#DefendPressFreedom: Paradigm Repair, Role Perceptions and Filipino Journalists’ Counterstrategies to Duterte’s Anti-media Populism

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#DefendPressFreedom: Paradigm Repair, Role Perceptions and Filipino Journalists’ Counterstrategies to Duterte’s Anti-media Populism

Author: Ana Maria Margarita Macaraig Student Number: 13443534

Master’s Thesis

Graduate School of Communication

Erasmus Mundus Master’s programme in Journalism, Media and Globalisation Supervisor: Michael Hameleers

Date of Completion: May 28, 2021 Word Count: 8,500



Firebrand Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte rode the global wave of anti-media populism with verbal, legal, regulatory and troll attacks to discredit critical journalists. Calling mainstream media “oligarchs”, “fake news” and biased, Duterte takes a page out of the anti- media populist playbook accusing “corrupt journalists” of conspiring with the elite and betraying the people. Against debates on how journalists can counter populist politicians’ delegitimizing tactics, this study examines their paradigm repair strategies to ward off assaults in an

unconsolidated democracy like the Philippines. Through semi-structured interviews with 18 Filipino reporters and editors from three influential outlets that Duterte targeted as enemies – the broadcaster ABS-CBN, the newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the website Rappler – this paper offers rare insights on journalists’ pushback that integrates a range of counterstrategies with appeals to their strengthened roles as watchdogs, interpreters and disseminators of populist communication. Results reveal that journalists reinforce and adapt traditional reporting norms and routines, improve and negotiate transparency, express solidarity, and advocate for press freedom to defend their profession from what they consider an existential crisis. The study provides theoretical and empirical contributions by combining paradigm repair and role

perceptions as tools in analyzing journalists’ responses to legitimacy threats, and by presenting an understudied case of anti-media populism in Asia. Findings indicate that journalists discard practices like false equivalence and shift roles including from being detached observers to media freedom advocates and truth activists to respond to institutional attacks, rising disinformation, and perceived democratic erosion as they seek to speak truth to a populist in power.



“Since you are a fake news outlet then I am not surprised that your articles are also fake.”

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte railed against reporters’ “oligarch” owners and called them

“trash” (RTVMalacanang, 2018), drawing from the authoritarian populist toolkit to discredit the media (George & Venkiteswaran, 2019). Donald Trump’s “fake news” and “enemy of the people” labels (Carlson et al., 2020), Boris Johnson’s “empty chair” strategy of refusing

interviews (Holtz-Bacha, 2021), and the Lügenpresse (lying press) tag of Germany’s right-wing movement Pegida (Beiler & Kiesler, 2018) are tactics of anti-media populism, emphasizing an antagonism between “good people” and “corrupt journalists” counted as part of the elite (Fawzi, 2020, p. 42; Krämer, 2018a). Scholars and media groups describe the recent rise of populist media criticism as a press freedom threat, undermining trust in journalism even in established democracies (Freedom House, 2018; Kenny, 2020). While Trump and Johnson are constant research subjects, Duterte offers a powerful case study of anti-media populism in the Global South, worsening the environment in one of the most dangerous places to practice journalism where provincial correspondents are murdered in retaliation for their reporting (Crispin, 2020).

With populists challenging institutional media legitimacy (Van Dalen, 2019), the question of how journalists can defend their authority is critical (Lawrence & Moon, 2021). In the Philippines, the dilemma is compounded by a leader whose extreme brand of “violent populism” (Thompson, in press, p. 4) creates a climate of fear (Vitug, 2019). Elected in 2016 on a promise to end crime by killing drug offenders, Duterte’s government is under examination at the International Criminal Court over thousands of alleged extrajudicial killings (ICC, 2018). His verbal and legal threats to journalists also occur in a country having one of Asia’s most

freewheeling media while being a mainstay on impunity indices for unsolved killings of


reporters (Beiser, 2020; Vera Files & RSF, 2016). The man dubbed “The Punisher” (Zabriskie, 2002) went after critical outlets through regulatory measures and lawsuits that advocates decry as a “war of attrition” on independent media (Conde, 2020; Simon, 2020). To understand how journalists respond to such hostile attacks in this challenging setting, this paper examines the ways by which they counter the threats and view their functions in these perilous times.

Although many studies detail populists’ tactics to discredit media in Western Europe (e.g.

Fawzi, 2019; Van Dalen, 2019) and the United States (e.g. Carlson et al., 2020; Scacco &

Wiemer, 2019), little is known about journalists’ response (Esser et al., 2017), especially in fragile Global South democracies whose weak institutions are vulnerable to populism’s negative effects (Ruth-Lovell et al., 2019). The question has important implications as these attacks strike at journalistic authority (Carlson et al., 2020), impairing media’s normative functions in various democratic models like serving as the fourth estate and fostering political debate (Hanitzsch et al., 2018; Strömbäck, 2005). Few studies also analyzed journalists’ perspective on populism (Stanyer et al., 2019) despite their unique position on both the sender side of populist

communication (Hameleers, 2018) and the receiving end of populists’ criticism (Krämer, 2020).

Responding to the call for studies on media’s response to populists’ delegitimizing efforts, this paper raises the overarching research question: How do Filipino journalists respond to Duterte’s populist attacks? Specifically, 1) What paradigm repair strategies do they use against anti-media populism and why, and 2) how do they perceive their roles in relation to these strategies? In analyzing how journalists defend their work from a populist’s assaults, this paper expands paradigm repair literature through a focus on an external threat as an understudied element in the framework (Whipple & Shermak, 2020). The study also takes populism research


beyond the familiar geographies of Europe and the Americas (Rogenhofer & Panievsky, 2020) by presenting an interesting case of how journalists respond to a violent populist in Asia.

Through semi-structured interviews with 18 reporters and editors from three outlets that Duterte targeted as enemies, this article offers insights on journalists’ pushback against anti- media populism that integrates a range of strategies from reporting to advocacy with appeals to their roles as watchdogs, interpreters and disseminators of populist communication. Analyzing views from the frontlines of a populist’s attacks, the paper discusses how journalists adjust their counterstrategies to fulfill these roles that have become more essential in responding to assaults on their institution, and populist disinformation. Confronting what they consider an existential crisis, journalists reflect on the challenges of speaking truth to a populist in power, in an empirical illustration of populism’s consequences on press freedom in a frail democracy.

This paper first lays out theoretical arguments situating Duterte’s attacks within

populists’ anti-media worldview while framing journalists’ response under paradigm repair and role perceptions. The second part explains the qualitative interviews, and presents key findings.

