You don’t even have to look at how they’re treating President Rodrigo Duterte to conclude that the so-called “national media” – not just the Inquirer and ABS-CBN – are biased. We in Mindanao have long had to contend with the ignorant and offensive labels the Manila-based media have used to describe our island: “war-torn,” “conflict-ridden,” and “lawless” are just a few words thrown around. This is not to mention the liberal use of religious affiliation or ethnicity when referring to undesirable elements: Muslim killer, Maranao robber, Tausug kidnappers. This sets up the readers and viewers, most of whom have no idea what the real situation is in Mindanao, to conclude that the island is unsafe, and that the danger comes only from certain sectors of the multicultural society living here.
The way the Manila-based media outlets present Mindanao, you would think that all hell has broken loose here. One example: back in late 2011, when the killing of Fr. Faustion “Pops” Tenorio and the deaths of 19 soldiers at the hands of the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) were fresh in the minds of people, Mindanao was consistently on the front pages of newspapers, with virtually all the stories casting the island in a negative light. This in spite of the fact that the two incidents happened in two specific places in Mindanao – Arakan Valley, North Cotabato in the case of Fr. Tentorio and Basilan in the case of the soldiers – that did not in any way represent the situation in the entire island.
This anti-Mindanao reporting makes as much sense as saying that the entire Metro Manila is a den of thieves just because someone got robbed in Caloocan City. It is unfair to brand an entire region in a particular way just because something happened in a tiny corner of it.
This has been a longstanding problem with Manila media outlets, and there is no assurance they will ever change. It is partly due to laziness: it is simply easier to lump all the areas of conflict and violence and label them “Mindanao” than to take the effort to identify exactly where these incidents are happening. But a bigger part may be said to be monetary: it is easier to sell newspapers and draw TV and radio audiences in when the stories are about war, not peace. War sells, and war in Mindanao can be a treasure trove if one tells the story in a way that highlights conflict.
Whatever the reason, Manila media have a lot of rewriting to do if they are to be true to their vow of presenting only the truth to their readers, viewers, and listeners. It is their responsibility to get their stories right, not just in terms of the facts of specific incidents, but of the overall picture in Mindanao. A careless adjective can paint a very negative picture, forever scaring off prospective visitors and investors.
Mindanaoans thus understand perfectly where Duterte was coming from when he lambasted the Inquirer and ABS-CBN for their unfair reporting. We have long been victims of this kind of journalism, long before Manila media trained their guns on the President.