THEY flew in with their expensive equipment, billeted themselves in some swanky hotels, staked out and waited endlessly for the President-elect to give them briefings and his regular dose of surprises.
Most of them are reporters from big networks, while others on assignment from the wires. The majority of them have one thing in common – they have not tasted what it is like to be a journalist residing in Davao for at least a decade.
They desperately seek out Rodrigo Duterte, who is now the country’s most quotable person and the press’ hottest copy … as if being president is not hot enough.
Many of them are young, aggressive and persistent reporters. Others are veterans of the presidential beat.
Some seek out the help of their Davao counterparts. Others simply throw their weight around, using their reputation – or shall we say their ‘prestige’. They churn out stories and send images for their networks to print and air.
But the coverage does not end there. All stories go through the whole caboodle of editorial standards and requirements each of these networks require of their field reporters.
Why I am saying this? Because in order to understand the slants, angles and preferences of the stories, you will also need to understand where they come from.
And the context… I hate to use this most abused journalistic jargon – context – because it should be a given that all thoroughly thought-out stories include context. And I believe stories should always be anchored on it. No need to even remind us of that.
First, let me emphasize that for the first time, the Philippine press has a principal and most important news source who does not shy away from giving straight, whimsical, and often preposterous statements to quote-hungry reporters.
This did not happen overnight.
It all began back in the days leading up to the presidential campaign, when the non-Davao based press covering Duterte found him a novelty.
“They hit hard. But their subject dishes it out even harder.”
Indeed, no other presidential candidate in the history of the country could switch from serious to self-effacing with so much ease. Like a chameleon who easily blends into his environment, he could be ashen pale and piping red hot at the snap of his fingers.
They found him amusing and good copy at first. His statements were quoted and interpreted in as many ways as there were reporters covering him.
He does not hesitate to call out the elephant in the room. And that sells.
It was good while it lasted – the novelty.
They thought he was just a passing fancy.
But when the novelty turned into reality, they began to view him as a wayward speeding train.
They saw him veering away from the track they expect from a president-to-be.
His off-the-cuff remarks became their steady fare. The novelty they used to amuse themselves with was now driving them out of their comfort zone. From being discomforted, the mood turned to outrage. When he finally won, their outrage became disbelief. They looked around and found themselves lost in a sea of confusion. They were jolted to say the least. No, that is an understatement.
“They have unconsciously become the bullies they say the president and his army of supporters are.”
From the comfort of their urban jungles, they were thrown into the lion’s den in faraway Mindanao. They no longer have familiarity and command of the terrain. Their very privileged ways are no match for the intransigence and bull-headedness of their subject. They hit hard. But their subject dishes it out even harder. And they no longer found it amusing or to their liking.
So they began to complain. Some even took to task their Davao counterparts for selectively picking the outrageous statements of Duterte. What is worse is that some have insinuated that the Davao press has been stymied by Duterte. They thought the ‘provincial press’ have become timid and docile when covering the president-elect.
But they have unconsciously become the bullies they say the president and his army of supporters are. Remember how one threatened to hit a camera man shooting a live feed after she was told she was blocking the camera of a local station from a rival network?
Yes, there are limits and lines that should not be crossed, even if we all agree that the press should not be intimidated and be threatened by physical and psychological harm.
But never look down on your ‘lowly’ local counterparts. More than you who enjoy the luxury and security of your living, they know your subject very well to understand his nuances, his idiosyncrasies and eccentricities. And these are not clouding their appreciation of what the man stands for and what he has done for their community.
Don’t belittle their capacity to rise up against tyranny, oppression and repression for they have been there before and they have laid their lives on the line.
They do not have the privilege, security and comfort of your pay. They do not enjoy the perks that go along with your status as members of the ‘national’ media. Neither are they incapable of being critical, analytical and judicious with their coverage.
After all, they lived through all the horrors of war and suppression.
You should be mindful of that.