The study concludes with a discussion of results, limitations and research recommendations.

Theoretical Framework

The Anti-Media Populist Worldview

Populism is widely regarded as an ideology or style dividing society into “two homogeneous and antagonistic groups, ‘the pure people’ versus ‘the corrupt elite’” (Mudde, 2004, p. 543). It has three core elements: 1) people-centrism or appeals to the people, 2) anti- elitism pitting the people against “bad elites” such as journalists and intellectuals, and 3) an exclusion strategy stigmatizing out-groups like criminals as societal threats (Jagers & Walgrave,


2007, p. 328). In its binary vision of politics, populism depicts elites and out-groups as diabolical enemies of the virtuous people (Hawkins, 2010; Mudde, 2004; Waisbord, 2018a).

This paper takes a communication-centered perspective on populism, factoring in its central ideas as content and stylistic elements like evoking crises and bad manners (De Vreese et al., 2018; Moffitt & Tormey, 2014). Populists use swearing and political incorrectness to connect with disenchanted publics (Block & Negrine, 2017; Moffitt & Tormey, 2014). This study

emphasizes journalists’ role as senders of populist communication (Hameleers, 2018) and thus important opinion-makers (Salgado & Stanyer, 2019) in a context where the divisive, abrasive rhetoric from leaders they are tasked to report on is directed towards them.

Journalists hold a dual position as they are also subjects of delegitimizing attacks which have become populists’ standard repertoire (Esser et al., 2017). Anti-media populism refers to an attitude accusing “bad and corrupt journalists” of conspiring with elites and betraying the people (Fawzi, 2020, p. 42; Krämer, 2018a, 2020). This stance is based on a hostile media syndrome, populists’ belief that mainstream journalists target them for negative news as corporate owners’

lackeys (Waisbord & Amado, 2017). Anti-media populism finds expression in harsh, comprehensive criticism of the media (Fawzi, 2019, 2020). It results from contradictions between the populist worldview and journalistic norms (Fawzi, 2020). People-centrism’s

assumption of a homogenous people clashes with media’s goal to respect diversity (Fawzi, 2020;

Schudson, 2014). Under anti-elitism, populists view journalists as protecting elite interests (Fawzi, 2020; Figenschou & Ihlebæk, 2019), and so they weaponize labels like “fake news” and

“enemy of the people” (Carlson et al., 2020; Egelhofer & Lecheler, 2019). Exclusion prompts accusations of bias towards out-groups and against in-groups (Krämer, 2018b).


Following calls to focus on journalists as part of the people’s enemy to extend the

understanding of populist communication (Hameleers, 2020), this paper explores how they view populism’s hostility to press freedom and verification, imperative for journalism’s existence.

Press freedom is “the relative absence of governmental and all other restraints of the media”, and the presence of conditions necessary to disseminate diverse ideas (Weaver, 1977, pp. 156-157).

However, populists insist on their own expression of the people’s will (Krämer, 2018b),

attacking liberal democratic institutions providing checks and balances like the media (Mudde &

Rovira Kaltwasser, 2017). Journalism is a discipline of verification (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2014) but populists promote “popular’ truths” (Waisbord, 2018b, p. 25). Populists scapegoat journalists for not representing the people’s voice (misinformation) or deliberately lying to the people (disinformation) (Hameleers, 2020). Building on this research, this study analyzes how journalists respond to inherent tensions between populism and their profession.

Many studies enumerate examples of anti-media populism so much so that scholars refer to a populist playbook (Rogenhofer & Panievsky, 2020) of delegitimizing strategies (Van Dalen, 2019) but studies on journalists’ responses are sparse despite the relevance of understanding how they defend an essential democratic pillar. Trump used Twitter to bypass the press, and insulted reporters (Lawrence & Moon, 2021). Lügenpresse and Indian right-wing media’s practice of highlighting reporters’ errors turn journalism’s norms like accuracy against it (Bhat & Chadha, 2020; Krämer, 2018a; Krämer & Langmann, 2020). Latin American populists use verbal and online harassment (Solis & Sagarzazu, 2019; Waisbord & Amado, 2017) while Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan’s troll army lynches reporters (Bulut & Yörük, 2017).

Studying journalists’ response is crucial because of the damage anti-media populism can inflict on the press, especially in weak democracies. Populists’ tactics erode trust in journalism


because mainstreamed anti-media rhetoric makes it difficult for journalists to defend their authority especially to strong partisans (Van Dalen, 2019). While media criticism is essential in democracies, sweeping populist critique can lead to cynicism (Fawzi, 2019; Figenschou &

Ihlebæk, 2019). Populists in power can translate discourse into restrictions (Van Dalen, 2019).

Consequently, journalists across 13 European countries viewed populism as undermining trust in institutions (Stanyer et al., 2019). Contributing to this finding, this study examines how

journalists perceive anti-media populism in an unconsolidated democracy like the Philippines (Economist Intelligence Unit, 2021) where populism is expected to have strong negative effects as it threatens already weak institutions (Mudde & Rovira Kaltwasser, 2012).

Duterte’s Violent Populism and Media Attacks

In the Philippines, scholars situate Duterte as part of the “populist Zeitgeist” (Mudde 2004, p. 542), particularly the wave since 2016 (Curato, 2017) with Trump’s election, Brexit and European populists’ electoral gains bringing rising anti-media populism. Sociologists coined

“Dutertismo” (David, 2016) to describe his rise by unleashing collective anger against a dysfunctional government, connecting with the poor with his image as a tough outsider (Bello, 2017; McCargo, 2016). The ex-mayor from the south tapped into resentment against the capital’s

“Imperial Manila” elite (Ong et al., 2019, p. 31). While Trump excluded “Mexican rapists”, Duterte promised death to drug offenders (Putzel, 2018). He invokes crisis by warning against a narco-state, and displays bad manners with vulgarity (Curato, 2016; Curato & Ong, 2018).

This study focuses on Duterte’s brand to underline violence as an overlooked dimension of populism (McCoy, 2017). Portraying drug users as sub-human, he takes the us-versus-them divide to a deadly extreme in “violent populism” (Thompson, in press, p. 4). Scholars argue that


Duterte is the only modern illiberal populist to instigate mass murder (Thompson, in press), and populists in less developed democracies “inscribe their power on the battered and bloodied bodies of their victims” (McCoy, 2017, p. 515). His style is also called penal populism (Curato, 2016), preferring control over reforming the justice system (Johnson & Fernquest, 2018). This study examines how journalists view Duterte’s threats set against his violent populism.

