Media's Public

Duterte’s blast on newspaper ‘slant’

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

The president complains of media overdoing its ‘antagonism’

“Look at the Inquirer. They are the ones saying that I am killing the poor. That son-of-a b**** is bull****. The poor will be killed. Look at how they slant the stories.”
–President Duterte

Editors admit that a news story must have a focus, which is usually in its lead (or lede) and the basis for the headline (or head). But they hardly use the word “slant,” maybe because it also means “bias or distortion.”

It’s the “slant” of Philippine Daily Inquirer that President Duterte complained about in his recent blast against the broadsheet and the broadcast network ABS-CBN.

Editors have biases. They have personal views and they are influenced by their publisher or network owner and the news organization’s goals. Journalism standards, though, keep those biases in check. Most compelling among them is striving for fairness and accuracy, basics in winning and keeping the trust of the readership or audience.

Too much?

Yet “too much slant,” which Duterte deplored, may just be sloppy reporting or editing, the gate-keeping that watches out for error or oversight. What may also be blamed is the imperative of marketing, which may at times drive media to discard the rules.

But briefly on the “slant” that Duterte griped about: Was the Inquirer’s March 25 banner head (“Duterte to poor: If you die, I’m sorry”) concocted or twisted or otherwise not supported by the facts of the story? Did the report fail to provide context, or omit details that would’ve changed meaning?

Obviously not. The story didn’t say Duterte was killing the poor, as Duterte alleged the Inquirer had said. It merely quoted words from his own mouth, which taken with the rest of what he said, declared that the poor couldn’t use poverty to justify going into drug use or trafficking and he was sorry if they’d die in the government campaign to lick the problem.

But Duterte-said-and-Inquirer-said would be wasteful exercise unless an independent arbiter would audit and judge Duterte’s complaint.

What’s in their mind

When the reporter gathers facts and writes the story and his editor processes it, pleasing the source is not in their mind. Do they ask if they’re doing a good knife job? Surely not. But it’s what the news source suspects: media carrying the “antagonism” too far.

Most journalists strive to be as fair and accurate as possible. But they must also give an interesting story, something that, yes, helps sell the paper and persuade the reader to go beyond the headline.

When they, as Duterte put it, “overdo” the slant, they go on a limb, risking a fall into a welter of criticism.

The difference

A controversial banner story in a broadsheet like the Inquirer often combines readership clout with explosive content and presentation hype. And really shakes the nation and sends presidents on a cussing binge. (Some Inquirer fans think the paper used to do it with more impact when its Page 1 was limited to a few items and not the multi-shelf display mandated by its new design.)

Compare the head “Duterte to poor: If you die, I’m sorry” in PDI with “Duterte decries critics who say he kills the poor” in another news outlet. Note the difference.


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