POSTSCRIPT / October 30, 2005 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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We in media are part of the nation's problems

DISTORTION: Our last POSTSCRIPT on the press was kind of bitin (left hanging) as we had two veteran media practitioners forced to compress into a one-hour forum their wide-ranging thoughts on the media situation.

The distortion worsened when I tried to cram their already abbreviated exposition into the limited space of my column. In short, the forum plus my column failed to do justice to either of them and their ideas.

Pressed for time, publisher Isagani Yambot of the Inquirer and former EVP Antonio Seva of GMA-7 just focused on the employment prospects in media for the benefit of the masscom students in the last Kampus Kapihan at the Angeles University Foundation.

While they entertained most questions on prospects in print and broadcast media, my column tried to pull the discussion to something else: the failure of media to give readers and viewers a fair and balanced picture of what is going on in the country.

Very briefly, I offered the thesis that much of the confusion that threatens to bring down this nation can be traced to some extent to lack of professionalism, sometimes to corruption, in media sectors.

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PLEAD GUILTY: It is time that we in media wiped off that smug look. We have to plead guilty to having helped create the problems of discord and negativism threatening to bring down this country.

The irony is that we are now offering solutions to the very problems we helped develop. One wonders how credible we can be when we carry the germs of the very disease we try to cure.

How did we ever become part of the problem?

As I see it, we were left to our own smart-alecky selves before we could mature enough to lead a licentious professional life. Unprepared for the responsibilities of a libertarian press, we soon resorted to improvisation to hide our incompetence and dishonesty.

Which is worse: purveying misinformation out of ignorance or incompetence, or deliberately and maliciously twisting the facts for some personal gain?

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POISONED MINDS : Either way, the cumulative effects of wrong information on the habitual reader, radio listener and TV viewer is appalling.

Everyday, the unsuspecting public is exposed to wrong or incomplete information, or, worse, to outright distortions.

As this goes on without letup and without the misinformation being corrected in time, the mind of the receiver of the tainted information is systematically poisoned.

This is a demonstration of the classic principle (?) of propaganda that a lie repeated frequently enough begins to gain the ring of truth.

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COMMUNICATION GAP: This is basically the explanation of many of the communication problems of the Arroyo administration.

The administration has a massive media infrastructure backed by a formidable propaganda war chest, yet it is losing to the opposition the battle for the public’s mind.

By actual count in the mainstream media, there are more of them hitting away at the administration than those defending it. And since the defense comes mainly from government mouthpieces and known Malacanang allies in private media, they lose out in the credibility game.

To illustrate: When enough supposedly responsible members of media keep repeating that Ms Arroyo cheated her way to victory in the 2004 presidential elections, the public is likely to accept this point being drummed into their minds without much challenge.

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MEDIA LAPSES : A big sector in media does not bother to point out that the alleged cheating by Ms Arroyo still has to be proved in the proper forum. But even without such a hearing, conclusions are already purveyed by some oppositionist media and absorbed by the public.

Nobody asks in what precincts the alleged cheating took place, by whom, by how many votes, and how these votes affected the total count. Nobody points out that we cannot just go around saying somebody has cheated and let the accusation stand as is.

There was actually an electoral protest filed with the proper body, the presidential electoral tribunal, but this had to be dismissed when the complainant Fernando Poe Jr. died.

So his followers took to the streets to pursue the legal contest. But it is simply not done that way under our system.

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CASE CLOSED: The electoral protest is a closed case, especially because there is a presumption of regularity. Gloria Arroyo was duly elected, proclaimed winner after an official canvass, and she took her oath and is now effectively governing.

But she cheated her way to the presidency? That allegation has to be proved in the manner prescribed by law. As this has not been proved, she remains the president whatever the minority thinks.

Why does the resistance continue? I think it is because there are more in media who are repeating the line that she cheated. And with the adroit way the accusation has been put (for whatever reason), the innocent receiver of the reports is likely to believe it as it comes from legitimate media.

To some media sectors, especially those long exposed to the political opposition, to whale away at the Arroyo administration is an easy thing to do. It does not need much discernment.

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MAJORITY RULE: A similar case is the impeachment of the President that was shot down by the majority in the House of Representatives, for the simple reason that impeachment is nothing but a political game of numbers. It is not like a criminal procedure in court.

When the impeachment complaint was thrown out by the majority in an open session, that was supposed to have ended the debate because the majority rules in a process where the minority accepted the rules and participated.

If we do not follow this simple established rule of the majority prevailing in a democracy, we will end up in endless debate, with no losing party ever accepting defeat in the hands of the majority.

The media have a responsibility to explain this.

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CREEPING CHAOS: The processes for election protests, impeachment, criminal prosecution, and the like are well defined. Somebody has to win and somebody to lose.

But what happens is that a sector of media, for whatever reason, does not explain enough the process and succumbs to oppositionist tendencies and tries infecting the readers or audiences with the same germs festering in their minds.

This atmosphere where nobody concedes and the media do not bother to explain what the process is will breed creeping chaos.

But we are not delving here into media’s motivations because these are private matters. We cannot divine what goes on in the minds, or the hearts, of individuals.

We can just grant good faith, hoping that some of us who incite people to go against the majority and accepted procedures are doing so having in mind only public interest.

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MEDIA MOGULS: While this apparent failure of media appears to have spread in the rank and file, my view is that the ultimate remedy — also the ultimate responsibility — rests on the media owners.

Self-policing, upgrading and disciplinary action will have quicker and more pervasive effects if coming from the top. After all, media workers are employees subject to disciplinary action not only from their guild but more so from their bosses.

One implication of this is that media owners themselves must be dedicated to true journalism, which is geared to serving the public good and not their personal interests.

We cannot find true journalism in a work place where reporters, writers and editors are given token wages and allowed to forage for a living on the beat (believe me, there are such cases!), or where the owners themselves use the staff as fixers and lobbyists.

This has been discussed endlessly in seminars, forums, workshops and such gatherings where media issues are examined. But nothing has been done about the problem.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of October 30, 2005)

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