Unlike research analyzing Western European examples (e.g. Holt & Haller, 2017), this paper approaches anti-media populism not as a right-wing phenomenon, arguing that it can be present even in countries without strong ideological divides like the Philippines (Hutchcroft &

Rocamora, 2003). As a thin-centered ideology, populism has no substantive core, and adherence to right politics does not define it (Mudde, 2004; Mudde & Kaltwasser, 2017). Its exclusionist discourse should not be confused with the radical right’s nativism or racism (Hameleers, 2018;

Loch, 2017) as notions like out-groups depend on context (Norris, 2020). In Duterte’s case, he has his own ideology as a self-proclaimed leftist sympathetic to Muslims but he holds an illiberal character (Curato, 2017; Dressel & Bonoan, 2019). He is a fascist original (Bello, 2017).

Duterte exemplifies anti-media populism through verbal and regulatory threats against outlets critically reporting on his drug war (Conde, 2018). The president targeted ABS-CBN, the largest broadcaster, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, the leading newspaper, and Rappler, a news website (Coronel, 2020). He called ABS-CBN and Inquirer owners “oligarchs” (Tapsell, 2021), Rappler “fake news” (Lees, 2018), and accused the three of bias (Coronel, 2020). ABS-CBN went off the air when his congressional allies rejected its franchise renewal (Chua, 2020) while the Inquirer’s owners were charged with tax evasion, almost selling the paper to a Duterte funder (Gloria, 2018). Rappler journalists were sentenced to up to six years in prison for cyberlibel, face other lawsuits, and were banned from his events (Chua, 2020; RSF, 2020). On social media,


reporters contend with trolling and disinformation from “click armies” behind death threats (Ong

& Cabañes, 2018, p. 14), and misogynistic abuse (Posetti et al., 2021). In 2020, the Reuters Institute named Duterte’s threats a potential reason trust in Philippine media ranked among the lowest of 40 countries (Chua, 2020). Unlike research on specific attacks like Lügenpresse (e.g.

Denner & Peter, 2017), this study aims to identify journalists’ response to Duterte’s multipronged approach of vilification, regulations, cases and trolls (Crispin, 2018).

In summary, this section’s first half outlined contradictions between populism and journalistic imperatives like press freedom. Anti-media populism delegitimizes media as part of the “corrupt elite”. Duterte came to power with his violent populism, and targeted critical outlets as enemies. Despite journalists’ unique outlook as messengers of populist rhetoric and subjects of anti-media populism, little is known about their responses, especially in non-Western settings.

This study aims to fill that gap by examining journalistic counterstrategies to Duterte’s assaults.

Paradigm Repair, Role Perceptions and Philippine Media

Journalists respond to legitimacy threats through paradigm repair (Hindman & Thomas, 2013). This ritual re-introduces journalism and its role to justify and defend its existence, and to bind journalists in times of stress (Bennett et al., 1985; Berkowitz, 2000; Hindman & Thomas, 2013). The paradigm refers to journalists’ shared assumptions about news, and unwritten codes of conduct (Bennett et al., 1985; Vos & Moore, 2020). Centering on damage control, paradigm repair is traditionally a response to professional or ethical lapses of individual journalists who are isolated and scapegoated (Berkowitz, 2000; Cecil, 2002). The result is restoring faith in the paradigm, and showing that the institution remains intact (Berkowitz, 2000).


While paradigm repair has mostly been linked to internal errors (e.g. Hindman, 2005), it can and has been applied to outside threats like populists. Some scholars assert that paradigm repair is inapplicable to Trump’s accusations as these were an externally driven crisis (Koliska et al., 2020). Yet populist media criticism challenges the journalistic paradigm, requiring more repair work as it assaults the legitimacy of the institution, not just single reporters or outlets (Krämer & Langmann, 2020). Thus, Whipple and Shermak (2020) used paradigm repair to analyze the #NotTheEnemy Twitter discourse responding to Trump. Heeding these authors’ call for a deeper examination of journalists’ sentiments about populists’ hostility, this article uses interviews instead of more common content analytic research (e.g. Beiler & Kiesler, 2018) to study responses to this contemporary threat, thereby extending paradigm repair research.

Journalists use several strategies to repair their credibility. A classic one is reasserting norms like objectivity (Cecil, 2002). Krämer and Langmann (2020) termed this professionalism, the appeal to follow norms more strictly. Similarly, Lügenpresse prompted editors to stress objectivity (Koliska & Assmann, 2019). Newer strategies include open confrontation as with editorials denouncing Trump as authoritarian (Lawrence & Moon, 2021). Turning to activism, German journalist Nicole Diekmann tweeted “Nazis out” against right-wing populism (Sorce, 2020). The New York Times used sarcasm against the “fake news” label (Lischka, 2019). Calling for an interventionist approach, Carlson urges journalists to actively defend their work, arguing that “if journalism would not speak for itself, others will continue to do so” (2018, p. 1886).

The timing of anti-media populism has given rise to a debate on the viability of old ways of defending journalism versus strategies reconsidering the paradigm in the wake of reflexivity on media’s role in the rise of populism (De Vreese et al., 2018). Populist criticism comes as journalists have become vulnerable due to disrupted public spheres and a fragmented media


environment (Bennett & Pfetsch, 2018; Van Aelst et al., 2017). Externally, an epistemic crisis in public spheres stemming from post-truth relativism and polarization contributed to

unprecedented distrust in media and politics (Dahlgren, 2018). Internally, journalism lost its gatekeeper status with the rise of social media, commercial pressures, and declining audiences in the transition to high-choice media environments (Dahlgren, 2018; Van Aelst et al., 2017).

Against this backdrop, some scholars argue that strategies invoking traditional norms like objectivity are unresponsive to changing times and challenges like populist attacks and lies (Jacobs, 2020). Questioning false equivalence, Ward (2018), De Vreese (2017), Kovach and Rosenstiel (2014) advocate transparency, context, and correcting disinformation. Some suggest taking a stance when press freedom is under threat (Beiler & Kiesler, 2018) but others argue that combative tactics risk falling into the populist framing of a partisan media (Lawrence & Moon, 2021). Strategies questioning journalistic tenets fall under a new but related activity called paradigm reconsideration (Vos & Moore, 2020). This article explores which strategies Filipino journalists with a tradition of objectivity (Tandoc, 2016) employ, and how they defend or perhaps reconsider the paradigm during a challenging period. Therefore, the following research question is introduced (RQ1): What paradigm repair strategies do Filipino journalists use in response to Duterte’s populist attacks, and why do they use these strategies?

