A citizen's view on the role of media
Sometime last week, President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, for the nth time, appealed to certain sectors of media for more balanced and more positive reportage. In so many words, the President asked media to do its share in sustaining the economic momentum. The subtext was: If you can’t support the administration, then at least stop sabotaging the strides we are making in the economic front by playing up nothing but scandals and negative news on your front pages.
It is sad that the President of the country has to practically fall on her knees to ask almighty media to do what is right. I have been ranting in my blog about the way certain sectors in the media think that progress should take a back seat to personal advocacies (i.e., animosity toward the President). Fortunately, I don’t have to this time around.
A friend and colleague, Grace Abella Zata, could not anymore remain silent and decided to make her voice heard on the topic. She sent out an e-mail that’s currently going around, in reaction to an article published in another paper that extolled media’s role in the May 2007 elections. Zata has a different take on the matter. For reasons of space limitations, I have edited the contents of her e-mail mainly for brevity.
“I am an HR practitioner and my company provides recruitment, training and consulting services to Philippine-based companies. I have no political affiliations; the closest thing I ever did that could be considered “political” was heading a team of human resource management practitioners from the Personnel Management Association of the Philippines or PMAP (now called People Management Association of the Philippines) to formulate a competency framework for the President of the Philippines in 2004 to be used as a voter’s guide for the presidential elections.
“That experience impressed upon me the fact that democracy [i.e., elections as a means of choosing the best candidates] only works in a situation where people have access to information. It is in this context that we can assess if truly, media has taken on an activist role.
“Many people, myself included, believe that Philippine media has failed miserably in this regard. In fact, media sets a mindset that focuses on little else but the skirmishes between and among the members of the political elite. Perhaps this is why people say, “pare-pareho lang naman ang mga iyan.” Media does not encourage people to go beyond the superficial and discuss the substantial issues, and to hold their leaders accountable for strategic and well-thought out plans and initiatives and results that impact on the quality of their lives.
“So, who wins elections? The ‘mediagenic’ who have some or better yet, all of the following: youngish, good-looking, with a palaban image and a commercial that connects to people. You wonder why Escudero won in spite of the fact that other candidates, you say, are better known? But, wasn’t he on TV every day during the impeachment proceedings, and very frequently, even after that? And he projects so well on media—he’s cute in a way that ordinary people can relate to, speaks well, and knows how to play to the gallery. At siyempre, palaban.
“Marami naman talagang dapat labanan sa administrasyong ito. But I wonder at the motives of some of the opposition candidates. After doing that study on presidential competencies in 2004, it was very clear to me that Fernando Poe Jr. was not suitable for the job (and not only because he lacked experience and strategic thinking skills. On many occasions during the campaign, FPJ showed low emotional intelligence). With his background in Congress, Escudero would have been an idiot not to know that FPJ was clearly unfit. So why did he agree to be FPJ’s spokesperson? Either his critical and analytical thinking skills are underdeveloped or he swept major concerns under the rug for the sake of his political career.
“And why is media happy to claim Trillanes’ victory as its own? If Trillanes is the hero that he projects himself to be, he should have resigned from the military and pursued his advocacies vigorously with the help of media, instead of placing bombs at the Ayala center. I just feel so strongly about this because of first-hand knowledge that coups like this take away good jobs out of the country. Our company helped more than a hundred people find very good jobs for a client company. The expat executive told me that if disturbances like these had happened before they had made the investment in the Philippines, they would have pulled out of here immediately. Many of the people we helped find jobs were not even college graduates, they were so happy they kept on thanking us long after they started work. It just breaks my heart that people like Trillanes and Honasan are rewarded and voted into office for wrecking our economy.
“I am afraid many members of media are probably lazy [do not study issues in depth] or biased, prompting one blogger to call politics entertainment about the ugly. News on the front page [and commentaries by “semi-literate” radio commentators] concentrate too much on the political angle, rather than on improving the economic literacy of people. Instead of devoting 80 to 90 percent of the front page to the dynamics of the political power play, media’s perspective in a country such as ours should be: We are all in this together; we need to solve the problem of poverty and therefore we should be evaluating how good plans are, whether they are on track, whether they are producing desired results, whether resources are used properly. These should be the context of reports on corruption and exchanges between politicians, rather than merely playing up the latest skirmish between Ping and whoever, like it were the word war between Ruffa and Yilmaz.”
Zata’s e-mail, which was six pages long, went into specifics about what media could have highlighted in the last senatorial elections to help people understand the real issues at stake. But it is her contention, and I agree with her on this score, that media focused more on building a cult image for the candidates.
Zata had this advice for Ralph Recto: “Ay naku, next time Ralph—do not sponsor bills that people will find difficult to understand because it requires sacrifice in the short-term for long term results. Pa-cute ka na lang at maging palaban. Mas madali pa iyon kaysa mag-aral!” In the same breath, she asks: “Is this the lesson we want to teach our politicians?”
Zata’s e-mail continues: “While it is unfair to blame media solely, media must assume some responsibility for the daily onslaught of political scandals and news that sends a subliminal message that this country is hopeless and only fools will stay around. I am not saying media should not report on cheating in Maguindanao, (in fact, media should be congratulated for closely watching election results), Hello Garci, disappearances and killings of activists. These are deeply disturbing. But can’t we be more balanced? There are also lots of positive things happening in our country.
“Media has the important role of leading and providing a venue for rational and more incisive thinking and discussion about what we should do to lift people out of poverty. Listen to what our driver has to say: ‘Ewan ko kung bakit ako nagagalit sa gobyerno. Para iyang sa bata, e. Basta may kagalit ang tatay mo; galit ka na din, kahit di mo alam kung bakit.’
“Perhaps the challenge for media is to re-direct the frustration and anger of people so that together with our leaders, we can seek and study different paths, and choose the best one that will bring us to a brighter future.”
I say Amen.