Dissertation for Master of Research (2022), Macquarie University
#DefendPressFreedom: Journalists’ use of Instagram in news reporting under Duterte’s populist administration in the Philippines
President Rodrigo Duterte’s populist regime threatens Philippine press freedom with disinformation, harassment, and the encouragement of “troll” armies who accuse journalists of spreading “fake news” or “biased” reporting. Researchers have found these attacks created a chilling effect that dissuaded journalists from performing critical news roles. However, much of this existing research is limited to journalists’ perceptions or is focused on work in traditional news outlets. This thesis evaluates news items produced and posted by the news publisher Rappler on Instagram, a social media platform that serves as a landing page rather than a transit hub with links to external news sites. I use the journalistic role performance framework in this study, which looks at the functions journalists play—such as the watchdog role or disseminator role—based on the discursive styles, characteristics, and types of news they report. I conducted a content analysis of 554 Instagram posts following the conviction of Rappler’s Executive Editor Maria Ressa in June 2020. The results showed that on Instagram, Rappler’s news outputs maintained an active stance towards the government through the interventionist, adversarial, advocate and mobilising roles in their reporting. Tools, affordances, and cultures within the platform allowed journalists to play hybrid news roles necessitated by the societal needs of the time. These news roles allowed journalists to assert their voice, weigh in on the public debate, defend their professional convictions, scrutinise political leaders, and empower citizens. The results indicate that social media provides ways for media organisations to perform their democratic roles under populist regimes. The results shed light on how politics, the media, and communicative technologies interact and shape the news.