Tied with paradigm repair are role perceptions, “journalists’ self-image of their social roles and functions” (Hanitzsch, 2011, p. 480), and values and beliefs about their work

(Donsbach, 2008; Hanitzsch et al., 2016; Weaver et al., 2007). Role perceptions help explain strategies against anti-media populism because they legitimize journalism, improving knowledge about its impact (Hanitzsch, 2007; Hellmueller & Mellado, 2015; Mellado, 2015). Moreover, journalists’ understanding of populism may vary according to role perceptions (Stanyer et al.,


2019). Role perceptions however differ from role performances or how journalists live up to their ideals given practical constraints (Hellmueller & Mellado, 2015; Mellado, 2019).

Six functions from typologies in role perception literature are relevant to journalists’

response to anti-media populism. The first is the interventionist where journalists assume an active role, advocate social change, and take sides in disputes (Hanitzsch, 2011; Mellado, 2015).

This relates to strategies of activism and open confrontation. Second, the detached disseminator sticks to objectivity (Hanitzsch, 2007; Mellado, 2015), consistent with the professionalism strategy. Third is the watchdog investigating abuses (Mellado, 2015). Fourth is the interpretive function analyzing complex problems (Mellado, 2015; Weaver et al., 2007). The loyal facilitator acts as government’s partner, engaging in self-censorship (Hanitzsch, 2007, 2011). Finally, the civic role focuses on public journalism, raising people’s concerns (Mellado, 2015).

Two considerations factor into role orientations: combinations and context. First, except for the interventionist and disseminator as opposites, roles are not mutually exclusive (Mellado, 2019; Weaver & Wilhoit, 1996). Some overlap (Weaver et al., 2007) as with Márquez-Ramírez et al.’s (2020) interventionist watchdog and detached watchdog, fusing the watchdog function with a more critical and a more passive voice, respectively. Second, roles are context specific (Mellado, 2019), contingent on a hierarchy of influences (Shoemaker & Reese, 2014). The level of press freedom and type of political regime help shape role orientations (Márquez-Ramírez et al., 2020). Restricted political freedom and contextual events like polarization under Trump may motivate journalists to be interventionist (Márquez-Ramírez et al., 2020). Other predictors are the kind of outlet, newsroom environment, education and political leaning (Willnat et al., 2019).

In the Philippines, research has shown that journalists lean toward being a detached watchdog (Márquez-Ramírez et al., 2020) but no study has identified their role orientations in


relation to Duterte’s attacks. Scholarship focused on Duterte’s divide and rule media strategy (Tapsell, 2021), and editorials’ unmaximized potential to be critical of his agenda (Ragragio, 2020). Facing mis and disinformation, journalists cited the disseminator and watchdog roles as most important (Balod & Hameleers, 2019). What research has established is that Duterte’s attacks target media’s weaknesses like ownership as wealthy families dominate the industry (Coronel, 2020). Media watchdogs call his assaults a danger to press freedom (Simon, 2020) while Freedom House (2020) classifies the Philippines as “partly free” due to a haphazard rule of law and impunity for violence against journalists. Filipinos are also sharply polarized over Duterte and his drug war (Uyheng & Montiel, 2020). This article examines which roles

journalists identify with, how these influence their strategies, and the impediments they face. The question guiding this focus is (RQ2): How do Filipino journalists perceive their roles in relation to their strategies against anti-media populism, and what are the barriers to enact these?


Data Collection

This study draws on semi-structured interviews with 18 Filipino journalists, a method suited for yielding rich data on paradigm repair strategies and role perceptions by giving voice to participants, delving into personal matters, and capturing ways people make meaning of

experiences (Creswell, 1998; DiCicco‐Bloom & Crabtree, 2006; Rabionet, 2011). Following Salgado and Stanyer (2019), this article aims to allow journalists to express views beyond box- ticking, contributing to populism studies that rarely examine their standpoint. Semi-structured interviews give participants leeway to emphasize angles while ensuring structure and


comparability (Brinkmann, 2014; Cook, 2008). They have high ecological validity (Donmoyer, 2008), closer to real-world settings than quantitative methods.

With journalists’ dual position vis-à-vis populist communication and criticism, interviews provide rare insights into their insider’s perspective (Miles & Huberman, 1994). This is crucial for reporters and editors bound by objectivity (Schudson, 2001) whose attitudes on the sensitive topic would be inaccessible without room for confidentiality (Brinkmann, 2014). In line with literature on journalistic practices and roles (Hellmueller & Mellado, 2015; Koliska & Assmann, 2019), interviews are effective in collecting data on newsroom decision-making, and roles’

complexities. This study followed an interview guide focused on views on populism, Duterte’s attacks, strategies, role perceptions and challenges – topics elaborating on the research questions, and capturing variety and examples of experiences of anti-media populism (see Appendix C).

Interviews primarily adhered to prepared questions except to ask about specific attacks the interviewee personally experienced, and clarifications like “What do you mean by activist?”


Interviewees consisted of journalists from three national outlets facing Duterte’s attacks – the broadcaster ABS-CBN, the newspaper Philippine Daily Inquirer, and the website Rappler.

While Duterte and his government also criticized other outfits and journalists (PCIJ, 2019), these cases are among the Philippines’ most influential and largest media companies (Estella &

Löffelholz, n.d.), industry leaders setting journalistic standards. Consistent with anti-media populism literature, they are mainstream media which populists count as part of the elite (Krämer

& Langmann, 2020). Before its 2020 franchise rejection, ABS-CBN was the biggest media conglomerate, reaching 97% of households (Vera Files & RSF, 2016). The network is part of the


Lopez family’s companies whose other businesses are in power and energy (Vera Files & RSF, 2016). The Inquirer, a top broadsheet, is owned by the Rufino-Prieto family with businesses in real estate and fast food (Vera Files & RSF, 2016). The fourth leading news website (Alexa, n.d.), Rappler was founded by journalists, and its business model combines advertising, grants and funding from international ventures like Omidyar Network, whose donation became basis of a 2018 government closure order over alleged violation of laws against foreign ownership of media (Rappler, 2021; Rimban et al., 2020). The three outlets follow the Philippine tradition of privately-owned media (George & Venkiteswaran, 2019).

