Wednesday, July 07, 2010

Pandering to the media

This was my column on the date indicated above. This post is antedated.

No further details were given on the exact nature of the seminar that the new Cabinet members are obliged to attend other than it is something about how to handle media. Would they be taught the finer points of diplomacy and tactfulness, such as how to tell to sod off while flashing one’s pearly whites? Perhaps it would be a crash course on anger management? Or could it be a program on image re-engineering—how to master certain behavioral skills that give the impression that one is a thoughtful, considerate, thinking professional even in the midst of extreme provocation?

As a human resource management professional, I am heartened by the message that this move sent, which is that not even Cabinet members are exempt from attending training courses or learning new behaviors. Perhaps the President himself should go through the course since he is championing this paradigm of leading by example. And lest we forget, P-Noy has not exactly been renowned for tactfulness, either. God knows the former President—she with the legendary temper—could have benefited from a crash course on anger management during her term, not that it would have helped deodorize her image anyway. So yes, am all for continuous learning and for compelling our leaders to regularly submit themselves to learning interventions.

Having said that, let me however express my befuddlement over what I think was an overreaction to Education Secretary Brother Armin Luistro’s and Presidential spokesperson’s Edwin Lacierda’s supposed public faux pas.

But really, did Luistro’s and Lacierda’s behaviors merit a public apology from no less than the President himself? Did those really merit the kind of attention they generated? Oh please, aren’t we all being overly sensitive? Aren’t we pandering to public opinion here?

What exactly did Luistro say that was offensive? Okay, so Lacierda could have tried a little harder to mask his annoyance over the very obvious attempt of one reporter to put him on the spot. He did look like he wanted to punch someone on the face. Luistro was actually smiling when he let loose his unsolicited advice to the media—he wasn’t abrasive at all; in fact, it could even be argued that he was being giving “brotherly” advice. Of course, he could have chosen to keep his thoughts to himself but surely he wasn’t hired to shut up; what kind of a teacher backs away from an opportunity to correct behavior?

As a matter of fact, I must admit that when I saw that television footage of Luistro taking a dig at media’s penchant for creating controversies by pitting people against each other, I wanted to give the guy a standing ovation. And I am not exactly a huge fan of his appointment to the post—I’ve written about my reservations on Luistro’s assumption into the job of top honcho for education last week.

But Luistro was right. People should first gather their thoughts about the sex education issue and find out as much as possible about what the whole fuss is about before opening their mouths and inflicting their opinions on others.

The problem is that the people who have been vociferous in their reaction to the sex education issue are clearly misinformed about the contents of the sex education modules—they think the modules will teach kids the kama sutra, which is farthest from the truth. They’ve also indulged in a lot of generalizations about how the sex education modules will promote promiscuity, etc. In fact, they filed for a temporary restraining order to stop the implementation of the pilot testing of the modules on the grounds that the modules violate their parental rights to teach sex education to their children themselves. Quezon City Judge Rosanna Fe Romero Maglaya dismissed their petition for a temporary restraining order last Monday and noted that no one among the petitioners could show proof that their rights as parents were being violated. Clearly, there’s a lot of discussion that needs to be made and these discussions are better done in conference rather than through media.

Moreover, this penchant for pitting people against each other publicly needs to stop. Actually, it’s not a simple matter of pitting people against each other; more often than not, some media people actually provoke the people they are interviewing to say something outrageous that they could play up or sensationalize into a headline.

Take the case of Vice President Jejomar Binay’s latest wrinkle. Now, Binay is an expert in terms of working a crowd and pandering to the media—how else could anyone explain his phenomenal victory in the last election? Binay and I go to the same church on Sundays (I am told he goes to several churches on Sundays just as he makes it a point to visit wakes at night) and the guy sure knows how to work a crowd! It’s always a fascinating experience seeing the Vice President emerge from the church like Jesus Christ entering Jerusalem on Palm Sunday. I also work in the same building where the Office of the Vice President is currently located and boy, how this guy loves being pressing the flesh and posing for photos! He uses the common elevators rather than the executive elevators assigned to him, eats at the employee cafeteria, walks around the building exchanging pleasantries with everyone else, and has no qualms about being pinched and hugged and patted like a baby. If this administration does not give him something worthwhile to do in the next few months, Binay would be an unbeatable candidate in 2016!

But there he was the other day in the same situation as Lacierda and Luistro. Apparently, his convoy of vehicles traveling without sirens made an illegal turn on a street and media immediately ganged up on him essentially asking him if he was going against P-Noy’s favorite advocacy. Obviously there was a context around why his convoy of vehicles made a left turn on a no left turn street— perhaps the drivers weren’t aware that it was a no-left turn street, perhaps they were told to do so, perhaps it was the most convenient thing to do. But did media people bothered with this context? Of course not! They saw it merely as an opportunity to pit the Vice President against the President.

There must be a dearth of really noteworthy stories today about this administration and people must be scraping the bottom for issues that deserve public discussion. All these attention to minutiae and this insane media attention to whatever little thing the cabinet members do make it look like this administration has not yet found its bearings. Isn’t there anything more deserving of our attention?

Perhaps it’s about time P-Noy and his Cabinet members really buckle down to work. By the looks of it, based on what we are reading in the papers, only Justice Secretary Leila de Lima and Environment Secretary Ramon Paje have hit the ground running so far. Perhaps if media people see something else more noteworthy to report on, then they don’t have to resort to sowing intrigues and making a big deal out of trivial incidents.

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