Philippine President Noynoy Aquino recently criticized the Philippine media because he thinks that the industry as a whole is not painting a nice picture of the country and his government in particular. Well, well, well. What can I say? Considering that a lot of people have been criticizing the Philippine media for so long and citing their biased — bordering on propaganda — reporting, particularly the media networks allied with the Aquino-Cojuangco clan; I say that PNoy’s criticism is composed of right points illustrated by wrong examples.
First, PNoy is right about his claim that the media tends to shoot first and ask questions later. This is what he said:
“Nandiyan pa po kaya ang prinsipyo ng get it first but get it right, o napalitan na ito ng get it first, siguruhin na bebenta ang storya, at kung hindi tama ang impormasyon, mag-sorry ka na lang?”
Indeed, that is exactly what some members of the media did when they inaccurately published a list of properties supposedly under Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona’s name without first checking if the list was accurate and then divulged private information concerning other individuals who were not even involved in the impeachment trial of the magistrate. As far as a lot of people are concerned, the media networks that published it haven’t even apologized or said “sorry” for their mistake.
So PNoy’s statement that members of the media tend to publish reports “without verifying first the information” is true. In Corona’s case, it worked well to mislead the public. The information seems to have stuck on some people’s minds causing them to form a biased opinion about the Chief Justice. There are members of the media who seem to be in cahoots with the prosecutors on this with the likes of “investigative” journalist, Raissa Robles leading the charge. Even Senator Joker Arroyo agrees with this as evident when he scolded the prosecutors for misleading the public by claiming that impeached Chief Justice Renato Corona, his wife Cristina, and their family members own 45 properties:
“Quite frankly, you misled the public by initially announcing 45,” Arroyo said as the Senate impeachment court tried to clarify the claim made by the prosecution regarding the properties supposedly owned by Corona’s family.
“Is that fair? You just cannot say a person owns 45 and [then] say you are not sure. It just isn’t done,” Arroyo said during the impeachment trial.
The problem with PNoy is that he was selective in citing why he thinks the media is being negative. He only complains about the media when the report is unfavorable to him. Indeed, it is not fair that the media would publish a report about his “date” based on a Twitter post but then again, his Department of Justice (DOJ) secretary, Leila de Lima issued a hold departure order on former President Gloria Arroyo based on an unverified anonymous text message that she is seeking asylum in the Dominican Republic, which then compelled the media to publish unverified reports about GMA’s illness and alleged plans to escape.
It’s really sad that the media is contributing to the decay of our society’s moral fiber. Even PNoy admits this:
“Malinaw na naman po na hindi ito totoo–ngunit muli, nagawa na ang pagtatanim ng duda bago pa ang paglilinaw, pagtatama, at pagsiguro sa katotohanan ng balita. Nakakalungkot po na natabunan nito ang mabuting balita na sana’y nakapagpa-angat ng loob ng mga Pilipino,”
Of course when the damage to someone’s reputation has been done, it is hard to undo it. It’s nearly impossible to gain back the public’s trust when the vilification comes from the very top. PNoy should understand now how it feels to be a victim of gossip. He had no qualms about vilifying GMA and her perceived allies like CJ Corona in the recent past.
Another flaw in PNoy’s criticism of the media came to light when he blasted the industry for highlighting the crimes in the country. He said that it is the reason why other countries question the safety of their tourists. But then when it comes to the country’s crime rate, how can you not report it the way it is? Was PNoy suggesting that it should not be reported at all? I am pretty sure that because of the high crime rate, many petty crimes do not get reported anymore. In contrast, even minor crimes still get front-page news in other countries. This is because safety and rule of law is paramount in most developed countries, which is why crime rates in those countries are not that high.
