POSTSCRIPT / August 2, 2012 / Thursday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Did P-Noy’s lecture do more harm than good?

LECTURE: The debate is still raging over the journalism lecture delivered by President Noynoy Aquino at the 25th anniversary celebration last July 27 of the “TV Patrol” news program of the ABS-CBN network.

I have shared my thoughts on the matter in Postscript, on Twitter and in coffee shop chats. Before leaving the subject, I want to recap my views as one who has been immersed in media for more than four decades.

President Aquino is entitled to his opinion as to how the press has been functioning in this democratic setting. Like the rest of the public, he may complain if he believes the media have been unfair and unprofessional.

Even as we raise the escutcheon of press freedom, we should not begrudge him his right to talk back. The press should be able to take what it dishes out.

We cannot gloss over the fact that he is the President. As such, his statements carry much weight.

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NEWS VS VIEWS: In critiquing the press, however, the President must remember that there is no bad and good news. There is only news, period.

He and his advisers must also distinguish between news and views. News is supposed to be objective (it is not), while views (such as this opinion column) are necessarily subjective.

Although we try to separate one from the other, sometimes news and views do mix — as when senior reporters are told by their editors to give their considered opinion to explain the relevance or significance of the news.

Is it right for “TV Patrol” anchor Noli de Castro to inject his opinion as he reads the news before the camera? Is it proper for him to ask the reporter at the scene some followup questions? Is it right to engage in some banter at the tailend of the report?

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ANCHOR’S JOB: If De Castro has instructions from his news director to elicit clarificatory information, he is just doing his job when he asks questions or suggests angles.

Like his teammates Ted Failon and Korina Sanchez, De Castro is not just a newsreader (not anymore), but an anchor who can give direction when needed in live news coverage.

A mere newsreader must stick to the script and not ad lib. As for banter, the remarks must be relevant, in good taste, and serve a useful purpose.

We are not privy to this detail, but it might be that banter and occasional side comments are part of the program’s format. They inject zest and flavor to what would otherwise be a flat and dry delivery.

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BAD MANNERS: Much has been said about the President’s timing and supposed bad manners. It is said that being a guest, he should not have scolded his hosts before a large crowd primed for a happy celebration.

This is again a matter of opinion. While critics think it was bad timing and bad PR (public relations), it might not be so from the point of view of Mr. Aquino.

In fact, the President may have intentionally picked that occasion to deliver a telling message to wayward media.

Could he not have met privately the owners and top executives of ABS-CBN to tell them his misgivings? Since the network has been generally friendly to him, such a tactful approach could have been more effective — if favorable treatment was what he wanted.

The shock and awe tactic that the President chose may result in policy and staffing changes, but it could leave resentment in and outside the network.

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NOLI TARGETED: Recalling De Castro’s off-cuff remarks about the NAIA-1 terminal being worse than NAIA-3, President Aquino asked what the then Vice President had done to improve airport services in the six years that he was in office.

That was off tangent. Running the airport or looking after its upgrading was not the responsibility of then Vice President De Castro.

Tossing back the question, what did Mr. Aquino do about the airport mess during the nine years he was congressman and three years as senator? He could have pushed measures or budgetary support for NAIA-1 but did not.

Why then was De Castro specifically targeted? Was it because he was the No. 2 man of then President Gloria Arroyo, the pet peeve of Mr. Aquino? Has the demolition of De Castro begun, preparatory to his political execution?

Or is the media sector that still dares to criticize now the next target in the Aquino administration’s systematic elimination of all perceived obstructions?

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‘TRABAHO LANG’: Postscript still gets email needling us and defending President Aquino. To one emailer, I replied days ago:

“You asked if I could do a good job if I were the president. I doubt it. Hindi ko po kaya. That is probably why fate has assigned me instead the task of a journalist. (But even as a journalist I’m not satisfied with my work.)

“As a professional newsman, I’m guided by the tradition of the Fourth Estate’s playing an adversarial role vis-à-vis the Establishment. Instead of being a lapdog, we have been assigned the task of watchdog. It has not been easy, but we keep trying.

“It will do the country much good if persons in authority take citizens’ criticisms in good faith. Many of us in media do not just criticize. We also offer well-studied suggestions even at the risk of being suspected of angling for a juicy appointment.

“I sincerely wish success for President Noynoy, who happens to be the son of my kumpare Ninoy and the brother of my kumare Ballsy. This partly explains why I sometimes get irritated when his tight coterie misleads him or fails to give him the expert advice he needs.”

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of August 2, 2012)

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