To identify interviewees, the study used purposive and snowball sampling. Strategically selecting participants to gain in-depth data (Braun & Clarke, 2013; Bryman, 2012), purposive sampling focused on 18 political journalists – reporters, editors, and news managers who could detail individual and organizational responses (see Appendix B for interviewees’ profiles).

Attention was paid to select journalists Duterte criticized, respondents in government lawsuits, and those attacked by his supporters on social media. To obtain maximum variation (Flyvbjerg, 2011), the study included interviewees of various ages, years of journalism experience, and sexes to account for online attacks on women journalists (Posetti et al., 2021). The diversity of

perspectives (Braun & Clarke, 2013) captures reportorial and institutional knowledge. The study aimed for a balance of interviewees, with 6 participants per outlet. The researcher knew some participants from past journalism work while others were identified from interviewees’

recommendations and reports on the attacks. The sample size was finalized based on theoretical saturation where gathering fresh data no longer generated new insights and category properties (Glaser & Strauss, 1967; Thornberg & Charmaz, 2014). This is in line with qualitative research’s aim to generalize to theory than to populations (Bryman, 2012).


Interviews were conducted in March-April 2021, before the end of Duterte’s presidency in June 2022, letting journalists reflect with some hindsight on his populism and attacks. These were done on Zoom and Skype due to the COVID-19 pandemic. While in-person interviews are ideal, videoconferencing is a viable alternative due to audiovisual cues allowing for rapport, natural language, and security features (Archibald et al., 2019; Sedgwick & Spiers, 2009).

Interviews lasted from 36 minutes to 1 hour and 55 minutes. These were conducted in English but the researcher, a Filipino speaker, translated some phrases from Filipino. Participants consented to be interviewed anonymously, and codes were allocated to protect their identity.


Interview transcripts were coded using the software Atlas.ti. The grounded theory method was used for data analysis, allowing theoretical ideas to emerge in a three-step, constant

comparative and iterative process to find similarities and differences, and to reduce data from particular to abstract levels (Charmaz, 2006; Corbin & Strauss, 1990; Creswell, 1998; Glaser and Strauss, 1967). First, in open coding, transcripts were coded line by line, with segments of text labelled based on sensitizing concepts in the research questions – paradigm repair, journalistic responses to attacks, role perceptions, and role performances (Bowen, 2006). In the second step of focused coding, 900 open codes were reduced by merging similar codes, renaming code groups, and raising groups to categories. For example, “being extra paranoid about getting things right” and “being faster in correcting errors” were merged then renamed to the subcategory

“being more proactive in avoiding, correcting errors”. The process allowed for capturing

categories’ dimensions and indicators, and variety in the sensitizing concepts (Corbin & Strauss, 1990). This phase identified three main themes using the most significant, frequent codes:


Strategies, Roles and Challenges (Charmaz, 2006). In the final step of axial coding, relationships were drawn by linking strategies and subcategories (see Figure 1 for the concept-indicator model), and relating strategies with roles and challenges (see Appendix A, Table 1).

To ensure credibility and trustworthiness of qualitative research, peer debriefing and member checks were conducted (McCaslin, 2008). Coding steps and results were extensively discussed with an external researcher familiar with grounded theory and the Philippine media context. The second researcher affirmed that the coding procedure systematically reduced data, largely agreeing with the themes and patterns. She gave two minor suggestions which were adopted: 1) rephrasing the category “improving transparency” to “improving, negotiating transparency” to capture nuances of the subcategory “distinguishing between legitimate queries and trolling”, and 2) incorporating supplementary themes of Lessons and Impact into the main ones. For member checks, two participants were asked to review the themes. Interviewees said there was no major discrepancy between the results, analysis and their responses, attesting that some strategies and challenges were outlet-specific due to ownership differences. They

confirmed that company self-censorship, for instance, applied only to ABS-CBN and Inquirer.


Paradigm Repair Strategies against Anti-media Populism

Faced with a populist leader’s attacks on their credibility, interviewees identified four key paradigm repair strategies to legitimize journalism, answering RQ1: (1) reinforcing and adapting established reporting practices and norms, (2) improving and negotiating transparency on the editorial process, (3) expressing solidarity with colleagues, audiences, and the international community, and (4) advocating for press freedom (see Figure 1).


Figure 1. Concept-indicator model of journalists’ paradigm repair strategies against anti-media populism.

To fend off “fake news” and “presstitutes” labels, one strand of reporting strategies used traditional journalistic tools like producing more investigative reporting, and emphasizing objectivity, accuracy, balance and ethics. Most participants said persisting on exposing drug war abuses and corruption showed that they were not “cowed” but were even “unleashed” by the attacks. A reporter said her newspaper introduced a quota system for investigative and data stories “to bolster the credibility of the Inquirer that it is still able to produce good journalism”.

Being called dilawan (pro-opposition) and bayaran (corrupt) prompted some interviewees to double down on objectivity by refraining from editorializing, stringently separating news from


commentary. All participants said they became more proactive in verification, with mistakes

“weaponized” against them. A reporter learned this when a typographical error led to trolling:

I received lots of messages on Facebook and Twitter saying, “What kind of reporter are you?” So you should be very careful even about small details because it will give the president, his officials, his army of trolls the bullet to attack your credibility.

Extra rigor likewise applied to getting the side of the accused where reporters said their editors reminded them to exhaust all means, not just text messages, but also personal queries, calls or e- mails, and then explicitly reporting that they tried but failed to get a response. With digital platforms full of media criticism, reporters would ask their outlets’ social media teams to amplify credible stories “to drive home the point that this is not fake news”. “The only way to battle repeated misinformation is also repeated pushing for the right information,” a reporter said. For news managers, stressing norms meant acting on complaints against errant journalists, and imposing social media guidelines prohibiting “below the belt” clapbacks.

While journalists strengthened classic practices, half of the interviewees said that they adapted their routines as a second strand of reporting strategies. One salient change was in livetweeting Duterte’s speeches, causing “soul searching” among reporters. From tweeting everything newsmakers said, reporters and editors cited the need for “instant factchecking and context”, and linking to background articles as officials were deliberately “peppering messages with lies and propaganda to be quoted”. A Rappler reporter explained:

Each tweet is a mini-news report. If I have space and time, and the lie is so blatant, I would really add context. It’s a disservice to people if you leave it at that.