PNoy added that one of his acquaintances from overseas wanted to visit the Philippines but changed his mind after watching the news from a Filipino channel. It is strange that a personal acquaintance of the President would not trust him enough to ignore what he sees on TV. It could be because his acquaintance knows too well that not only is the crime rate high; the lack of good quality infrastructure is by itself a turn off. An online publication featured an article describing observations consistent with this in one of their columns after the hostage tragedy:
Terrorist bombings on the Indonesian island resort of Bali and Jakarta this decade have not kept tourists away; nor has Thailand’s internal political problems, nor the Boxing Day tsunami in 2004 in which more than 200,000 people died.
To many foreigners, the Philippines is seen as lacking infrastructure, perceived as being too expensive when compared to other regional destinations and, above all, not a safe place to spend a holiday.
There is something to be said about the fact that countries that have their share of negative publicity in the eyes of the international community still get a big share of the tourism pie compared to that of the Philippines. Their deep and fascinating cultures most likely remain enticing to tourists who keep going back to places like Thailand, Vietnam and Indonesia despite the instability or threat of violence. The tourists probably have more fun in those places compared to the Philippines.
The problem with PNoy’s plea for more positive news is that it is misleading. How can you not report a preventable incident where eight tourists died for instance? Even if the local media sweeps it under the rug, the international media will still hear about it especially since a lot of people have smart phones that can take videos that can then be easily uploaded onto the Net nowadays. It is apparent that PNoy did not think about the capabilities of today’s technology.
The world has gotten smaller because we are all wired together. It could be PNoy’s age but his analysis of the problem is wrong. If there are no crimes to report, more “positive” news will be reported. Even the tourism marketing gimmickry propped up with the help of social media buckled under the weight of Netizens’ mockery of the ill-thought-out slogan “More Fun in the Philippines”.
The issue here is that PNoy’s government is relying too much on tourism to help our economy. If he’s going to put all his eggs in one basket, he needs to fix and clean the basket first. In other words, he needs to fix and clean the country to make it more tourist-friendly. No, he can’t blame the media entirely for the drop in tourist arrivals even though they played a huge role in the bungling of the Mendoza hostage crisis. There are other factors beyond the media’s rumor mongering that are involved. As former DOT secretary, Richard Gordon once said: “Tourism is a story, it’s not just ‘wow’ or ‘fun’, we have to justify it. The product should sell itself. We don’t want to advertise tapos pagdating dito, wala. We have to improve the country”.
Finally, I will end this with a famous quote from the excellent film, Doubt. It should cause us to reflect on the damaging effects of gossip:
A woman was gossiping with her friend about a man whom they hardly knew – I know none of you have ever done this. That night, she had a dream: a great hand appeared over her and pointed down on her. She was immediately seized with an overwhelming sense of guilt. The next day she went to confession. She got the old parish priest, Father O’ Rourke, and she told him the whole thing. ‘Is gossiping a sin?’ she asked the old man. ‘Was that God All Mighty’s hand pointing down at me? Should I ask for your absolution? Father, have I done something wrong?’ ‘Yes,’ Father O’ Rourke answered her. ‘Yes, you ignorant, badly-brought-up female. You have blamed false witness on your neighbor. You played fast and loose with his reputation, and you should be heartily ashamed.’ So, the woman said she was sorry, and asked for forgiveness. ‘Not so fast,’ says O’ Rourke. ‘I want you to go home, take a pillow upon your roof, cut it open with a knife, and return here to me.’ So, the woman went home: took a pillow off her bed, a knife from the drawer, went up the fire escape to her roof, and stabbed the pillow. Then she went back to the old parish priest as instructed. ‘Did you gut the pillow with a knife?’ he says. ‘Yes, Father.’ ‘And what were the results?’ ‘Feathers,’ she said. ‘Feathers?’ he repeated. ‘Feathers; everywhere, Father.’ ‘Now I want you to go back and gather up every last feather that flew out onto the wind,’ ‘Well,’ she said, ‘it can’t be done. I don’t know where they went. The wind took them all over.’ ‘And that,’ said Father O’ Rourke, ‘is gossip!’
In life, things are not always what they seem.