It’s all about the truth
If you would take a step back and look at the entire ABS-CBN question, you’d see that it’s more about truth than it is about anything else. This government is spending millions, if not billions, of pesos in a comprehensive disinformation campaign concerned with perpetuating a cult of personality that had successfully got the President elected. This massive cloud of information and disinformation is what’s propping up this regime.
ABS-CBN, as a force in broadcasting, plays an important role in keeping this social media onslaught controlled. Apart from newspapers, ABS-CBN enjoys the highest reach. GMA-7, its closest competitor, is still reliant on local CATV and set-top boxes in order to receive and transmit its programming to the more remote areas of the country. ABS-CBN simply has more towers and local affiliates, strengthening its position as the single most influential, and accessible, media entity in the country.
Now, Filipinos derive news from two sources: traditional media, and new media. Of the two, traditional media enjoys greater credibility, and a higher presumption of truth because of what is called a vetting process: A system where information that is picked up by any number of beat and field reporters gets fact-checked, and all possible perspectives of the story are sought out and considered along with the facts gathered.
New media’s value, on the other hand, is in its immediacy, since it doesn’t have to go through the process of vetting. It gets the facts to the viewer or audience quickly, and allows for greater engagement.
Now this is where it gets sticky: An intelligent consumer of media would normally get his/her news through new media (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) first, and then he/she will have the opportunity to cross-check this with traditional media (ABS-CBN, GMA, Inquirer, etc.), before forming an opinion. It is well accepted that right now, new media has a wide reach, and it’s growing every day as the internet is being democratized more and more, while traditional media is growing, but at a slower rate due to fundamental limitations such as logistics, infrastructure, and yes: LEGISLATIVE FRANCHISES.
This ability to cross-check information is what this government really wants to disrupt. It wants its message coursed through Facebook, Twitter, and all of these platforms since these are what it can pay for and control. With the elimination of the Philippines’ biggest and most widely accessible source of verified news, the people have been deprived of a yardstick by which to measure the trustworthiness of information from otherwise unvetted and unverified sources. This is how this government is able to control the narrative, with no one being the wiser.
This is why the act of denying ABS-CBN the chance to renew its franchise is so destructive to freedom of the press. By dismantling the network, the government is depriving the people of the truth, by subjecting us to the unbearable persistence of untruth. Without a standard frame of reference, it is impossible to determine the scope, breadth, and validity of information. Eventually, everything we watch, or read, or see, will be viewed as untrustworthy. That is what makes all of this so insidious.
You can’t have a free press when no one can hear it. In limiting accessibility to independent media, you make them subject to market forces and your citizens vulnerable to rampant, bald-faced falsehoods. That is a terrible formula for a politically volatile society.
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Ryan Robert Flores is a product development manager at a design firm in Manila, dealing with clients both here and abroad.
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