POSTSCRIPT / October 27, 2005 / Thursday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Media can help direct or distort public opinion

ANGELES CITY — Much of what we know, or think we know, about the public issues swirling around us is actually a mere accumulation of tidbits that we have been receiving from the mass media.

Most of us do not have direct personal knowledge of people, events and statements that we read or hear about. It is hearsay on a grand scale. What we see and hear are mere reflections or echoes transmitted to us by the media after much tampering.

This point highlights the most important attribute of the information media, which is honesty.

Without this quality, the media are reduced to a nuisance, if not a tool for subverting public opinion.

It then follows that with the power of the printed word and the audio-visual impact of broadcast sounds and images, the gathering, analysis and writing of the news — much more, the management of media — should not be in the hands of just anybody.

It also means that readers must be aware of how the media operate, and be aware of the tricks of the trade. But who will tell them?

* * *

PRIOR RESTRAINT: Would competency examinations and regulatory licensing minimize this problem of reckless journalism and the possible distortion of the news?

The answer voiced in the last Kampus Kapihan at the University of Angeles Foundation here is an emphatic “No.”

The logic runs: Why would a citizen need a government license or prior permission to print or broadcast his thoughts? Licensing is a case of prior restraint, which is nothing but censorship. In our regime of a libertarian press, this is unacceptable.

The social responsibilities and competencies required of the media were discussed in the Kapihan by Isagani Yambot, publisher of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and Antonio Seva, a broadcast specialist who was GMA-7 executive vice president.

They were bombarded by senior masscom students in the crowd with questions on job opportunities, salaries and prospects for advancement.

* * *

VOW OF POVERTY: I could not tell if Gani was trying reverse psychology, but he cautioned the students against going into print media, particularly newspapers, if they have in mind making a lot of money or using the newspaper only as a stepping stone to an ulterior goal.

His dampener: “To you now, the idea of working for a newspaper may sound good, glamorous, but if you want an easy, comfortable life, you’d better look for another occupation or profession.

“Journalism is not just an occupation or profession, it is a noble calling. It is almost like the priesthood. When you become a priest, you take a vow of poverty, chastity and obedience.

“Similarly when you engage in the noble profession of journalism, you take a vow of poverty and obedience.

“Poverty, because journalism, particularly print journalism, does not pay very high salaries. Many journalists remain poor all their lives. (Gani gave us the salary scales of journalists of various grades, but prudence tells us to treat them like state secrets. — fdp)

“A vow of obedience, because you have to obey the laws governing media, the Canons of Taste, the ethical guidelines of the media.

“Thank God journalists don’t have to take a vow of chastity. If they had to, many men would not want to become journalists.” (Thank God, he did not elaborate.—fdp)

* * *

COMPETENCE: As is bound to happen in similar forums, somebody asked if the journalism that a student learns in school will serve him well when he joins the industry.

This is the reason why the academe is in frequent consultation with the industry, to make sure the graduates it turns out four or five years after they first enrolled in college would fit into the industry seamlessly. During the four or five years a student sits for a bachelor’s degree, the requirements of the industry might have changed drastically.

Gani told them the basic requirements: “If you don’t have a nose for news, fluency in the language, whether it be English or Filipino, and the ability to write in an interesting and readable manner, you may as well forget making a lifelong career of journalism.

“We need competent, skilled editors, writers and reporters in the newspaper industry. If you want to earn a respectable salary in a publication, you’d better be not just good but very very good.

“More than at any time in our history, except perhaps during the time of Rizal and Marcelo H. del Pilar, we need committed journalists, people who are committed to the ideas and values of good journalism.”

* * *

BROADCAST SIDE: But Tony Seva gave more encouraging counsel, maybe because the radio-TV media appear on the rise compared to the newspaper business, thus opening more opportunities to outstanding graduates.

Btw, there are about 35 newspapers of all shades and sizes on the sidewalk. Most of them purposely serve only Metro Manila and nearby provinces. In this nation of 85 million, their combined nationwide circulation is only around 2 million — the same figure we have seen since a decade ago.

Filipinos do not seem to be a reading lot, and appear inclined to get their news and entertainment from TV and radio. This bleak picture is a big challenge to the newspapers.

Tony cited statistics: “Television continues to be the No. 1 medium in our country, with radio close behind. The latest survey conducted by the Asia Research Organization last July showed that people in Metro Manila spend 29 hours a week watching TV, 27 hours listening to radio.”

In comparison, he said, “The survey also showed that people spend four hours a week reading newspapers, one hour reading a magazine, and seven hours on the Internet. Of the 16 million households surveyed nationwide, 95 percent own a TV set while only 79 percent own a radio.”

While newspapers have to be physically delivered to the readers spread over the archipelago, the reach of radio and TV is formidable. Broadcast media are able to penetrate deeper and wider using the air waves and relay stations.

Tony said: “We have some 604 radio stations — am and fm – and 112 TV stations. Some of these are what we call original stations, and the rest are relay stations.

“In Metro Manila, we have seven television stations on the VHF (Very High Frequency) band , seven UHF (Ultra High Frequency) stations, 17 local cable stations, and some 20 radio stations.”

* * *

HOW TO START: An overwhelming number of masscom students in AUF — as, I heard, in other schools — are female. Most of them do not always admit it, but they dream of landing a job in front of the TV camera a la their favorite TV host or anchor.

Tony did not prick that bubble. He said: “Dream dreams, but do not be obsessed with becoming an anchor overnight or be hired immediately as a reporter. The important thing is to be able to initially get your foot in the door.

“Most people in the industry started out as production assistants. It is a good place to start, if the job you have in mind is already taken. As a production assistant, you get a bird’s eye view of how the system works — from budgeting, coordinating talents, assembling the script, helping prepare and coordinate the technical requirements of the show, providing logistics, etc.

“Aside from the news department, there are other areas in a broadcast organization open to people like you.

“In the Promotions department, there is room for copywriters, video editors, computer graphic artists. In the Entertainment area, you may want to try out as a script writer or as a talent coordinator.

“The Executive offices will also need people who know how to write and who have an understanding of the broadcast industry.”

* * *

BE ON TIME: Tony gave insider tips to the budding broadcast journalists:

“1. It is important that you continue honing your writing skills, both in Pilipino and in English. The newscast medium now is in the national language, so brush up on the language by reading and writing in the vernacular.

“2. If need be, take up speech classes. You will have to consciously drop your accent. Note that US newscasters and reporters do not have regional accents.

“3. Take additional courses on finance and research. This is a most important area considering that the industry is ratings-driven. You will also have to keep a tight watch on your spending. You may not spend more than what you will earn.

“4. You have to be computer literate.

“5. Be honest with yourself. Take a look at the mirror and study yourself critically. I am not saying that you have to have the looks of a model. But cosmetics, the proper hair do, can do wonders to your personality. Dress well.

“In closing, a word of advice when you apply for a job: Be on time.”

* * *

(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 27, 2005)

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