The most read newspaper in the UK, and the 8th most popular news website in the world, has published an article implicitly supporting the extrajudicial killing of thousands of people in the Philippines.
The Daily Mail, a newspaper which published support for Italian fascists and the Nazi regime in the 1930s, now seemingly supports the illegal and brutal bloodshed being imposed by yet another authoritarian leader, Rodrigo Duterte.
Duterte, who has been president of the Philippines since June 30, has called upon members of the public to murder anyone they know who is addicted to drugs. At least 3,000 people have been killed for alleged drug-related offences since Duterte was inaugurated. Over half of the murders were perpetrated by "unknown vigilantes", according to the Guardian, while the others were committed by police officers or members of the public.
In an article published online on October 23, the authors describe the recent death of a seven year-old girl in Manila, the Philippines capital. The headline roars that the young child was "killed by a drug user", despite no trial having taken place and few circumstances of her death having been made public. Perhaps the Daily Mail is adopting Duterte’s guilty-until-proven-innocent approach?
In the poorly-written article, authors Josh Hanrahan and Harry Pearl claim that “their [sic] was no escaping President Duterte's reasoning behind the war [on drugs], as two parents mourned the loss of their innocent daughter at the alleged hands of a drug user”.
Aside from the semi-literate authors’ apparent confusion of whether the alleged perpetrator had hands, the piece serves as a perfect example of the dangerous rhetoric that helps perpetuate support for the slaughter in the Philippines. Such discourse also feeds into the stigmatisation and criminalisation of people who use drugs around the world.
By claiming that the death of the young girl illustrates the “reasoning” behind Duterte’s drug policies, Hanrahan and Pearl are implicitly telling readers: someone who allegedly uses drugs allegedly murdered a child, so the state-mandated slaughter of thousands of unrelated people who allegedly use drugs is justifiable.
Anyone unfortunate enough to regularly read the Daily Mail will know that such disparaging coverage of drug use is nothing new. When someone who uses a drug is charged or convicted of an unrelated crime, the Mail regularly leads with an allegation of their drug use, suggesting it is an inherently bad aspect of their character. The normalisation of such discourse through the media makes it easier for policymakers to implement repressive approaches to drug use.
Whether it’s the Filipino approach of killing people who use drugs, or the normative international approach of imprisoning or criminalising them, the policies are most effective if they are accepted by the public. The public are more likely to accept these policies if they view drug use as a behaviour that threatens them.
With headlines like "Schizophrenic cannabis user ‘felt good’ about stabbing police officer" and "Drug-addicted thief jailed for shooting murder", Daily Mail writers are suggesting that people are committing murder and violence because of their drug use. A reader may then infer that any other person who uses drugs is also a violent criminal, and thus the stigmatisation spreads.
Drug use, when problematic, should be addressed with evidence-based policies, not knee-jerk stigmatisation, incarceration, or violence. Of course, someone who kills a child – or anyone – should face prosecution, but the substances they may or may not use should be irrelevant to the punishment that they face.
By portraying people who use or misuse drugs as criminals worthy of violence and derision, publications like the Daily Mail are encouraging policymakers and the public to respond to a health issue with brutality and repression.
Writers who produce such irresponsible journalism must realise the consequences of their dangerous rhetoric.
But stigma aside, and it’s a shame that it even needs to be said: as one of the world’s most-read publications, the Daily Mail should not publish content that encourages the extrajudicial killings of thousands of people.
The Daily Mail article may be viewed here: The other side of the Philippines 'war on drugs': Parents' agony as their seven-year-old daughter is killed by a drug user.