Philippines business leaders strongly criticized the country's news media today for what was called its progovernment coverage of the growing unrest that began with the murder of Benigno Aquino Jr.
"The Philippines media are scared of telling the truth or have been bribed," said Enrique Zobel, an influential banker and industrialist and critic of President Ferdinand Marcos. "We have no respect for the Philippines media."
Another business leader, Vincente Jayme, called on his colleagues to bring pressure on the Manila press by withholding advertisements and by staging boycotts. He also suggested some papers could be purchased and run under new ownership.
The assault on the press as toadies of the government came two days after Marcos had threatened to track down and prosecute businessmen who took part in demonstrations against the government. Zobel's Ayala foundation was specifically mentioned by Marcos.
This country's media are frequently accused of being deferential to the government and the Marcos family, but the criticism has grown since the Aug. 21 assassination of Aquino, the president's onetime chief rival.
Although there has been no formal censorship here since martial law, it is widely suspected that the government instructs the press on what to print and how to display it. Of the three major Manila newspapers, one, the Times Journal, is controlled by the family of Imelda Marcos, the president's wife and a Cabinet minister. The city's largest television station is government-owned.
Until the past few days, newspapers and television have presented little information that differs from the government's version of the murder, which is that Aquino was shot to death by a hired gunman whom security guards then killed. There is a widespread belief that persons in Marcos' government may have been responsible for the murder, but little of that point of view has appeared in the media.
What most angered people who are either anti-Marcos or usually nonpolitical was the scant coverage of Aquino's funeral.
Hundreds of thousands of sympathizers marched through Manila to honor Aquino, but the city's largest television station gave a brief account of the huge funeral cortege and showed film of only a handful of participants on the evening news. That show devoted more air time to participants' difficulty finding buses to return home.
Since that day, many residents have been boycotting the newspapers, and a variety of small tabloids have sprung up and enjoyed brisk street sales. Some of them print foreign news-service stories and excerpts from U.S. news magazines.
In the past week or so, coverage in the establishment press has been notably more balanced. One paper gave extensive coverage to the New York news conference of a Japanese journalist who insists that government security men killed Aquino immediately after he arrived here on an airplane.
Several columnists recently have printed questions about the government's version of the killing and other events. One paper reported that authorities used gunfire to break up a violent demonstration last Wednesday night, although Marcos had claimed in a television interview that no guns were used by police.
The businessmen's assault on the media came at the meeting of a business club in Makati, the city's financial center where several recent anti-Marcos demonstrations have incurred the president's wrath of the president.
Hans Menzi, publisher of the Bulletin Today newspaper and a former aide to Marcos, attempted to defend the press during the meeting, after some of the 500 persons there booed him.
Menzi acknowledged "shortcomings" in the post-assassination coverage but said his newspaper had carried stories depicting both points of view. "If you want both sides, then help us," the publisher said.
Menzi reminded the audience of the media's difficulties from 1972 to 1981, when Marcos imposed martial law. He said the press then had to operate under guidelines that prevented criticism of Marcos' family and banned news considered detrimental to national security.
Jayme, who is president of the Private Development Corp. of the Philippines, told the audience that businessmen must step in to restore a free press and called for advertising boycotts.
"Since we businessmen are now subjects of much reporting, we have the option to buy these papers or not," he added.