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Ignored questions at Marcos team presser raise concerns

Kristine Joy Patag - Philstar.com
Ignored questions at Marcos team presser raise concerns
This photo shows reporters covering Ferdinand "Bongbong" Marcos Jr., presumptive president-elect, waiting for a press conference of his spokesperson Vic Rodriguez on May 11 at the BBM HQ in Mandaluyong City.
Philstar.com / Kristine Joy Patag

MANILA, Philippines — Hostility from the team of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., presumptive president-elect, highlights the need for the press to stand together, journalists and rights group said.

After a Marcos campaign spokesman pointedly refused to acknowledge questions from a reporter earlier this week, journalists took to social media to say that other reporters in the room should have insisted that the questions be answered. Others said the incident was a sign of how things might be in a likely Marcos presidency.

Human Rights Watch Asia Division Senior Researcher Carlos Conde, a former journalist, warned that Marcos' "contempt for the media could pose serious risks for democracy in the Philippines."

Ignoring publications is a start, but the presumptive president-elect would also have "tools at his disposal to muzzle the media in a manner that the elder Marcos, no supporter of press freedom, could only dream of," he said.

"Real vigilance is needed from donor countries and rights-respecting governments. They, along with journalist associations in the Philippines and around the globe, need to be prepared to push back against Marcos administration inroads against media freedom and critical reporting," Conde said.

'Support and solidarity needed'

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines said in a statement Wednesday that it "stands with Rappler’s Lian Buan and Rambo Talabong and the journalists covering the UniTeam campaign despite the challenging situation that coverage has presented."

Talabong tweeted that that some Marcos supporters he interviewed expressed disdain when they found out he is from Rappler. Buan, who has long been covering the Marcos campaign, was ignored twice by Marcos’ spokesperson Vic Rodriguez during a live press briefing.

Buan asked two questions: How Marcos will deal with his contempt case in the US when he becomes president and chief diplomat, and if Marcos might scrap President Rodrigo Duterte's proclamation of a National Day of Protest every September 21, the publicly-acknowledged anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law by the candidate's father.

Both questions were clearly heard in the room, but Rodriguez ignored her. Members of the media were in shocked silence during the incident.

"I always tell my students: A story without context is not a story, it is a transcript," Rappler news editor Paterno Esmaquel II said in a tweet. "In the same vein, journalism without courage is not journalism, it is propaganda."

"To those who refuse to stand up for fellow journalists: Where is the courage? Where is the journalism?"

NUJP acknowledged that apprehension among the members of the beat is not without basis: "It was during his father’s time that newsrooms were closed down before being allowed to operate under the watchful eye of government censors."

The union however noted that the journalists trailing Marcos and UniTeam have shown solidarity during the difficult coverage in the last six months. Reporters on the bat have dealt with hostility — both online and offline — advisories selectively distributed to the press, and with ambush interviews that often resulted in physical contact with Marcos' bodyguards.

"They have supported each other as much as they can in the face of risks like hostile treatment and loss of access. As our community looks for ways forward, we owe them our support and not scolding," NUJP said.

NUJP stressed that the Philippine press is faced with the challenge of eroded public trust "partly because of its missteps but mostly because of a long-time campaign to discredit [the press]."

"The veterans in our community have pointed out that work must continue. While that is true, it can no longer be business as usual," NUJP also said.

It added that the wisdom of the members of the 'mosquito press' — who stood up to censorship and to Marcos — will be needed in the crucial part of the struggle for press freedom. Efforts to assert press freedom will also require the enthusiasm of young journalists, the support of newsroom managers to back their staff amid pressure, and the support of the people "whose right to know we serve and who we must win over again."

"To do that we will have to keep asking uncomfortable questions and to be able to do that we have to help each other make sure that Lian and Rambo are not outliers but among the many in our ranks," NUJP said.

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