I am the last person to even defend (or care for that matter) about Maria Ressa and Rappler. I still don’t think that is a credible website, I still question the kind of work that it does, and I still never read it, and rarely link to it (unless they’re the only ones who carry a story).
But at a time of d/misinformation and troll discourse, especially given a consistently discredited media, it’s important to see a misstep for what it is, especially from government officials who are skewing what should be a pretty straight-up, clear-cut, important discussion that needs to be had about why Amnesty International Netherlands included President Duterte in a video of leaders who are taking away our freedoms.
This was an opportunity to discuss the bases of the inclusion. Instead it became about the blame game, with mainstream media as the favorite punching bag.
On the AIN page itself, Duterte supporters point a finger at media for coming out with what they say is false information about the administration, which to them is the basis of Amnesty International’s assessment of the President. Meanwhile, RJ Nieto, Head of Strategic Communications under the Office of Undersecretary for Migrant Workers Affairs at the Department of Foreign Affairs, reacting to the fact that AI called the commenters on its page “trolls,” has pinned the blame on someone else:
MARIA RESSA: A NEW KIND OF TERRORIST
By travelling all over the world and telling the international community that you, the Regular Filipino, are just a troll when you defend your personal political interests, Rappler overlord Maria Ressa has successfully metamorphosed into the single biggest threat to Free Speech in the Philippines.
Every time she talks, she disenfranchises you and the rest of the voiceless citizens who do not have the resources to form fancily-named nonprofits, who do not have powerful connections, and who do not receive multi-million dollar funding like she and her ilk do.
That kerfuffle about Amnesty International Nederland calling Filipino commenters trolls?
Maria Ressa and Rappler’s nonstop international anti-government propaganda are partly – – if not largely – – to blame for that.
Ressa, you and your employees at your nonprofit are a threat to Philippine Democracy, for you and your people are nothing but literary terrorists.
Wow. First of all, this puts way too much power in one person’s, one website’s, hands. Often Duterte propagandists post about how Rappler’s online engagement has fallen, and is at its lowest, because it has been beaten by the pro-Duterte pages and sites (Asec Mocha just posted about it two days ago). So pray tell why would anything Ressa says or does even matter at this point, if Rappler’s engagement numbers are so important?
I’m also surprised at the amount of credit this is giving Ressa, and I’m pretty sure that this is the kind of credit Duterte supporters have worked hard at not giving Rappler at all. After all, part of the project of defending the President from the get-go was to discredit mainstream media. Lest we’ve forgotten, part of the exercise of discrediting anything should be — surprise surprise! — to not give it any credit at all.
Third, and most important: what this asserts is that at the very least, what Ressa and Rappler say about the Duterte administration affect the international assessment of and reactions to President Duterte’s policies and his followers. It’s saying that Amnesty International called Duterte’s supporters trolls, largely because of what Ressa-Rappler have said about the same.
But here’s the thing: if the words of one person or media company could so affect the perceptions about and the image of one country, because it is taken as truth, and that truth is acted upon by people who run organizations like Amnesty International Netherlands, then how can we continue to insist that the President’s words are disconnected from the drug war killings, the abusive policemen, the summary executions?
If we are saying that someone like Ressa, and a media company like Rappler, and mainstream media in general, are so powerful that their words could so make institutions like Amnesty International act on what they say, then certainly this behooves us to go back to President Duterte’s own words and look at how it is connected to the actions of men in uniform, police and military, even those responsible for the summary executions, and how these have produced the thousands dead in the wars he wages.
It demands of us to look at what the President has said over and over again the past 16 months, and consistently, about killings and murder, about the value of certain lives over others, about pardoning policemen who kill in the name of these wars, about taking responsibility for the foibles of men in uniform, all this time never condemning the summary executions.
Because if what Ressa and mainstream media have reported and said about the drug war and Duterte and his followers are to be read as equal to the reactions and actions of other people and organizations, then certainly the President’s own words could only be equal to the reactions and actions of people and organizations as well.
In this equation, it would be the President’s words that undoubtedly hold the most power. This also means that if people like Ressa should be labeled a “terrorist” for their words, then that could only point a finger at the bigger, more powerful, “terrorist” in our midst.