Sociologist: Duterte's media criticism has grave implications on news practice

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Sociologist Nicole Curato.

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, January 17) — President Rodrigo Duterte is free to criticize the media, but such criticism could have grave implications on media practice, according to an analyst.

In a press conference Tuesday, the President told reporters, "Why should you complain if I am critical against media? Are you not critical of me? Kung kayo mag-criticize, okay, kami hindi?"

[Translation: If you criticize us, it's okay, but if we criticize you, it isn't?]

The President's statement is a "fair point," sociologist Nicole Curato told CNN Philippines on Tuesday night.

"But the State has very different powers," she added. "The State can put people in prison. The State actually has the military. Disproportionate 'yung laban when it comes to power here."

[Translation: The power relations are disproportionate here.]

The Rappler issue

Duterte's statement came after the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) on Monday revoked online news agency Rappler's license to do business.

READ: SEC cancels Rappler's license to do business

The SEC said Rappler engaged in a fraudulent transaction and circumvented constitutional restrictions on foreign ownership by accepting over $1 million (around ₱50 million) from a foreign investor, Omidyar Network.

The Constitution prohibits foreign ownership in media institutions.

However, Rappler CEO Maria Ressa said on Monday that Omidyar's investment did not give the company ownership or control over Rappler, but only financial returns.

The online news site has been seen as highly critical of the Duterte administration.

Attacks unnecessary

Curato said instead of attacking the media, the government should directly respond to allegations.

"If they think the media is unfair, then correct them," she said. "But you know, you don't have to shame them or threaten them with cases of tax evasion or threatening them not to renew their franchises."

Curato was pertaining to Duterte's frequent singling out of newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer and media conglomerate ABS-CBN, which have both been critical of the administration.

The President on Tuesday threatened to file a plunder case against the Prieto family, the former owners of the Inquirer, for allegedly failing to pay billions of pesos in taxes.

"Nagpapakalinis kayo Inquirer eh, 'yun pala mga magnanakaw kayo," he said.

[Translation: You people in the Inquirer portray yourself as clean, but you're actually crooks]

"One of these days, I'll file a plunder case," Duterte added. "You will go to jail without a bail."

Meanwhile, the President has criticized ABS-CBN for allegedly biased coverage and for not running his ads during the 2016 presidential campaign.

READ: Duterte's profanities vs. media 'unprecedented' - media expert

Vergel Santos, chair of media rights group Center of Media Freedom and Responsibility, told CNN Philippines on Tuesday that the recent attacks against the media are due to the character of the Duterte administration.

"It is an intolerant regime," he said. "It is a regime that openly expresses the wish of putting the whole nation under martial law. How can you even not take that into consideration if, in fact, that is the greatest consideration?"