TAGYATAY CITY – This time, he made sure the bosses got the message.
While he did not appear to be in fighting mood, President Benigno Aquino III still took yet another opportunity to call media’s attention on their purported “shortcomings,” but vowed “to work with you towards the advancement and protection of your profession.”
“When I talk about your profession in public, I have been forthright about the shortcomings I see—not because I enjoy criticizing, but because I believe it can help,” he said in a speech before top media executives at the Taal Vista Hotel here.
“My door is always open, and I am here to listen to you, and to work with you. I have said nothing that your own readers, viewers, and listeners have not already said themselves.”
Aquino’s congenial approach on Friday was far different from his combative stance in previous media events where we had also been invited as guest of honor.
Last July, he berated ABS-CBN’s “TV Patrol” at its own anniversary party, for supposedly highlighting negative news. Just last week, he reiterated his preference for positive news before a gathering by the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas.
After delivering his speech on Friday, the President spent about an hour in a closed-door meeting with media owners and executives. Among them were Philippine Daily Inquirer president Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez, who had confronted Aquino’s complaints against media before the private affair.
“Mr. President, you have sometimes spoken of being bombarded with negativity. We feel for you,” she said in her remarks in plenary, but reminded Mr. Aquino that “the Constitution grants that the press is fundamentally free as it allows the press to determine negative or positive in different ways.”
“This is the diversity of opinion at the heart of democracy,” she pointed out.
Aquino later insisted that he was not making a “pitch for government to take an active role in media regulation.”
“I have seen the harmful effects of state-controlled media; and I am old enough to remember how, before Martial Law, media was held in the highest regard and considered the journal of record,” he said.
“Martial Law changed that, turning a noble profession into a propaganda machine, with those in power censoring and even punishing those who spoke the truth–my father included.”
Aquino tackled two key issues where media’s “solidarity can produce tangible outcomes.” He mentioned the need to come up with “consistent standards” in media to address conflicts of interest or determine mechanisms for redress for people aggrieved in a story.
He also tackled “corruption in media,” the theme of this year’s Media Nation Summit, asking whether benefits received by the media rank-and-file were “commensurate to the highest standards of integrity demanded of them.”
“Having seen the price our country paid to regain freedom, I believe it is incumbent on all of us to continually improve the standards to which we hold ourselves and to insist on accountability–from public officials to journalists like you,” he said.