Journalists said adding context was also relevant in covering Duterte’s violent, misogynistic remarks where practices from “the old paradigm” like stenographic reporting and false equivalence had to be discarded. Calling out lies replaced mincing words. An editor said:


Call a spade a spade. Before, we would say, “Ah, Duterte flip-flopped. Duterte said this on Monday and on Tuesday, he said this.” That’s no longer the practice now. You say Duterte lied because he said this on Monday, and said this on Tuesday.

Interviewees said changes were necessary so as not to “amplify the president’s populist

messages”. “Times are changing. Just because you got used to doing something, it doesn’t mean it’s right,” a reporter said.

The second strategy was improving and negotiating transparency about the editorial process. For reporters, this entailed posting on social media documents substantiating stories to address veracity questions. Rappler also produced reports on Frequently Asked Questions about its ownership while ABS-CBN and Inquirer issued statements denying Duterte’s accusations of unfair reporting. One reporter perceived the “media as evil elite” label as arising from a lack of understanding about journalism. Interviewees thus organized media literacy workshops. “We try to speak in events to build trust, and to show people that we’re not the monsters they paint us to be, to humanize the journalists,” a reporter said. One journalist granted dozens of interviews explaining lawsuits against her. Transparency also meant regularly covering media attacks and in Rappler, turning the media into a beat. Participants said they reported on disinformation

campaigns against journalists using network analysis. However, while they addressed readers’

questions, interviewees unanimously ignored trolls, calling trolling a “universal experience”.

They negotiated transparency by distinguishing between what they deemed to be legitimate social media users’ queries about stories, and anonymous paid trolls bashing their appearances, inciting violence and launching “highly sexualized attacks”. A female reporter said:

I respond to messages pointing inaccuracy in an article. But if it’s just trolling for the sake of trolling, I ignore it. The first few times, there was heavy bullying. I was really emotionally affected. I cried to my family. But now, you can choose to ignore it.


In the third strategy, journalists expressed solidarity with colleagues, and rallied support from audiences, civil society, and the international community. Viewing an attack on one journalist as an assault on the industry, interviewees wrote statements and editorials supporting those under threat. When ABS-CBN was forced off the air, an Inquirer reporter said she and her officemates issued a statement. “We thought we would also be attacked so we might as well express support for our comrades in arms.” Rappler journalists said they focused on community building, mobilizing supporters who could defend the company from criticism and contribute to crowdfunding. Journalists also networked with civic groups, which issued pro-media manifestos.

Some interviewees said international support such as grants for fora to fight disinformation, collaborations for the global campaign for platform accountability for spreading misinformation, and the #HoldTheLine Coalition including the Committee to Protect Journalists supporting legal funds and press freedom advocacy for Rappler were crucial to solidarity.

Closely linked to solidarity is the final strategy of advocating for press freedom. One- third of interviewees said they considered Duterte’s attacks an “existential crisis” and a “major blow” to press freedom, motivating them to protest and to condemn the assaults instead of

merely quoting experts. An editor said he was previously “detached”, viewing press freedom as a challenge only for provincial reporters, but Duterte’s actions changed this:

I am no longer objective when it comes to press freedom. The media should take a side when their existence is at stake. “We are against the attacks on ABS-CBN, on Rappler.”

It’s like they are about to stab you. Do you say, “Wait a minute, can I just interview you to ask why you are killing me?”

Rappler journalists cited a Supreme Court petition they filed questioning Duterte’s coverage ban as their “volley” to assert access. A reporter said, “If we just don’t bat an eye at the fact that our reporters are banned from all presidential events, then he can do that to other reporters.”


Role Perceptions in Relation to Strategies

To justify why they applied the paradigm repair strategies, interviewees invoked perceptions of societal roles. Answering RQ2, three roles emerged as most relevant, with participants’ views about these changing due to Duterte’s attacks: the evolving watchdog, a heightened interpretive role, and a tighter link between the interpretive and disseminator roles.

Evolving watchdog. Interviewees cited holding power to account as their most significant role

but said Duterte’s attacks made it sharper, more important and challenging. An editor said that while journalists previously focused on corruption, they now have to guard against more disinformation, rights abuses, Duterte’s crass rhetoric and media attacks. Participants also perceived Duterte’s populism as “eroding” and “coopting” weak institutions like the judiciary and congress. “The media is the only institution left to criticize the president,” a reporter said.

While the fourth estate function became more urgent, the attacks also made it more “taxing”.

One reporter said that officials used to view journalists as independent government critics “but now they see the media as an enemy”. The watchdog role therefore explains the paradigm repair strategy of reinforcing and adapting reporting practices to fulfill the changing demands of checking power in the face of a populist’s threats.

This shifting role also pertains to orientation: two-thirds of interviewees identified as detached watchdogs upholding neutrality while others turned to becoming interventionist

watchdogs overtly confronting power. A senior reporter covering threats on his company said he refrained from joining protests to avoid accusations of bias. In contrast, some journalists said that because Duterte’s attacks hit the core of press freedom, and emboldened disinformation by discrediting news sources, these forced them to become media freedom advocates and truth activists. A reporter called this a “moral dilemma”:


If our colleagues are losing their jobs because their newsrooms were shut because they were being pronounced as biased, aren’t we going to act? Aren’t we going to help them?

Should we separate our role as activists for the truth versus our journalism? Is that even possible when journalism is all about the truth?

For an editor, journalists must be the first to rally for media freedom. “Otherwise, why would people even try to defend something that we won’t defend ourselves?” The interventionist watchdog thus relates to strategies of advocating for press freedom and expressing solidarity while the detached watchdog explicates reinforcing reporting norms.

Heightened interpretive role, tighter link with disseminator. Duterte’s attacks also strengthened

interviewees’ view of their role of providing analysis, closely linked with relaying information.

Most participants mentioned the interpretive and disseminator roles in tandem. Journalists said Duterte’s lies, contradictory statements, and simplistic messages depicting the media as part of the evil elite and drug addicts as inhuman meant that they could no longer merely convey information but also needed “to distill the truth”. A reporter explained, “My role is to inform the public especially in the age of fake news, propaganda, disinformation. My role is to make sense of all the noise, to provide context.” To many interviewees, reporting and analysis were

becoming increasingly inseparable. “Before, I was just there to write but now with Duterte attacking not just the company but our principles and our institutions, it’s more important that we try to make people see how things matter to them,” another reporter said. The heightened

interpretive role and its tighter coupling with the disseminator role therefore link with strategies of reinforcing and adapting reporting routines, and improving transparency.

