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There’s the Rub

Compelling needs

First, the matter of decorum.

One sentiment, possibly the overriding one, says right beef, wrong venue. P-Noy, they say, may have had every reason to complain about the ways news about the government was being treated by ABS-CBN, specifically by Noli de Castro, but he could not have picked a worse time and place to register it. It’s like being invited to a wedding, someone told me, and going on, not to toast the bride or bridegroom, but to remind the world of their infidelities.

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I’ve done a survey of sorts among friends and acquaintances, and that seems to be the majority sentiment. Most of them are sympathetic to P-Noy, but their view on his tirade last Friday is: wrong venue, wrong occasion. It wasn’t just Kabayan who took a blow there, decorum did.

From the other end, most of these same friends and acquaintances are also ardent in their agreement with P-Noy’s complaint. “Tama naman siya,” said one who had been pissed off by the penchant of the anchors of “TV Patrol” to comment on the news, especially De Castro, though she also mentioned Korina Sanchez’s refusal to say “Vice President” whenever she mentioned Jejomar Binay. Does this outweigh the demands of decorum?

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A friend told me: “Look at it this way, pare, if P-Noy had said those things in, say, an appearance on, well, TV, or in a speech before the Rotary, do you think it would have had the same effect? Do you think people would have heard? Do you think ABS-CBN would have listened? Maybe the President thought desperate times called for desperate measures.”

I leave others to debate the point, principally because I am of two minds about it myself. I am not inappreciative of our culture, which prescribes strict rules of conduct about hospitality and accepting it. That is to say, that prescribes how hosts and guests should behave in one’s home. But I am not inappreciative either about compelling needs. I’m not the most decorous person myself, believing that the rules of hospitality end where the need to press a truth begins. I’ve always said that decorum should never have stopped us from doing to Gloria what that Iraqi journalist did to Dubya, which was to hurl a pair of shoes at him in a press conference.

Some things just need to be said, some things just need to be done.

That brings me to the second part, which is the matter of substance. I’m of one mind about it: I sympathize with P-Noy’s complaint completely.

The problem, in fact, is far more basic than the fairness of TV Patrol’s anchors’ comments. Though that is a huge enough problem in itself, as P-Noy himself demonstrated by his litany of De Castro’s transgressions. The first item alone stands out, and the way P-Noy took issue with it felt like a knife being twisted inside De Castro. That was the case of a reporter reporting that Naia 3 had experienced a 20-percent increase in passenger arrivals, to which De Castro commented, yes, but what about Naia 1?

To which, in turn, P-Noy commented last Friday (translating into English): “What’s the connection of Naia 1 to the story? But leaving that aside, wasn’t this guy among those who held the reins of power for six years? Let’s assume they inherited the problem (a Naia in a decrepit state) themselves, but they left us with a far worse problem than they got. Do we need to be faulted by the one responsible for the fault?”

It does raise questions about the objectivity—or never mind objectivity, the personal baggage—of TV Patrol’s anchors.

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But it’s more than that. The problem is not just the fairness of the comments, it is the right of the anchors to make them.

That’s been a disturbing trend in Philippine media—opinion mixing with news in the most violently startling ways. On the occasions that I’ve watched TV Patrol (I take my news largely from newspapers and the Internet), I’ve found it astonishing that the anchors, particularly De Castro, were actually commenting on the news. I didn’t particularly mind that they held views in direct opposition to mine. That’s what we have a democracy for. But I did greatly mind that they were commenting on the news as the news was being read. Not as a designated editorial, not in a section called views and opinions, not at the end of the program by way of summing up the news with the usual disclaimers, but right in the middle of the news itself.

Before someone shoves it up my face, let me hasten to add—which is the part where I become indecorous myself—that I know we have the same problem in the Inquirer. We’ve had several letters to the editor, one of whom was written by Vicente Paterno, demanding to know why Amando Doronila’s view of things appears on our front page. As Paterno put it, he didn’t particularly care what Doronila’s opinion was, though he left no doubt about his disapproval of it, but he did care that it was being passed off as news. Or, he asked, was the Inquirer saying his views stood for the whole newspaper? (Amando Doronila’s Page 1 commentary every Monday is tagged “Analysis.”—ED.)

What can I say? I am disturbed by all this. It does journalism a horrendous disservice. I’ll be the first to agree, even without invoking postmodernist ideas, simply invoking common sense, that you can never really tell a story purely objectively; every writing, or documenting, of it entails interpretation, and every interpretation entails subjective perception. But it is one thing to say this and quite another that therefore all lines between opinion and news may be blurred. You write news, you say, “This is as best as I can describe how something happened.” You write opinion, you say, “This is what I think this event signifies.” Those are two different things. And more than Kipling’s East and West, ne’er those twain shall meet.

Ne’er those twain should meet.

What can I say?

Some things just need to be said. Some things just need to be done.

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