POSTSCRIPT / March 27, 2012 / Tuesday

By FEDERICO D. PASCUAL JR.

Philippine STAR Columnist

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Conviction not sure, so it’s time for Plan B

VIA CRUCIS: At the rate the fishing fleets are scouring real estate records with a dragnet, many VIPs, including ex-presidents, senators, congressmen, justices and generals will be shown to own valuable assets abroad, especially the United States.

The wonder of it all is that while most top politicians own real property abroad, only Chief Justice Renato C. Corona is being raked over the coals. He is the only one dragged to the dock for public flogging by the complicit media.

But in the spirit of Lent, maybe Corona deserves — or should accept — this political Via Crucis that he is made to walk for refusing to resign as Chief Justice and give way to the fair-haired boy of President Noynoy Aquino.

Corona says he does not own the Stateside houses being reported in blogs as his. That denial should be good enough since the burden of proof, especially in malicious imputations, is on the accusers.

Besides, with the prosecution in the impeach-Corona trial having rested weeks ago, the belated exposé, if true, is irrelevant, impertinent and immaterial to the Chief Justice’s case.

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ETHICAL CODES: All this muckraking would be for naught were it not for our free-wheeling media. This phenomenon would or should prompt such developments as:

* Well-meaning media owners meeting their staff in self-criticism and, together, lay down or update the rules of engagement. Many of us in mainstream media seem to have gone astray.

* Professional codes of conduct and legislation being updated to cope with the galloping developments in electronic and social media, especially in defining rights and obligations, due process, and ethics.

* Members of the organized working press, apart from the media owners, convening and discussing the problematic situations created by politicians and vested groups seeking to corrupt media in pursuit of their ulterior agenda.

* * *

BRAINWASHING: Some of us keep saying that the public will know, eventually, what is true and what is false. I hate to say this, but that does not seem to be about to happen in the Philippines given the stunted state of our political maturity.

Day in and day out, print and broadcast media disseminate with impunity praise releases disguised as news, propaganda packaged as opinion columns, dossiers rewritten without question and passed off as research.

This is the insidious aspect of unsupervised reportage in print, broadcast and electronic media. The unsuspecting reader, listener or viewer swallows most of the misleading reports and ends up being brainwashed without his being aware of it.

Sometimes, though, there are advocacies that journalists and/or their paper or network pursue for a laudable public purpose. Their being non-objective in this case may be forgivable, especially if done with transparency and good faith.

Editorialists and opinion writers are expected to come down from the fence and take a position. This is generally good, but they must argue their stand convincingly.

* * *

CORRECTING ERRORS: In evaluating faulty news reports, we have to factor in inevitable errors committed in the fast clip of daily newspapering. Even when unintended, errors sometimes tarnish some people’s reputation.

We all make mistakes, but I say this not as an excuse but as plain fact. In this situation, the proper handling by media is not to insist on the error and flaunt the acquired influence of the broadsheet or network.

A good response is to correct the error at the first opportunity. Correction cannot always fully satisfy the offended party, but this is not reason enough not to run an erratum, or even an apology.

One problem is attitudinal. Having made a political or business decision, the owner of the paper or the network is not likely to admit his/her bias. He/she may even justify it.

* * *

PLAN B: The frenzied muckraking against the Chief Justice, and the accompanying yellow journalism, may indicate that Malacañang and its field operators are no longer that sure about convicting Corona – and must now shift to an alternate plan.

Plan B is simple. Outside the Senate impeachment trial, Corona must also be convicted in the court of public opinion. The best way to do this is to demonize him to the point that he becomes evil personified to the public.

Once a negative image of Corona is imbedded in the malleable public mind, the table surveys sweep in to affirm with statistics the supposed clamor for the removal of the Chief Justice. If People Power-type street marches are also needed, they may be organized.

Once the kick out-Corona message appears to sinks in, more of the senator-judges could be convinced to vote for his conviction. Politicians are hesitant to openly go against public perception.

* * *

EVIDENCE IRRELEVANT: The pervading public mood at the time the senators hunker down to weigh their votes and options will be a dominant consideration. That, plus transactional overtures of Malacañang will influence how the senators will vote

By that time, the evidence would be generally irrelevant. It becomes relevant, and useful, only if and when it serves the political agenda of the senator casting his vote.

That can explain why this impeachment showdown between the heads of the two contending branches of government has been a costly operation.

On the Public Relations front (since we in mainstream media are — like the prosecution and defense lawyers in the Senate trial – friends of long standing), we compare notes and know the PR operators slipping the thick envelops to selected media allies.

The sad thing is that all that money changing hands in some media and congressional chambers is presumably taken from taxpayers.

If you want sarcasm, well, at least most of the money is ploughed back to the economy, except the millions squirreled in secret bank accounts.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of March 27, 2012)

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