POSTSCRIPT / November 15, 2005 / Tuesday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Is Gloria regaining her self-confidence?

ANGELES CITY — Many people have asked me if President Gloria Arroyo has recovered her self-confidence with the rebound of the peso, the reduction of the pump price of gasoline, and other positive developments.

They are asking because they noticed that (1) the President no longer has qualms giving media a public scolding in their own convention, (2) her husband and her congressman-son returning from self-exile appear to have decided to stay, and (3) an air of I-told-you-so smugness has swathed her persona lately.

My answer, of course, is that I don’t know the President’s state of mind. I normally do not do any mind-reading when drowsy. You see, I have been having sleepless nights worrying about thieves and prices.

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WRESTLING MEDIA: Some Arroyo rah-rah boys disguised as readers demanded why I resent the President’s scolding when I myself said in my columns that we in media are part of the problem and that we seem to carry the very germs of the malaise we are trying to cure.

There were actually more readers (7.6 out of every 10 emailers) who agreed with my observation that it was bad form and bad PR for the President to have grabbed media by the collar to try wrestling them to the ground.

But still I feel that a clarification, or maybe an elaboration, is in order for those who defend the President’s public censure of media without having understood what I was saying in my Postscript last Sunday.

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SCOLDING: No, I do not resent the President’s scattergun scolding.

In fact, I believe it is high time media were slapped back into their proper places. Having gone overboard afflicting the comfortable rather than comforting the afflicted, it is time we were reminded of the basic rules by which we are supposed to operate.

What I was saying was not that we should not be scolded, but that it was ill-advised to have the President herself maul the press in public at a time when she was in bad need of a sympathetic media to carry the nation over the hump.

She should not be creating more enemies in media when she could be making friends. Although carrying a big stick behind her, she should speak softly while oozing with charm.

And by the way, some members of media actually relish having readers — including presidents of strong republics — react to their masterpieces. They are at least assured that they are read and able to elicit reactions without having to stand on their heads.

The worst thing that could ever happen to the press, especially the top dogs of broadcast media, is to be ignored.

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BUOYANCY: After all that beating the past several months, we cannot blame President Arroyo for her buoyant feeling about the economy’s turning up.

With the peso climbing steadily against the US dollar as remittances of overseas workers flow in for the Christmas spending and with the world’s crude oil prices descending from the alarming heights of recent weeks, the local picture could not help improving.

The encouraging situation is likely to continue, but President Arroyo may do well to remain collected and wait for the corrections to settle down.

Note that yesterday, the first day of the trading week, stocks went down by 0.98 percent as the peso showed signs of weakening. The local currency was trading weaker against the US dollar at 54.484 pesos. Compare this to its close of 54.420 pesos last Friday.

With profit-taking, stocks continued to trade in the red. The composite index closed lower by 20.63 points to 2,072.05. The All-Shares market also closed lower — by 9.29 points to end at 1,256.18.

Analysts cited the extended technical correction as the cause of the drop after the main index rose last Thursday to its highest level in eight months. It is not really alarming, but in a volatile situation, it is best to minimize exuberant remarks.

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POSITIONING: Some newspapers, or sometimes their key people, take sides on public issues. I am one of those who think that this positioning is correct since a newspaper of conviction must be ready to define and defend its position.

This is because the media are generally regarded as opinion leaders. While people eventually form their own opinion, they still watch and read the media (that they trust) to get direction.

With newspapers supposedly functioning as guideposts, why is it that some of them are derided when they take a political position — as what happens when they support or oppose an incumbent president?

I trace this to the erosion, over time, of the trust that readers are supposed to have in the newspapers they habitually read. This loss of trust is actually part of the overall deterioration of the people’s faith in their institutions.

The media are just one of those institutions susceptible to decay.

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DECAYING MILIEU: The knee-jerk reaction to a newspaper’s consistently supporting or assailing a sitting president is to say that the paper or its key personnel or owners have been bought either for or against the object of its editorial positioning.

This is not fair to the newspapers, but being part of the milieu marked by a serious erosion of trust of all institutions — without exception — the newspapers and media in general have to suffer with the rest.

This is one of the reasons why media must help resurrect the fallen faith of the people in the institutions they used to revere. The media will rise or fall with the society they serve, to grow or die with the milieu within which they operate.

This leads to the conclusion, however debatable, that for media to grow stronger, they must help strengthen the community they serve. Media cannot thrive in or on top of a decomposing morass.

But this is not a brief for media to allow themselves to be used by government, must less by politicians.

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FATAL IRRELEVANCE: Some newspapers are reengineering their systems and their products, but this is for business and not political reasons. This they have to do to survive.

Many great newspapers had fallen after they ceased to grow alongside the growing demands of their readers. Decay usually follows when a newspaper loses its social relevance.

To many readers, relevance is synonymous to usefulness. It is mostly utility that defines relevance and continued patronage. Why buy a newspaper for P18 (and more in the provinces) if it does not serve a useful purpose?

An average reader who pinches pesos does not buy a newspaper purely for its entertainment value. The mass audience turns to the ubiquitous radio and television, and not to a newspaper, if and when it wants entertainment.

This means simply that newspapers must not rest on their peso laurels but must continually look for ways to satisfy the utilitarian demands of their readers. They must continually assess their content and their marketing strategies.

But readers’ satisfaction is possible only if the paper knows what its readers want — and if it has the staff and the resources to package and provide that demand.

Where does the government come in? It better not attempt to come in.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of November 15, 2005)

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