“Unfortunately, it seems many netizens lack reading comprehension, or didn’t even bother to read the report and the small print”
The Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism (RISJ) recently released its Digital News Report for the year, and it became controversial as one of its metrics for the Philippines supposedly portrayed media outfit Rappler as the country’s least trusted news brand.
Netizens, particularly supporters of the incoming administration, mocked the online news platform, which outgoing President Rodrigo Duterte practically banned from Malacañang Palace, but the RISJ swiftly issued an advisory explaining the report.
Their headline was direct and unequivocal: “The research of the Reuters Institute shouldn’t be abused to attack Rappler.” The subhead was equally straightforward: “Claiming that our work shows Rappler is the least trusted news outlet in the Philippines is “false and misleading,” writes our Director.”
In the 2022 Digital News Report for the Philippines, metrics were presented along with a commentary from an expert on Philippine news, University of the Philippines journalism professor Yvonne T. Chua.
What drew the japes of some netizens was a metric on ‘Brand trust scores’ that showed Rappler, which is identified with the opposition, at the bottom of a list of news organizations with a trust rating of 45 percent, ‘don’t trust,’ 32 percent, and ‘neither,’ 23 percent.
This, despite the paragraph preceding the metric stating explicitly that while overall trust in news increased, trust in brands decreased, but Rappler was an exception to the latter trend:
“Overall trust in news rose as Filipinos turned to media amid a surge of COVID-19 cases around the time the survey was conducted. However, trust in brands slid, with the exception of DZBB, Teleradyo, Rappler, and the tabloid Abante. Independent outlets respected for their reporting on those in positions of power are often actively distrusted by supporters of the politicians in question.”
The metric’s caption was also accompanied by this direct disclaimer: “Only the above brands were included in the survey so should not be treated as a list of the most trusted brands.”
Unfortunately, it seems many netizens lack reading comprehension, or didn’t even bother to read the report and the small print.
Rasmus Kleis Nielsen, RISJ director and political communication professor at the University of Oxford, wrote after the bashing, “Our work is being abused by those who claim it finds that Rappler is the least trusted (or most distrusted) news organization in the Philippines.
“This is a false and misleading claim, as will be clear to anyone who has actually read the Digital News Report 2022. As we explicitly write in every country profile, the trust scores in every country ‘should not be treated as a list of the most trusted brands.’”
Nielsen also decried how information can be used against journalists who are doing their job of check-and-balance in society: “When some do it anyway, our work – like other work, whether by journalists, academics or others – can be abused and weaponized as part of prominent politicians’ attacks on independent news media, or as props in often orchestrated and coordinated campaigns by their supporters and by friendly influencers targeting individual journalists or outlets that seek to hold power to account.”
The RISJ, established in 2006, is a research center and think tank based at the Department of Politics and International Relations at the University of Oxford. Their annual report reveals insights about the previous year’s digital news consumption.
Meanwhile, a thorough reading of the RISJ report reveals a plethora of press freedom issues, as Chua reported. She started by writing that these concerns “have grown as incoming president Ferdinand Marcos Jr., the namesake and son of the late dictator, held professional journalists in low regard throughout his campaign.”
She explained that “Marcos barred professional journalists from covering his campaign events, snubbed media-hosted debates, and gave preferential treatment to friendly social media influencers and a partisan TV station that repeatedly lambasted mainstream media.”
Chua added the outgoing government has also put pressure on local journalists and fact-checkers, who “have been vilified not only by online trolls but also by public officials.”
Also of concern were the coordinated distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks that crippled the websites of small and large news organizations, some for hours, others for days.
Among those affected were Rappler, Vera Files, ABS-CBN, GMA News, CNN Philippines, Interaksyon, PressOnePH, and Mindanao GoldStar Daily, as well as alternative news sites Bulatlat and Pinoy Media Center. “Months earlier,” wrote Chua, “the attacks against Bulatlat and another alternative site were traced to an IP address assigned to the Philippine Army.”
After citing these concerns and others, she added that the Philippines’ ranking in the World Press Freedom Index dipped by nine to 147th out of 180 countries.
A further decline in the country’s ranking for this year is possible, particularly after the recent order of National Security Adviser Hermogenes Esperon Jr. to the National Telecommunication Commission to block news sites Bulatlat, Pinoy Weekly, and 26 other organizations for allegedly being “affiliated to and are supporting terrorists and terrorist organizations.”
“No evidence has been offered to prove the government’s claim,” wrote the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network, comprising several journalists’ groups.
“It is clear that the act to block access to these independent news media websites counters the Constitutionally-guaranteed freedom of the press, speech, and free expression and the public’s right to news and information. The order also effectively removes from the public sphere alternative news and views so necessary in a democracy.”
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