At Large

Maita and the news business


Maita Gomez had one piece of advice for us in the national board of the women’s party-list organization, Abanse! Pinay.

Sometimes, she said, a woman may find herself attracted to a man and contemplate embarking on an affair or getting involved in a deeper commitment. “But it’s better to wait before you commit to anything,” she said, laughing. “Sometimes, it may not be love but just hormones.”

“Just hormones” would thenceforth be our code for the whole “man-woman” thing, for at the time of our little sharing, all of us had gone through the whole “love” thing. While some of us remained in marriages, and others learned to move on from one disastrous relationship to another, we had long abandoned any filmy illusions about romance or romantic fantasy.

What I remember about Maita was how grounded she was, scornful of people who still made much of her beauty-queen background, or of her even more dramatic transformation into an “amazon” (she hated the word, if I remember right), after joining the underground upon the declaration of martial law.

Even without her back story, Maita was a compelling figure on her own. She was tall and comported herself with the distinctive carriage of a model and beauty-title holder. She spoke rarely (during meetings of loquacious, audacious women) but when she did, it was invariably with a lot of sense and serious intent. And she could read people, especially their motivations, or their reasons for joining causes. “It’s so easy to compromise your principles,” she once reflected. “But when you take a single step, watch out, because it may be very difficult to turn back from it.”

* * *

Given her celebrity, Maita could very well have parlayed her unique story to reach iconic status. And indeed, she did try her hand at politics, but backed out of it after an unsuccessful campaign.

Still, this did not stop Maita from pursuing the ideals that doubtless propelled her away from young wifehood to the precarious and dangerous world of the New People’s Army. After her release from detention, Maita was variously involved in the anti-dictatorship struggle, into working with urban poor communities, organizing women, and, so I read recently, seeking ways to create sustainable development projects.

Sadly, we had lost touch in recent years, but it didn’t surprise me to find out that she had picked up on the cause du jour, working to make sure the society for which she had sought transformation would thrive in a world and in an environment more hospitable and sustainable.

She was a trailblazer long before women’s empowerment became a trendy term. But even if her personal story carried with it loads of human interest, she never sought the limelight for its own sake, even if she often volunteered to use the attention she drew to shed light on any number of causes. To the end, Maita was Maita, doing good whenever and wherever she could. We won’t see the likes of her again for a long, long time.

* * *

“Snatched from the headlines” is a line often used to describe entertainment shows based on the “real” world, or on events that had just taken place (and become the subject of headlines) and which would still be familiar to ordinary viewers.

Well, that’s an understatement for “The Newsroom,” a 10-episode drama series that premieres on Aug. 1 on HBO.

Set in the fictional cable network ACN, “The Newsroom” covers the transition of an evening newscast, and of its anchor and managing editor Will McAvoy (Jeff Daniels), from its safe, ratings-cozy existence to a show that challenges conventions and shakes up an audience long used to infotainment and the inanity that often passes for TV news.

The transformation is heralded by the arrival, from a 2-year stint “embedded” in Iraq and Afghanistan, of MacKenzie McHale (Emily Mortimer), a former colleague of McAvoy’s with whom he once shared a relationship.

“The Newsroom” is both an exploration of current issues bedeviling the news business (do we follow the principles of journalism or the demands of the public and of advertisers?), and a tour of the tangled lives of the personalities behind the news, starting with the people who announce it, create it, research it, and dig deep to unearth the facts.

The first episode, in a sneak preview held at the ABS-CBN premises (a tour of the ANC newsroom followed), even follows a real-life news event, the explosion of the offshore oil rig Deepwater Horizon and the environmental disaster it triggers.

* * *

Almost by its lonesome, “News Night,” the primetime news show anchored by McAvoy, looks beyond the rig explosion and the search for missing workers, to ask disturbing questions about the oil leak spewing hundreds of gallons of “black gold” into the Gulf Coast off Louisiana.

It’s McAvoy’s call to look beyond the explosion and the fire, and explore literally deeper issues about the oil spill that indeed created an environmental disaster that cost millions to the US economy and displaced thousands of people who depended on the Coast for their livelihood.

The series should provoke local viewers into asking disturbing questions about our own news business, and ANC anchor TJ Manotoc was on hand to answer questions about his network’s news operations. I, for one, wondered why ABS-CBN news honchos seemed to believe that the “masa” (the primary audience for its flagship “TV Patrol”) aren’t interested in the coming elections and ply them with a steady diet of police stories, road accidents and Dolphy’s passing. Manotoc pointed out that ANC, its 24/7 cable news channel, has a political talk show. To me, his reply just seemed to explain why TV news in this country has come to such a pass.

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