According to the 2018 Wellcome Global Monitor study, only 40% of Filipinos trust the country’s journalists. Most respondents either only partially trusted journalists, depending on the situation. Is this, as critics of the administration would say, because of the government’s “attack” on media? Or is losing public confidence a consequence of the media’s own decades of malpractices?
The 2018 Wellcome Global Monitor study is “the world’s largest study into how people around the world think and feel about science and major health challenges”. Their research into public trust in journalists was as a datapoint in the largest study on how Filipinos trust science and health information. This suggests that low public trust in journalists can affect the dissemination of public health information – a critical factor in the Philippines where the healthcare system, though supported by the government, is still struggling to catch up. Particularly in provinces less connected to urban centers, information could be the critical missing factor that bridges the gap between scattered infrastructure and ailing patients.
But how has the Philippine press fallen so low?
According to the same survey, which included 144 countries and territories, trust in journalists ranged from a low of 12% in Greece to a high of 93% in Uzbekistan. However, the median global trust in journalists is 59%.
Democracy does not play as much of a deciding factor as critics would think. The study found that democratic and non-democratic nations both had roughly 60% trust in journalists.
A more likely culprit is political polarization. As political parties identify in more black and white terms, where should the ideology of the media fall?
The answer, at least for mainstream media in the Philippines, has been to lie on the side of the oligarchs and elites. This side also happens to be anti-administration and home to President Duterte’s fiercest critics – or at least that’s how they’d like to see themselves. We see it as the side of the defenders of the status quo and the champions of the entitled rich.
Going back to the study, greater press freedom was actually seen to result in less public trust in journalists. Maybe this is an indication of a larger flaw in the press institution. Because what safeguards against abuses in the fourth estate? Journalists and media outlets need to make money since they are private firms with their bottom lines to look after. Who is to protect the public from an unchecked press and its bankrollers?
If anything, this lower public trust in journalists shows that the state is freely allowing journalists to practice their professions. Any critic who confuses the state’s investigation into criminals as persecution of its critics is conveniently forgetting that all those who have been “targeted” – starting with Ressa, ABS CBN, Rappler – are suspected of grave crimes preceding their criticism of President Duterte.
“Fake news” is perhaps the phrase of the decade. In the Philippines, it has been weaponized by mainstream media to demonize opposing opinions, even if they are based on fact. Survey after survey has said since 2016 that Filipino people support President Duterte, his campaign against illegal drugs, and his many other initiatives like Build, Build, Build and Universal Health Care. But look at the headlines – media is deadset on their bias of painting the President as a dictator, no matter what the facts actually say. Worse, they claim to be nonpartisan voices. The entire Philippine media institution is fake news, a joke, a weapon. A business. Its interests lie not with the Filipino people, but with its advertisers and shareholders.
Thankfully, this survey just shows that people are free to listen to journalists and decide whether they trust them or not. Unfortunately for mainstream journalists, they can no longer shove their narratives down people’s throats.