Monday, April 16, 2007

Media Projection

This is my column today at the op-ed section of the Manila Standard Today.


One of the factors making the coming elections so unlike others we’ve had in the past is that this time around, the battle to win minds and hearts is being waged primarily through media.

Candidates still go through the motions of making token appearances at public markets and slum areas, kissing babies, shaking hands and speaking at public rallies. But we all know that fewer and fewer people are turning up at these rallies even if a celebrity is brought along to work the crowd.

If it is any consolation to more enlightened citizens out there, it does seem that celebrity status is no longer a critical factor in elections today. It does seem that even the matinee idol status of Richard Gomez and Cesar Montano will not translate into votes this time around. In Manila, for example, three celebrities are slugging it out in the vice mayoralty race: Cita Astals, Isko Moreno and Robert Ortega. The candidate clearly leading the race, however, is Joey Hizon, a non-celebrity.

And yet if we are to go by the rather strong and definitive opinions the electorate seems to have about the candidates, one would get the impression that voters know the candidates personally, that they have interacted with the candidates in person, and that they know exactly who the candidate is. All this is the result of conditioning through media.

Such is the power of media today. It can mold, sway, alter and even create opinions. It can empower people. Because candidates intrude into our living rooms and bedrooms at every hour of the day, we seem to already know them like the back of our hands. Thus, media projection is the most critical factor in the elections today. Media projection can make or break candidacies.

Some of the candidates know this and therefore take pains to build media projection that translates into empathy, and subsequently, votes in their favor.

It seems to be working in the case of some candidates. Very few actually know what the platforms of senatorial candidates Noynoy Aquino, Alan Peter Cayetano and Chiz Escudero are, but most have already formed an opinion of their individual worth as senators based mainly on perceptions of what they seem to stand for.

All three have questionable records as legislators. It is bandied about that Cayetano and Escudero did not file a single bill in Congress but merely attached their names to some bills filed by their colleagues. But based on the image that they have created, we have been conditioned to they think that they have done so well in Congress.

On the other hand, even the media savvy of television impresario Boy Abunda has not succeeded in creating a media-friendly image of senatorial candidate Mike Defensor. The whole “tol” campaign was obviously meant to create a softer image of the candidate, one that people can relate to easily. But it is not working. Thus, the last minute efforts to switch to a more substance-based campaign.

Even the hundreds of millions spent on television ads by senatorial candidate Prospero Pichay has not translated into empathy for him. In fact, the media image that Pichay spent so much on has only succeeded in turning him into a caricature of sorts.

Unfortunately, we live in an era where communication has become largely “visual.” It does seem that communication experts are right after all when they assert that voters today are making decisions based how the candidates are coming across as individuals based on their total packaging rather than by what they are saying (verbal) or how they sound (vocal).

This explains the absence of substance in the current campaign. Despite last- minute efforts to adjust campaign strategies of candidates to insert some semblance of content, the truth is we’re all still grappling with personalities.

We’re still stuck with gross generalizations rather than specific platforms and causes. Pray, except in the case of senatorial candidate Ping Lacson who is specifically campaigning on a platform anchored on the acronym HOPE (health, order, progress and education) who else has a clear and well-defined platform that we know of?

More importantly, who actually cares about platforms today? Not the electorate it seems. The voters have seemingly made up their minds already about who to vote for based purely on the media projection of candidates. And certainly not the candidates who are just too happy focusing on building a cult image rather than on defining their platforms.

With barely a month to go before the elections, the mad rush to fortify “images” has become more intense. The television ads of the two main political parties are clear-cut examples.

The Genuine Opposition is staking its whole party campaign on one and only one message—they are against the current administration. Whoever said that this election is not about the President must now be eating humble pie.

GO’s campaign message is not a real platform since lest we forget, the May election is not a presidential election. The only viable way they can unseat the sitting president is through an impeachment, which the Senate can do only if there are enough votes in Congress. So that campaign message is really nothing more but an effort to shore up the image of the GO senatorial candidates as brave defenders of the people against corruption. It is about fortifying public images.

Let’s not bother with the television ad of Team Unity because, quite frankly, it is a slipshod attempt at deflecting the GO campaign. What that ad only succeeds at doing is projecting the impression that the team is for protecting the status quo. What it succeeds in doing is fortifying the media projection of the team as a bunch of softies and lightweights who stand for nothing significant. And, please, “We will rock you!” is so ’80s, not to mention the fact that the sentence offers lots of opportunities for derogatory transmutations.

This business of conditioning minds requires strong advocacies and a firm stand on issues. Because voters make impressions based on images and perceptions, candidates must come across as fighters, defenders, vanguards, catalysts of change, etc. And on this score, the odds are heavily stacked in favor of the opposition.

No wonder surveys say the same thing over and over again. So instead of attacking the surveys, candidates should better work on their media projection. There’s no escaping the call of the times.

3 comments:

SmileSleep said...

Why is it that I have to climb 1,000 mountains to get to you and all you have to do is smile to get to me?

^_^ Laughter linked to health, happiness ^_^

domingo said...

Bong, surveys may be worth the trouble questioning. What I’m concerned is not about the highly technical issues which have been subject to endless debate--the methodology employed, even the framing of the questions--but about interviewer integrity which have had little media attention to speak of.

Interviewers go out in the field to record and collect the “raw data” to be encoded. The “raw data” is, of course, the “Garbage In” in “Garbage In, Garbage Out” with “Garbage Out” as the survey results.

Check this out: “Interviewer Falsification in Survey Research: Current Best Methods for Prevention, Detection and Repair of its Effects” (2003) by the American Association for Public Opinion Research (AAPOR) (http://www.aapor.org/pdfs/falsification.pdf).

The Preface warns: “Survey researchers have an obligation to truth in data collection … If interview data do not reflect the answers or characteristics of respondent, but rather are the invention of the interviewer, data integrity is directly affected.”

“Falsification” includes, among others: “Fabricating all or part of an interview--the recording of data that are not provided by a designated survey respondent and reporting them as answers of that respondent.”

Under the heading of Prevalence of Falsification, “Interviewer falsification has long been recognized in survey research, both in the published literature and in the professional practices that have been developed over the years to prevent and detect it …”

Also, try to access Claude Emery, “Public Opinion Polling in Canada” (1994), (http://www.parl.gc.ca/information/library/PRBpubs/bp371-e.htm).

Emery asserts: “One should not be blind to the possibility that interviewers occasionally ‘make up their interviews or to substitute easy to contact individuals for members of the sample group they were supposed to reach but found it difficult to do so.’”

Of course, the management and staff of polling firms do not conduct the surveys themselves; they employ (or hire and pay) interviewers to gather the “raw data” for them. And it is this particular “outsourcing” aspect of their “business” that the public needs to know more about and to be assured and convinced that data reported is the “face-to-face” answer of the “designated survey respondent,” not made up or falsified by the interviewer.

In any case, INTERVIEWER FALSIFICATION seems to be widespread in the United States and elsewhere. Does this include the Philippines? Or are Filipinos putting too much trust in the interviewers pollsters hire?

Polls greatly influence public opinion. Coup plotters, in fact, never tire of repeating survey results to justify their adventurism; hence, the manner in which pollsters operate at ALL stages of a survey should be “open and transparent” to the public they claim to serve.

Will elaborate on this later.

Bong C. Austero said...

Domingo,
i agree, surveys are not exactly foolproof, particularly when it is first and foremost a business venture. however, i think that there is a trend that is simply being validated by surveys. in the senatorial elections, for instance, i think that the first 8 slots are already a foregone conclusion and cannot be subject to manipulation by any survey company.

BOng