Collectively, interviewees saw their watchdog, interpretive and disseminator roles as means to help citizens make sound decisions, debunking Duterte’s accusation that they were bad elites and enemies of the people. A reporter said, “Our owners come from the elite but as cliché as it sounds, we are in the service of the Filipino.”


Challenges to Responding to Anti-Media Populism

Despite their resolve to carry out their functions and counterstrategies to Duterte’s

threats, interviewees faced challenges barring their ideals from becoming reality. In light of RQ2, these obstacles were self-censorship, declining public trust and rising polarization. Similar

barriers applied to strategies and roles, as illustrated in Appendix A, Table 1.

Most interviewees from ABS-CBN and Inquirer said Duterte’s strategy of attacking media owners’ businesses triggered a domino effect of self-censorship. News officers and editors said political pressure led to owners’ requests to tone down critical reports and to offer false equivalence. Reporters hesitated about writing hard-hitting, analytical stories out of concern for job security, colleagues, and their company facing more threats. A reporter described the impact:

It’s become a fight for survival. Isn’t a chilling effect only about thinking twice? Here, it’s outright fear already. So you end up second-guessing or censuring yourself.

Participants from the two companies owned by wealthy families expressed frustration about being unable to push back, saying their “hands are tied” with their employers’ “appeasement”

strategy. Aggravating the fear factor is Duterte’s image as a violent leader, with interviewees expressing worries that threats would translate to physical attacks. A chilling effect also led to a lack of industry solidarity as interviewees said other companies and journalists did not want to suffer a similar fate. Most participants found the industry response lacking. “If Philippine media has actions responding to Duterte’s attacks, it could only be at the individual level. A collective effort is tough because companies have their own business interests to protect,” a reporter said.

Media ownership and a chilling effect thus impeded performing the watchdog and interpretive roles, with some interviewees reluctantly becoming loyal facilitators through self-censorship.

Improving reporting and transparency also faced limitations with a perceived loss of trust in news media and more polarization due to the attacks. Despite their audience engagement


efforts, many participants said Duterte supporters were convinced that they were “fake news”, instead trusting mis and disinformation sources. A reporter said the impact of distrust went beyond journalism, with readers doubting stories on COVID-19’s existence and vaccine efficacy.

“People simply do not believe anymore information we are putting out there even if it is fact, backed up by science or data. This is dangerous because it spells the difference between life and death.” Some interviewees said that while doing good journalism and media literacy workshops were important, the damage Duterte’s attacks inflicted on media credibility was so severe that they feared “it will take years or a generation before we undo these efforts”. Dwindling public trust and rising polarization then hindered performing the interpretive and disseminator roles.

Discussion and Conclusion

The rise of anti-media populism in recent years has begged the vexing question of how journalists could defend their authority and fight off attacks from populist politicians (Esser et al., 2017; Lawrence & Moon, 2021). Responding to the call for research on journalistic responses to populist delegitimization and anti-media populism in the Global South (Bhat &

Chadha, 2020; Van Dalen, 2019), this study conducted interviews with 18 Filipino journalists to understand how they repair the journalistic paradigm and perceive their roles in the context of a modern threat, and attacks from a leader known for violent populism.

Resisting their demonization as the people’s enemy, journalists from three outlets facing Duterte’s threats pushed back against anti-media populism by harnessing and integrating

paradigm repair strategies with role orientations to legitimize their profession. They defended their credibility by reinforcing and adapting traditional reporting norms and routines like shifting from stenographic livetweeting to instant factchecking, improving and negotiating transparency,


expressing solidarity, and campaigning for press freedom. Viewing strategies as tools not just to shore up legitimacy but also to fulfill normative functions, journalists conceived of their

watchdog, interpretive and disseminator roles as more urgent in light of populist rhetoric and criticism. They however faced impediments like self-censorship, public distrust and polarization.

Considering anti-media populism as a fundamental challenge to their profession, some Filipino journalists repaired the paradigm through conventional strategies resonating with their Western colleagues’ responses. Countering the populist ploy of turning journalism’s standards against it through labels like “fake news” (Egelhofer & Lecheler, 2019), participants reinforced norms invoking objectivity as the news paradigm’s cornerstone in a customary approach to repair breaches in authority (Berkowitz, 2000; Cecil, 2002). This strategy aligns with the

professionalism that some German and American journalists employed against Lügenpresse and Trump’s attacks (Koliska & Assmann, 2019; Lawrence & Moon, 2021), with interviewees also defending their identity by “doing good journalism”. The finding affirms literature on Filipino journalists’ adherence to objectivity (Tandoc, 2016). Expressing solidarity also illustrates that paradigm repair binds journalists during crises (Berkowitz, 2000). Interviewees’ solidarity with international colleagues underscores anti-media populism as a cross-border challenge to the journalistic community requiring a global response.

Conversely, other journalists critically challenged long-held assumptions, performing paradigm reconsideration in recognition of anti-media populism as an existential crisis ushering in extraordinary times. Rejecting he said/she said reporting, false equivalence and mincing words, these journalists changed routines to address objectivity’s blind spots to avoid relaying divisive, profane populist rhetoric (Krämer & Langmann, 2020). Paradigm reconsideration as critical reflexivity affirms that journalism changes in response to shifting contexts like populists’


delegitimizing actions and a volatile media environment (Jacobs, 2020; Vos & Moore, 2020).

Live factchecks and transparency answer scholars’ call for journalists to ethically cover populism to help citizens be “free and self-governing” (Kovach & Rosenstiel, 2014, p. 44; Ward, 2018).

While strategies like activism are similar with those elsewhere, their context pushed Filipino journalists’ advocacy beyond their US and German colleagues’ editorials and tweets (Lawrence

& Moon, 2021; Sorce, 2020) to manifest in protests and legal petitions due to lower press freedom levels. Altogether, the classical and unorthodox strategies validate that paradigm repair and newer activities like paradigm reconsideration aptly capture responses to external threats.

