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There’s the Rub

On balance

Having said what I said yesterday, I also have to say that there’s a part in P-Noy’s tirade against ABS-CBN’s reporting that deeply bothers me. That’s the part where he says (I’m retaining the Filipino to get the exact nuance of it):

“Kung gabi-gabing bad news ang hapunan ni Juan dela Cruz, talaga namang mangangayayat ang puso’t isip niya sa kawalan ng pag-asa…. Isipin natin: Bawat isang turistang bumibisita sa bansa tinatayang isang trabaho ang nalilikha. Ilang turista kaya kada buwan ang nagka-cancel ng bakasyon dahil sa araw-araw na negatibismo? Ilan kayang kababayan ang nawawalan ng pagkakataong magkaroon ng kabuhayan dahil sa bad news na ito? Kung isa po kayo sa sampung milyon nating kababayan na nagsasakripisyo sa ibayong dagat, gaganahan kaya kayong bumalik dito kung mas nakakasindak pa sa ‘Shake, Rattle, and Roll’ ang balita sa telebisyon? Kailan pa po ba naging masama ang pagpapahayag ng mabuting balita?

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“Ibalanse lamang natin… ”

Does P-Noy have a right to complain about TV anchors commenting on the news?

Yes. That in fact was not what P-Noy complained about, what he complained about was the egregious unfairness of Kabayan’s comments. But he would have been well within his rights to have complained about mixing opinion with news, about anchors editorializing on the news within the news. As indeed the public does. It’s not just a matter of right, it’s a matter of duty. We ought to be deeply bothered by it, we ought to be hugely incensed by it. News ends, or should, where opinion begins, and vice versa.

Does P-Noy have a right to complain about Noli de Castro’s constant blindsiding of him?

Yes. Though there the venue becomes problematic. P-Noy could have done it elsewhere. He does not lack for an entire information network to press his objections. He has Edwin Lacierda and Abigail Valte to do it, who in fact do it all the time, answering even the most ludicrous issues raised by Elena Bautista-Horn, making government look defensive, if not prickly. He has his communications department to do it, even if it doesn’t do it while enjoying P50 million of taxpayer money. Even if the reporter himself, and not Kabayan, had said, “While things are going well for Naia 3, the same thing cannot be said for Naia 1,” P-Noy or his spokespersons might have retorted in a press conference, “That’s because of ex-Vice President De Castro.”

Does P-Noy have the right to exhort media on how to report things, or achieve balance?

No.

However sincere his beliefs, however well-meaning his intentions, that is one very bad idea. It opens a Pandora’s box of ills for journalism. Three things show so.

One is the complaint ages ago of some Filipino maids in Hong Kong about “Probe” airing there. Probe, they said, was giving them and the country a bad name because of its reporting on the Payatas dumpsite, the pedophiles, the street children, child prostitution, and sundry grisly murders. That, they said, stood to discourage the Chinese from respecting them, never mind visit the Philippines.

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I said that if government banned Probe from being shown in Hong Kong, there would no limits to what it would ban. The business of spreading the good news about the Philippines is not the media’s, it is the tourism department’s. That’s what it’s there for. The media are there simply to spread news, whether good or bad doesn’t matter, whether newsworthy or not does.

To this day I still have to see a correlation between good news and spurts in tourist arrivals, or conversely, bad news and plunges in it. The country did not exactly enjoy a boom in tourism during Marcos’ time. While at that, the showing of Probe in Hong Kong did spread one very good news about us: Unlike China, we still enjoyed freedom of the press.

Two is Erap calling for an ad boycott of the Inquirer. That was in 1999 when he insisted that this newspaper’s attacks against him were grossly unfair. What he did in fact was a gross curtailment of press freedom. It didn’t affect the Inquirer’s circulation—if anything, it raised it—but it affected its revenues.

The point is simply that presidents, including fake ones, will always perceive attacks against them as grossly unfair. Presidents, including tyrannical ones, will always perceive the media as not reporting enough about the good deeds they’ve done. Arguably, P-Noy is better than Erap, arguably P-Noy has done more than Erap. But at the very least you may not change the nature of an institution to fit an individual. At the very most, the person to be weighed is not the best one to do the weighing: He (or she) will always find himself not wanting. A president may ask for balance, but he (or she) will not be the best person to recognize it.

The third is the attempt by the senators and congressmen to pass a Right of Reply law. Which would have given them equal time or space to correct—as they saw it—unfair charges against them. Happily, that was shot down for being the insane thing it was, and promptly died. But it could easily be revived. It’s not unlikely that some batty legislator could follow up on P-Noy’s call for balance by telling the media: “If you can’t assure it, we will.”

The media have their share of faults, the media have their share of oppressions. Some will say more than their share. But like the choice of national artists, which is best left to artists, however they are capable of pettiness, too, the determination of news is best left to journalists, however they are prey to corruption, too. They still count enough respectable members in their ranks. I know that idea sucks, particularly when you see the ragged crowd that goes to vote for the officials of their favorite organizations. But again it’s like democracy: It’s a horrible idea, except that the others are worse.

On balance.

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TAGS: abs-cbn, Benigno Aquino III, Conrado de Quiros. Media, Noli de Castro, opinion, There’s the Rub
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