The press and presidents

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag - The Freeman

President Duterte is not the first Philippine president, or politician for that matter, to have complained about the media about anything. And he will not be the last either. What surprises is that, instead of accepting this adversarial relationship matter-of-factly, the media almost always bristle everytime the brickbats are reversed and come headed in their direction.

Relationships, adversarial or complementary, are never a one-way street. The subjects of the media's news and commentaries are human too. They have feelings as well. And just as we in media have our opinions of them and feel it is our right in a democracy to freely express them, so have our subjects, including, and perhaps especially, presidents.

There is no right that we in media so jealously guard for ourselves that is not available to all other citizens, whether they occupy the highest echelons of power or inhabit the most dingy depths of poverty and lack of privilege. The media just cannot demand of others not to be onion-skinned what they cannot invoke for their own selves.

In short, if we in media can dish it out, we should also be able to take it on the chin. We cannot be high and might because we are not. We are just servants of the same public who merely happen to perform a different task. But all in all, we serve for the same public interest. There is no need for media to fight anybody or even to feel aggrieved over what, in other callings, would simply brush off as part of the hazards of the job.

A president who complains about how he is being treated by the media does not lose his right to complain even if he complains loudly and angrily. Sound and fury actually do little to add or detract from the substance of the complaint. Rather than take a complaint as an affront to a power which we do not really own but is only entrusted to us, subject to the responsibility and integrity with which we use it, we can use such complaint as an opportunity to evaluate ourselves.

We in media are not perfect. As such, we cannot be impervious to complaints. Complaints should be welcomed and used for our own benefit. We can use them to improve on our craft. We can use them to measure how far we have gone in our quest for true professionalism. The moment the media start viewing complaints as a form of harassment, or worse, as an assault on press freedom itself, then we shall have truly lost our objectivity.

The moment we lose our objectivity, it will not be long before we lose our identity altogether. When that happens, we lose the right to claim being members of this noble profession as that average other person. For the truth is, it is not just our capacity to tell the story from our perspective that sets us apart from the rest but our capacity as well to listen to the story of others from their own perspective.

We have our view of Duterte and Duterte has his view of us. What can be more natural than that? It is not something we need to squirm about or grow hot behind the ears. We owe it to ourselves to do our job well. And if praise is the last thing we will ever get from this thankless job, if we can still sleep well at night with no other lullaby than the song of a clear conscience, what more is there really to ask for?

We should in fact thank whoever there is to thank that Duterte is just complaining. For in case the Philippine media have forgotten, on this very day 44 years ago, a different president turned the lights out on press freedom itself. The moment he did, he stopped complaining about the bad press. There was no need to complain. He dictated how Filipinos lived their lives for the next 14 years.

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