Commitment issues


Tonyo Cruz

A lot of my friends are inclined to support a presidential candidate who has no problem with making commitments. Commitments we have in mind include a new franchise to ABS-CBN, dropping the trumped-up charges against Rappler and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Maria Ressa, stopping red-tagging of media outlets, punishing the assassins of many slain journalists.

To date, no major candidate has made such commitments. Their backers have claimed their candidates are for this or that, but those are poor substitutes to actual commitments or pledges from the candidates themselves.

Neither have the candidates presented their views on the disinformation networks and troll farms, except to deny they have any role in them. We think the next president should know the gravity of this global disinformation problem, and its role in enabling fascists and populists.

Presidential candidates should also speak on the role of the press and the media if they are elected. Would they be as combative or vindictive as the outgoing president?  Would they be as onion-skinned as today’s leader to critical reportage and to media outlets perceived to be anti-administration? Would they readily and unconditionally disclose information to the media?

It is unfortunate that instead of confronting these issues and concerns head-on, candidates and supporters are making the media the issue.

For instance, the candidate now leading the opinion polls categorically accused a journalist of being “biased” solely because he perceives her as “against” his family. But even if that were true, an aspirant for president should be able to sit down with journalists who bear critical questions or whose media outlets adopt a critical approach to reporting. More importantly, such a candidate mistakenly defines bias. Would he only agree to questioning from people who blindly adore him?

Elsewhere, backers of another candidate also accused an interviewer of “bias”. From their own explanations, I don’t think they wanted toughness or, at the least, fairness from the interviewer. They give the impression that they wanted a fluff interview, or something that would satisfy their traditional political fantasies as traditional political fans.

In the initial media face-offs, the candidates and their ardent supporters cleverly make it about the journalists and interviewers. That cannot be farther from the truth, right? The journalists and interviewers are not in the running. They have a job to do. It is up to the candidates to show up, answer the questions and show the voters how they could handle the pressure of even the “most unfair” questioning.

In fact, the presidential candidates have an obligation to put in their platform what they intend to do regarding press freedom, freedom of information, and the disclosure of information vital to the public interests. How they interact with journalists and the media today and throughout the campaign would also be a good indicator on what to expect if they are elected to office.

Under the next administration, would the media and the public be again compelled to stay up late because the new president will continue to order the late-night or after-midnight airing of pre-recorded addresses to the nation? Or would the next president talk to the nation and to the media at day time?

Out of the perhaps millions of words written since the start of this election season, scarce attention has been given by candidates to press freedom, the press, and freedom of information. Journalists themselves have arguably not made these major election issues. Who else do we expect would raise these issues?

As we have painfully gotten to know, the president is the most powerful official in the country, and the powers and prerogatives of the presidency can endanger, limit, and impair the exercise of our freedoms, including press freedom.  The 2022 elections present an opportunity to put back order in our supposed democracy or to make it more vibrant and substantive. If the next president is as allergic to dissent and to criticism, we would have more of the same — or worse.

Yes, the media plays a role in the elections: to introduce us to the candidates and to the key issues, to provide comment and expression, and to seek, receive, and impart information vital to the decision-making of voters. But journalists and media are citizens and constituents too. We have issues to raise, and a situation that we hope to change for the defense and betterment of democracy as we know it. 

Wanted: Candidates with no commitment issues on press freedom.