Philippines President-elect Rodrigo Duterte is boycotting the media following an international call for journalists to boycott his events in light of a remark in which Duterte asserted that many “son of a bitch” journalists slain on the job deserved to die.
“I won’t grant interviews. Sorry. It’s really a boycott,” Duterte announced in a video posted Monday. He noted that he would not grant journalists any interviews “until the end of my term” in 2022, adding that not speaking to the press is the only way to prevent having one’s words manipulated by the press.
“If there are interviews, there will be many mistakes, there will be many criticisms. So no interview, no criticism, no wrong statements, no nothing. … [I’ll] shut up. Ayoko na talaga. (I really don’t want it anymore.),” he said in the announcement.
Duterte’s announcement that he would no longer engage the media in any way follows a week of controversy in which international groups have condemned his declaration that many journalists are corrupt. Asked about the growing number of journalists in the Philippines being killed on the job, Duterte asserted that many are corrupt, investigating criminals only to extort them for their silence.
“Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination, if you’re a son of a bitch,” Duterte told reporters at a press conference last week. When prompted to react to the death of a journalist who had been highly critical of him as mayor of Davao city, he called the journalist a “rotten son of a bitch” who “deserved it.”
“If you are an upright journalist, nothing will happen to you,” he added.
Duterte’s spokespeople have issued numerous statements accusing the media of distorting his words. Transition team spokesman Peter Laviña said Duterte’s comments were “taken out of context, misinterpreted and misunderstood,” while Davao mayor’s office spokesman Salvador Panelo insisted, “If you look at the transcript, there is nothing there that says he was encouraging violence against journalists.”
This did not stop journalist groups from condemning Duterte. Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international group based in France, issued a statement not only condemning Duterte, but calling on Filipino journalists to boycott Duterte entirely and sue him for defamation. “We urge organizations that represent the media to not overlook comments of this kind and to bring lawsuits. We also urge the media to boycott the Duterte administration’s news conferences until the media community gets a public apology,” RSF Asia-Pacific desk head Benjamin Ismaïl said in a statement.
“Go ahead, boycott me. As a matter of fact I’m urging you make this your last trip in Davao City,” Duterte said at a press conference Thursday, responding to the RSF statement. “I hate giving interviews. I would be content with a camera and a cellphone taking pictures of me. Do not come here anymore. … I’m challenging you guys: Kill journalism. Stop journalism in this country. If you are worth your salt, you should accept the challenge,” he urged.
Journalists ignored the call, however, with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) going so far as to issue a statement clarifying that no Filipino journalists had called for a boycott. “The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines wishes to clarify that it was not the Philippine media which called for a boycott of President-elect Rodrigo Duterte’s press conferences,” NUJP Director Nonoy Espina said following the RSF statement.
Other journalists have not only rejected the RSF call, but actively encouraged journalists to cover Duterte even more closely. Vincent Lazatin of the Philippines’ Transparency and Accountability Network (TAN) told the regional outlet Rappler that, now more than even, journalists should engage Duterte. He criticized reporting that emphasized the president-elect’s “foul-mouthed” nature, a character trait so well-known that the Philippines censorship board has given up monitoring his language in news reports. “What we need are follow-up questions like he says he’s going to shut down Congress, how is he going to do that?” he asked. He also suggested treating Duterte like “a troll who says things just to provoke.”
Duterte will take office on June 30.