by Nathaniel E. Carampatana and Shay Du | March 13, 2023
A former news anchor of ABS-CBN said that President Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. is “more open to [the] media” than his predecessor, former President Rodrigo Duterte.
Christian Esguerra, who spent six years as an ABS-CBN anchor, said that Marcos Jr. does not hold late-night press conferences nor curse during speeches and events.
“Since Duterte put the bar so low, even doing nothing becomes an improvement…So at least ‘decency’ is back,” he said.
As the 2020 Marshall McLuhan Fellow, Esguerra was invited by the Silliman University-College of Mass Communication (SU-CMC) to deliver his message titled, “Democracy at Stake: How Media Battles the Disinformation Phenomenon” during the Marshall McLuhan Dumaguete Series held at the Audio-Visual Theater last Feb. 21.
Esguerra said that Marcos Jr.’s more “accommodating” attitude toward the media did not mean the situation inside newsrooms improved.
“The climate of fear remains. Many newsrooms still censor themselves. Many, if not all, media owners are still very much afraid. And they are themselves, censoring their journalists,” he said.
Esguerra said that even when Marcos Jr. had not yet won the presidential elections, “the media was already scared.”
“If you ask around, there were efforts to actually kill certain stories, to change headlines, [and] to minimize certain angles—which [were] also happening before, pero ngayon mas lumala (but have now gotten worse),” he said.
Esguerra said that situations like this reminded him of how journalism was “heavily under siege” throughout the Duterte administration.
“Everyone was afraid of President Rodrigo Duterte. When he came after Rappler, when he came after the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and then he came after ABS-CBN, what did the other news organizations do? They became even timider, and that is the worst form of censorship: self-censorship,” he said.
The alleged violations of the news organizations Duterte “came after” were also brought up during the open forum. Esguerra said that the government was selective in acting upon such violations.
“Ilan ‘yung mga news organizations na merong skeletons in the closet, pero bakit pili lang yung binanatan ni President Rodrigo Duterte? Bakit merong news organizations that are categorically spreading lies [na] hindi hinahabol? (Several news organizations also have skeletons in the closet, but why have only a select few been threatened by President Rodrigo Duterte? Why are there news organizations that are categorically spreading lies but are not run after?),” he said. “Because they’re singing hosannas [to] President Duterte and President Marcos.”
The Marshall McLuhan Fellowship is awarded to one “outstanding” investigative journalist in the Philippines every year.
The fellowship has been sponsored by the Embassy of Canada in the Philippines since 1997.
Esguerra hosts “Facts First,” a weekly independent podcast that aims to combat disinformation in politics.
He was also a reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer, a political correspondent for ABS-CBN News, and a managing editor and anchor for ANC.