Wednesday, March 26, 2008

Intrusive media

This is my column today.


Despite her strong character and her steely determination, we know former President Corazon Aquino is not immortal nor in possession of superhuman powers. In fact, what really distinguishes her from everyone else is precisely her aura of vulnerability. She has always struck people as very maternal and human.

But still, the thought of a sick Cory Aquino, picturing her with something debilitating such as colon cancer, is very difficult to do. It’s something almost unimaginable.

No wonder many people were affected when the news of her sickness spread last Monday. When I texted a friend about the breaking news, she immediately responded with a comment that hit close to home: “Oh no, I feel like my own mother is sick.” In a very real sense, that’s precisely the role Cory Aquino has assumed in this country since 1983. She’s not called Tita Cory for nothing.

It is in instances like these when one realizes that political differences and the many other seemingly petty things that separate us from each other don’t really matter in the end.
Regardless of where one locates himself in the current political geography, there is no denying Cory Aquino’s great contribution to this country and to the cause of democracy. Which is why I have no reason to doubt the sincerity of the politicians and everyone else who have expressed sadness and asked for prayers for Cory Aquino’s recovery.

I, too, am enjoining everyone to pray for Cory Aquino’s recovery. In fact, I do pray that great people like her live very long lives if only because this country continues to lack real role models. The new generation can definitely learn from the feet of elders who, in the twilight of their lives, can focus their energies on shaping the minds of the younger generation.

In making the announcement about the state of the former president’s health, the Aquino family called for “respect and privacy.” Thankfully, media seemed to have been listening for a change. The coverage has been so far reverent and restrained. I hope this continues. The last things that we want to see are television crews camping outside the Aquino home, ready to ambush and hound the former president or her family for footages and sound bytes.

I hope everyone, particularly the media, accords the former president the privacy and the respect that she deserves and asks for. It is important to highlight this because we do have this tendency to turn everything with a smidgen of human-interest angle into a major circus. We have very little respect for other people’s privacy particularly if they are famous people.

Take the case of Manny Pacquiao’s homecoming last Monday. Of course we expected media to go into paroxysms and treat the new WBC super featherweight champion like a returning hero.
We expected hordes of cameramen and journalists running after Pacquiao and pelting him with all kinds of questions and requests for commentaries. We also expected local politicians to stalk the venues where Pacquiao was scheduled to be and to jostle each other for the opportunity to stand next to the champ and be photographed with him. We were not surprised to see Chavit Singzon and Environment Secretary Lito Atienza breaking bread with Pacquiao.

Despite the crabby remarks of some so-called boxing experts, I think Pacquiao’s victory over Mexican Juan Manuel Marquez is cause for celebration. So the big welcome is well deserved. By all means, bring out the red carpet and let’s do the parade.

Unfortunately, many among the media do not seem to know, or don’t care to make, the distinction between a sports champion and a second-rate movie actor; or between a press conference for a returning champion and a segment of the Sunday gossip show The Buzz. Okay, I am willing to grant that Pacquiao himself is to blame for the confusion. After all, he does cross the line many times.

However, last Monday’s homecoming was different and should have been treated with a little more discretion. At the very least, the highly intrusive questions should have been avoided.
Were those questions about actress Ara Mina really appropriate in an official press conference for a national champion? Was it necessary to ask Pacquiao political questions that put him on the spot? Was it really necessary for Mel Tiangco to ask Pacquiao how much his overall booty amounted to? What were all those footages about Pacquiao’s children and their class schedules at this international school all about? And was it really necessary to bring up Pacquiao’s colored past involving mistresses and other vices all in the same breath?

The news coverage about Pacquiao’s arrival easily took up half of the newscast time last Monday evening. The sidebar stories were a hodge-podge of trivial matters that were really a waste of everyone’s time. These included details we did not need to know such as where he is currently staying (New World Hotel, they reported) and what his pasulubong for his kids were (computer games, it was also reported).

This kind of news coverage and reportage makes one yearn for the good old days when Angelo Castro and Tina Monzon Palma (The World Tonight) and even Loren Legarda (Newscast) delivered the news straight up, without the fanfare, the hoopla, and the cheap gimmickry. Back then, the news was about… well, the news.

The irony is that a number of studies do point out that people actually watch the newscast for the news and not for the celebrity stories. For example, the results of the recent study by the Communications Research Department of the UP College of Mass Communications “Mulat or Manunuri ng Ulat: Viewers Reception and Evaluation of Television News Programs” showed that television viewers give more attention to the substantive news rather than “Chika Minute” or “Star Patrol.”

So why do our major networks continue to waste precious primetime on the shenanigans of celebrity folks while reducing more substantive news items into a mere one-sentence summary? There are many answers to that, but the obvious answer is that it makes for good business. The networks drum up attention for the stars in their stable of talents, particularly if they are appearing on company-produced shows.


In short, the newscast is used as propaganda platform for the station’s other programs. What this means is that all those claims about delivering news purely in the service of the nation and the people, and about being fair and unbiased, are all lip service.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Hi Bong, I'm from Mindanao and I find the traffic reports/footages on national tv newscasts totally irrelevant. Do jeepney/bus commuters and those with private cars watch tv on the road? Di ba mas bagay ito sa radio?