility and pretense, escalating his assault on reporters and writers who don’t praise him.

He throws insults at media in general and specific reporters or news outlets, on Twitter and in rally speeches, mostly “ad hominem” accusations or responses. The truth is how he sees it or wants it to be.

Duterte is generally not combative with media. On the contrary, he agrees about journalists’ job. He conceded that getting the truth is media’s “business” and “quest.”

That offers some comfort. And this: Duterte affirms that “public interest” is the overriding concern. But his idea of what is good for the public may not be the same as what dissenters think. Which media pursues in questioning the president, resulting in friction and at times an outburst, such as when reporters asked about his alleged human rights violations in the drug war, alleged failing health and alleged growing bank deposits.

Truth, facts

Duterte drew a line between people’s truths: “Your truth is not my truth and everybody (else’s) truth, so we fight each other.” Fair enough, provided they agree on basic facts as bedrock of truth.

There may be some disagreement on interpretation of events and issues but the facts — established, verified or verifiable — must not be devalued or distorted. No such thing as “alternative fact” that a Trump adviser employed to cover up lies.

Media deals with facts. They’re currency and medium of debate and conversation. We won’t have informed opinion and decision, crucial to governance and leading our daily lives, if “truth” is what one prefers it to be, not what the facts say it is.

Not as muddled

The Philippines has not come yet to that stage in U.S. politics where Trump has muddled public discourse with his “post-truths.” We’re still in that blessed situation where our president is like most presidents, one who “knows he can’t function without media, but would if he could.” And our journalists are like most journalists in a working democracy who understand “they cannot know all the answers but act as if they are entitled to them.”

It’s not “all’s well” but it’s still a lot better than in many other parts of the world where presidents don’t talk with media, they just repress or silence it.

There were occasions when President Duterte berated media for “slanted news” and questions about issues “highly sensitive” to him. But there were also times when he joked with journalists and, last week, even sang for them.

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