The good news: Trust ratings of major Philippine media brands inched up one percentage point in the 2023 Digital News Report, a survey by the Oxford University’s Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.

The Philippines is among a few out of 46 countries in six continents in the annual survey where trust ratings improved. The overall trust rating in media declined by 2 percentage points to 40 percent.

The bad news: trust ratings in major news brands in all media categories – newspapers, radio, television, and online platforms was still lower than the global average at 38 percent.

The 2023 Digital News Report was the fourth straight year the Philippines was included since the project began 12 years ago.

The media landscape in the Philippines became interesting after Rodrigo Duterte rose to office in 2016 and began a vicious campaign to discredit the media.

By 2020, when the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism included the Philippines in its report, Duterte had intensified his attacks on media, shutting down the country’s largest broadcasting network, ABS-CBN.

He was also constantly attacking Rappler and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, two news organizations critical of his policies, particularly on war on drugs.

Duterte’s social media influencers and followers echoed his media attacks, labeling journalists as biased, “dilawan,” “bayaran” and as enemies of the government.

Some journalists were even “red-tagged” as supporters and sympathizers of the outlawed Communist New People’s Army (NPA).

The constant bullying of journalists and demonizing of their news organizations all contributed to the public’s low trust ratings in the Philippine media.

Changes in the Filipinos behavior and news consumption were also factors in the low trust ratings.

More Filipinos are now consuming news through social media platforms, like Facebook, Twitter, Youtube and Tiktok.

They no longer read newspapers, listen to radio, and watch television. Netflix and other streaming platforms have replaced free on-air television.

Filipinos are also accessing the news on social media through their mobile phones, tablets, laptops, and desktop computers.

The Filipinos share the same news consumption habits with other people across the world but the Duterte factor set them apart.

Duterte had poisoned the minds of Filipinos that the news media in the country were out to destroy the government by exposing irregularities and wrongdoings.

Duterte had the highest popularity ratings among presidents since the time of Corazon Aquino, despite his brutal and bloody war on drugs policy.

The popularity translated into support for his attacks on the Philippine media.

If there was an improvement on the trust ratings from 2020 to 2023, it was due to the Filipinos thirst for reliable and accurate information on the coronavirus pandemic.

In 2020, when the Digital News Report was first made in the Philippines, the trust rating was at a low of 27 percent. It improved to 32 percent in 2021 and further increased to 37 percent in 2022.

The dramatic increases in public trust ratings in those periods reflected the Filipino’s trust on the Philippine media to deliver reliable, accurate and unbiased information about the coronavirus disease (Covid-19).

The Philippine media based their reports on medical experts from the World Health Organization (WHO), the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Department of Health (DOH), physicians specializing in infectious diseases, and the government’s task force on infectious and emerging diseases (IATF).

There was a lot of disinformation and misinformation on social media, especially when the vaccines were developed against Covid-19.

The Filipinos’ trust on Philippine media to report on Covid-19, however, did not change their attitudes and behavior when it came to politics.

Based on the Digital News Report survey, Filipinos, like other people in the world, are avoiding political news that they find toxic and frustrating.

A separate survey done by a local pollster showed that Filipinos preferred to read, listen, and watch positive news about the government.

They continued to avoid political news because these were deemed divisive and polarizing.

Again, this phenomenon was an offshoot of Duterte’s tirades against the news media.

The news media also criticized past presidents post-EDSA but it was only Duterte who took personal action against journalists, banning Pia Ranada of Rappler from covering Malacañan Palace.

It is early to tell if the media landscape will change and public trust on the media will improve after Ferdinand Marcos Jr was elected in May 2022.

When the Digital News Report survey was done early this year, Yvonne Chua, a journalist and University of the Philippines journalism professor, who wrote the Philippine report, was still pessimistic.

She said the Philippine media landscape remained grim as attacks on journalists and news organizations continued.

Percival Mabasa and a radio journalist were murdered last year. Another radio journalist in Mindoro was also killed after the report was made.

Intimidation, harassment, and threats against journalists continued. Security forces continued to “red-tag” journalists.

Recently, Marcos promised to take action against disinformation and misinformation but it remains to be seen how successful his campaign against “fake” news will be.

He has to show results in ending journalist killings and other forms of attacks.

The Philippine media landscape, however, will remain grim if Filipinos’ mindset towards journalists and news organizations does not change.

They must understand and realize that the news media has a watchdog function.
They will not hesitate to criticize and expose wrongdoings in government, businesses and in the community.

But institutions that deserve the compliments will be praised.

Journalists and the news media should not be seen as an enemy of the government but the public’s dedicated sentinel against corruption and any wrongdoing.