Monday, July 16, 2007

Investigating the investigators

(This post is ante-dated simply for the sake of organizing the contents of this blog. I was on blog leave for sometime)

I knew it was just a matter of time before someone with enough grit and gumption rises to the challenge of taking on certain television shows and their almighty hidden cameras. It took quite sometime, but somebody finally did. And I think it is all for the best.
Last week, the Pasay City regional trial court granted the petition for preliminary injunction filed by Prosecutor John Giselher Imperial against GMA-7’s television show “Imbestigador.” The court stopped the airing of an episode showing the arrest of the prosecutor over an alleged extortion complaint.
According to a news item that was published in this paper last Thursday, the court stopped the airing of the episode in question since “the airing of the video segment that tends to make petitioner liable for the crime with which he is charged, now pending investigation at the Department of Justice, will immediately cause him and his office irreparable damage in the form of public distrust, ridicule and humiliation.”
As many of us know, the television show “Imbestigador” has become quite noted (or notorious, depending on one’s opinion on the matter) for exposing various alleged nefarious activities committed by individuals, mostly government employees. Favorite topics are controversial and lascivious activities. Another show on ABS-CBN, “XXX,” provides stiff competition by doing exactly the same thing on the same time slot on the same day.
These shows essentially follow the same tried and tested format. Acting on alleged complaints, they mount entrapment operations with the help of police authorities, which are then fully documented using hidden cameras. Since television cameras document the whole operation, everyone performs “cinematically.”
A friend who is privy to how these things work admits that they are not beyond “directing” behaviors of all those involved for the sake of better coverage. It’s first and foremost a television show that competes for ratings and it can’t afford to show footages of people with their backs toward the camera or police operatives acting papatay-patay (lethargic). So there is frenetic action, some slapping of faces, and even exchanging of prurient language.
Let me categorically declare that I am not against these television shows per se. I think these shows do serve a purpose. I agree that vigilance is not necessarily a bad thing especially in a social setting where there is just too much abuse of power. These shows provide a very potent alternative to the downtrodden in their struggle for justice, particularly since we all know that the justice system in this country can be very lopsided in favor of those with connections and resources.
However, we must also come to terms with the fact that too much zeal results in excesses. And very often, these excesses have to do with violations of the civil liberties of the accused.
I know. Most of us feel uncomfortable when discussing the rights of alleged criminals. However, we must remember that the whole justice system is based on this most basic assumption: Everyone is presumed innocent until proven guilty and only the courts can declare guilt. Yes, even alleged criminals have rights. And the fact that the crimes that they are accused of are still to be proven in the proper court entitles these suspects to some rights.
Unfortunately, this is glossed over when we watch an hour’s worth of these shows. The editorializing that accompanies these shows leaves no doubt as to the guilt of the accused. In fact, I have watched episodes of these shows where the hosts come out directly declaring the guilt of the accused and condemning them openly as the worst kind of scoundrels on the face of the earth. The accused are called unsavory names and hung on the bar of public opinion. In short, they are not simply exposed. They are judged.
And, lest we forget, television is a cruel medium. Even if one is proven innocent in the end, the damage to one’s reputation cannot be repaired anymore after it has been ripped to shreds on public television.
These shows get away with it because most would rather suffer in silence and hide behind their shame rather than risk being ridiculed all over again. Who in his or her mind would dare come out to invite further scrutiny and have their identities and faces splashed on public television after they have been exposed as rogues and criminals?
I don’t know about you, but I find something wrong in a situation where television shows package themselves as arbiters of fairness and power and yet wantonly violate the same tenets that they are supposed to be upholding. It is so Machiavellian for comfort, this belief that the end justifies the means.
It doesn’t help that most of the people who are headlined on these shows are often powerless and disempowered to begin with. Perhaps because of the salacious nature of the cases involved, these shows have made all forms and variations of sex work their favorite target. These shows have a propensity to expose sex scandals. They make it their mission to initiate raids of sex dens, bars and other places where sex work allegedly happens.
I am not saying that they should not do these. But I find something wrong in the way they tend to focus on the sex workers rather than on the people who run or patronize these places to begin with. More often than not, it is the faces and naked bodies of the sex workers that are paraded on television rather than those of the people who prostitute them in the first place. By doing so, these shows victimize the victims many times over.
These shows justify what they do under the name of public service. Like I said, it is very difficult to find fault with vigilance over complaints and issues such as corruption, crime, and other kinds of wrongdoing.
When someone has met injustice and can’t find redress the normal way because the perpetrator of the dastardly act is in possession of certain powers such as political connection or economic power, it is somehow reassuring that a viable option remains, in this case, going to Mike Enriquez, the Tulfo brothers, or the guys at “XXX.” They are more than happy to accommodate especially if the case has all the accouterments of human drama that makes for an exciting television show episode.
So if not anything else, it is about time that we have a serious discussion on the ethics of the medium. Not because we want to turn the tables around and investigate the investigators. We need to do so because it is about time that we define the limits of the medium. For surely, no one in this country, not even television shows and their hosts, are omnipotent enough to be allowed to act as accuser and judge at the same time. It is incongruous that people who pontificate about the need to protect civil liberties are allowed to trample upon them in the first place.
We rile about violations of political civil liberties but turn a blind eye to other forms of civil liberties.

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