A warning shot has been fired against mainstream media. Congressman Crispin “Boying” Remulla has accused the media of having been “weaponized” to attack the government because of its criticisms.
Without going into specifics, Remulla’s statements are very disturbing. It is a veiled threat against nosy and critical news outlets.
Remulla is the incoming secretary of justice of the Marcos administration and he has a history of clamping down on press freedom in the country.
Two years ago, Remulla led the vicious and baseless attack on ABS-CBN, then the country’s largest commercial broadcast network, denying its application for the renewal of a 25-year legislative franchise.
Remulla was among onion-skinned public officials who did not tolerate a free press and favored only “friendly” vloggers and influencers on social media who spread lies, disinformation and propaganda.
He has, in fact, heaped lavish praises on vloggers and social media influencers for supposedly providing balance and accurate reporting during the election campaign.
Remulla’s accusations against the mainstream media could be a preview of what to expect from the government of Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr.
Even before Marcos was elected into office, journalists from the mainstream media already had numerous issues, from access to being ignored when asking legitimate questions during news conferences or chance (ambush) interviews.
During the 90-day election campaign period, Bongbong Marcos gave only a single news conference, in Cagayan de Oro City, and selected the journalists who attended the event and raised questions.
He also rarely answered questions thrown at him during chance interviews. He skipped forums and debates organized by media organizations and even by the Commission on Elections.
After he was proclaimed winner in the May elections by a joint session of Congress, he faced “friendly” television networks for a brief news conference.
Marcos and his media handlers continued to deny access to legacy media and selected only “friendly” news outlets, avoiding tough and controversial questions.
Marcos has heavy political baggage. There were also many unanswered issues, like the family’s wealth and unpaid taxes, which had reportedly ballooned to about 200 billion pesos.
During the next six years under his presidency, these questions would hound him and he would not escape dealing with a critical media.
Boying Remulla could shield Marcos from legacy media even if he would accuse journalists as “enemies of the state” for their criticisms.
Journalists have an important role to play in a democratic society. They serve as a watchdog to constantly monitor the government, making sure its policies are for public interest and the greater good.
Journalists must be loyal to the people they serve. It is both a responsibility and obligation. They have to be accountable to the public.
Remulla must also be aware that the media is part of the checks and balances in government. The media is not the government’s mouthpiece and journalists are not public relations (PR) agents or paid publicists.
Democracy will not flourish if a free and open press is curtailed.
There were been painful lessons learned under Marcos’ father, the dictator’s brutal regime in the 1970s and 1980s.
Newspapers, magazines, radio and television stations were all shut down. Journalists were thrown out to the streets and some were jailed. Others fled to exile.
When Marcos, the dictator, allowed the media to operate again, his business cronies took over to control the media. Reports critical to the government were not allowed. Only positive news, praising the government, saw print and broadcast.
Perhaps, Remulla wanted to bring the media landscape back to those days under Martial Law.
When he said the mainstream media was being weaponized, Remulla was actually warning the owners of news platforms—newspapers, radio and television networks, and online platforms.
Big business controls the local media, which must be 100-percent Filipino owned under the 1987 Constitution. It would be easy for the government to rein in big businesses, which are also involved in heavily regulated industries like utilities, oil and gas, and mining.
It would be easier for the government to squeeze out the media owners than journalists, washing their hands completely from directly interfering with the mainstream media’s operations.
Remulla’s warning shot to mainstream media and its big business owners is a serious concern. It means not only a return to the martial law period. It could also mean the death of democracy. There could only be democracy if there is a free press.