Media's Public

Coping with criticism in foreign press

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

Andanar’s blast on Senate reporters didn’t work. Hinting The New York Times is corrupt and did a ‘hack job’ dodges the principal issue

President Duterte hasn’t had a friendly press abroad since he assumed office. Instead, because of his potshots at then U.S. president Obama, the European Union, the United Nations chief and Pope Francis, highlighted by his pet expletives, he has earned little goodwill or respect among the foreign media.

Hostile fire from major news organizations and late-night-show hosts has stepped up since the body count in President Duterte’s war on illegal drugs drew world attention.

And the more devastating attacks have come from the New York Times.

Times attack

NYT has produced at least two major articles, a Page 1 story on the filing of a complaint for mass murder with the International Criminal Court against Duterte, and two editorials.

The articles depicted the “bloodbath” in the country, including a photo essay titled “They Are Slaughtering Us Like Animals,” One editorial called for the ICC to investigate the complaint, alleging there’s enough evidence.

The editorial urged the country’s trading partners to emulate the European Union’s plan to impose tariff on Philippine goods and “hurt it where it hurts most,” the economy.

While NYT circulates principally in the U.S., it has an online edition and what it publishes is picked up by other media outfits and often sets their agenda. The Times is included in such global lists as best English-language newspapers, best newspaper brands, and most respected newspapers.

U.S. President Donald Trump who deems the media as “enemy of the people” has kept on flogging the NYT, among the few news outlets he singles out, calling it the “failing newspaper.” Yet whenever the Times exposes his misdeed or failure, it shakes Trump up as few other media do.


So how have Duterte and the Palace coped with NYT and the issue adverse to the Philippines?

Martin Andanar, communications office chief, responding to Times photojournalist Daniel Berehulak’s Dec. 7, 2016 story and images about “57 homicide victims over 35 days,” said it was one-sided, disputing the figures it cited in the article.

No ad hominem charge about the Times having been corrupted, which Presidential Spokesman Ernesto Abella raised following NYT’s Richard Paddock March 26, 2017 piece titled “Becoming Duterte: The Making of a Strongman.” It was a financed “hack job,” Abella said, without specifying evidence or detail about the corruption or where it was shoddily written and edited.

Local lesson

The corruption bit was odd as it rejected a local lesson on dealing with media: the furor over Andanar’s allegation that Senate reporters were bribed to cover the Feb. 20 press-con of former Davao cop SPO3 Arturo Lascañas. Andanar, burned by the reporters’ wrath, since then had ceased speaking for Duterte. Now here’s Abella insinuating that moneyed persons were behind the series of attacks from the Times, meaning its journalists were bought and did a poor job of it.

NYT has ignored Abella’s smear; perhaps the paper is so confident of its reputation that it thought there was no need to defend it.

But if Abella did an Andanar, he was just harping on the same theme taken up by his boss. Last April 27, two days before the Asean conference Manila is hosting opened, Duterte blamed Filipino-American Loida Nicolas-Lewis and presumably her wealth for the NYT blast against him and the illegal drug killings. And, yes, he called the Times an “asshole.”

Cost of response

No, not the best way to project to foreign media the facts on the “mass murder” in the country.

Instead of name-calling and questioning motive, they can refute allegations with facts.

The true state of the government’s drug war would be the concern of trading partners, which might use tariff to push their human rights agenda. That would also be the target of any ICC inquiry.

Like United Airlines executives who must have known the p.r. and economic cost of expelling a seated passenger, our leaders, from their mode of answering foreign media flak, must also know where the nation “can be hurt most,” economically and in the arena of world opinion.


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