This study’s theoretical contribution concerns the close interrelation between paradigm repair and role perceptions whereby journalists’ appeal to their watchdog, interpretive and disseminator roles to parry “evil elite” claims becomes a form of paradigm repair. Calling out lies to fulfill the interpretive role against disinformation shows that both paradigm repair and role perceptions are legitimacy sources (Hanitzsch, 2007; Hindman & Thomas, 2013) that journalists use to fight anti-media populism. Findings illustrate that role perceptions are the why justifying paradigm repair strategies, while strategies are the how operationalizing ideals. This link explains why identical barriers apply to strategies and roles. Furthermore, strategies change in populist times to realize role perceptions that are equally shifting in response to new challenges like populism’s affinity with post-truth communication (Waisbord, 2018b). The heightened

interpretive role upholds journalism’s function to speak truth to power as “tyrants fear truth that they cannot control” (Waisbord, 2018b, p. 30). While populists reject common truth (Waisbord, 2018b), becoming truth activists and fostering solidarity assert journalism as a craft of collective truth telling. Journalists counter populists’ claim that they provide falsehoods (misinformation) by enhancing verification policies, and the charge that they deliberately lie to the people


(disinformation) by “humanizing” themselves to audiences and explaining motivations

(Hameleers, 2020). With media literacy, such strategies address both channels and receivers of populist disinformation. This study then advances literature by exemplifying the usefulness of linking paradigm repair with role perceptions in analyzing responses to anti-media populism.

That some Filipino journalists identified as interventionist watchdogs – abandoning detachment in scrutinizing power (Márquez-Ramírez et al., 2020) – is a significant finding. First, it bolsters that roles are not mutually exclusive (Mellado, 2015) in combining the watchdog and interventionist orientations. Second, the finding departs from research on Filipino journalists being detached watchdogs or passive in exposing abuses (Márquez-Ramírez et al., 2020). This signals that Duterte’s anti-media populism opened a room for interventionist journalism unseen since the Marcos dictatorship of the 1970s (Tuazon, n.d.). Third, some participants identifying as activists and advocates attests to how restricted freedoms, polarization and democratic threats could embolden journalists to be interventionist, blurring lines between journalism and activism (Hanitzsch et al., 2016; Márquez-Ramírez et al., 2020; Sorce, 2020).

Barriers like self-censorship and political economy expose the gap between role

perceptions and role performances. Questioning the assumption that ideals translate into action, ABS-CBN and Inquirer journalists highlight owners’ business interests as organizational

influences barring their watchdog and interpretive roles (Tandoc et al., 2013). Participants from companies owned by families with corporate interests had less agency to enact roles than Rappler journalists, whose outlet has a diversified business model. In the elite-dominated

Philippine media landscape (Vera Files & RSF, 2016), ownership is a vulnerability that populists can exploit to weaken accountability journalism. Similarly, the chilling effect causing a lack of industry solidarity exhibits repercussions of Duterte’s divide and rule media strategy (Tapsell,


2021) where cases in this study were portrayed as cautionary tales for critical reporting. These obstacles indicate the need for independent business models, and media development initiatives fostering collaborations like grants and training for joint investigative outputs of different outlets.

Overall, journalists’ negative perceptions of Duterte’s attacks provide empirical basis to the supposition that populism in government in unconsolidated democracies has detrimental consequences (Mudde & Rovira Kaltwasser, 2012). From the eyes of professionals forming a vital democratic pillar, populism further eroded frail institutions in a case where a populist occupies the top post. Mudde and Rovira Kaltwasser describe this as populism having “the strongest position vis-à-vis democracy” (2012, p. 24). Participants regarding populism as curtailing press freedom and contravening checks and balances matches European journalists’

view that populism undermines democracy (Stanyer et al., 2019). The difference is that other moderators like the assaults’ intensity, and Duterte’s violent populism fueling fears arguably led to perceptions of more adverse impacts in the Philippines. These factors emphasize that despite seeming similarities, populism needs to be understood and grounded in socio-political contexts.

Journalists’ strategies raise questions of what is the “right” or “wrong” approach to populism. While this paper does not offer easy answers, it bears noting that interviewees’ repair work was not an admission that the attacks were justified. Except for conceding their employers’

economic eliteness, journalists distanced themselves from charges like “fake news”, treating these as baseless offensives meant to silence reporting. They sought to mend what they deemed as heavy reputational damage, using paradigm repair’s potential to sway public opinion

(Whipple & Shermak, 2020). The study thus extends paradigm repair from self-inflicted wounds to widespread trends and unprovoked threats (Carlson, 2011). In a nod to scholars’ demand for journalistic reflexivity in relation to populism (Krämer & Langmann, 2020), journalists reflected


on practices like false balance aiding populist rhetoric, and the attacks’ democratic impact. In changing times, self-scrutiny is necessary for journalism’s survival (Hindman & Thomas, 2013).

Results must be interpreted in light of limitations. First, the qualitative approach did not determine the strategies and roles’ prevalence in a first attempt to understand journalists’

perceptions. Future research can build on the insights through surveys determining the responses’ salience. Second, strategies’ effectiveness in regaining trust is unknown. To understand not just problems’ causes but also to identify solutions, the effectiveness of journalists’ responses must be assessed as their credibility is partly contingent on audience expectations (Tumber & Waisbord, 2021; Waisbord, 2018b). Experimental studies could distinguish which strategies convince which audiences, considering polarization and audience fragmentation. Third, the topic’s sensitivity may have prompted social desirability bias. Fourth, the study excluded social media. Research on journalists’ social media posts would be valuable because with company self-censorship, they may have more space for expression online such as on Twitter. Studies focusing on how journalists cope with trolling are also of interest.

Transferability of findings is another limitation opening up research avenues. Street and legal activism and self-censorship may not apply to other settings given the Philippines’ unique media ecology (Tandoc, 2017) and Duterte’s violent populism. Researchers could explore whether media in other Global South democracies employ similar strategies and face familiar challenges from populists. Some roles and strategies may differ in Western Europe with its strong public service media tradition, greater press freedom, and well-developed institutions. Yet responses like emphasizing accuracy and fairness, citing quality work, and invoking journalism’s accountability role hold across settings as part of paradigm repair’s assertion of journalists’

shared identity as members of one profession and interpretive community (Vos & Moore, 2018;


Zelizer, 1993). Comparative research testing assumptions on populism’s strength based on democratic consolidation and populists being in power or opposition would contribute to the debate on the link between populism and democracy (Mudde & Rovira Kaltwasser, 2012).

Finally, more studies combining paradigm repair and role perceptions would provide insights into how journalists confront contemporary quandaries, and rethink time-honored principles.

Despite shortcomings, this study contributes to both the research and the practice of journalism by informing the global discussion on responses to attacks from populist politicians, and best practices of reporting populist communication. The strategies and roles detailed in this paper can form building blocks to assemble a journalistic toolkit of re-legitimizing

counterstrategies to the anti-media populist playbook often cited in literature and the news. This research demonstrated the democratic relevance of going beyond typologies of populists’ tactics to whack the watchdogs but also learning how the watchdogs bark and bite back.



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