Following the apparent death of the Freedom of Information (FOI) bill due to certain technicalities and delays (which are, interestingly, totally absent during the governmentâ€™s relentless assault towards former Chief Justice Renato Corona), President Benigno Simeon â€œPNoyâ€ Aquino III attempts to sidetrack the tension caused by his administrationâ€™s neglect by once again raising the issue of balanced, fair and objective journalism.
The president spazzing out at journalists apparently painting the Philippines in a consistently bad light is nothing new. And now, he took the liberty of refreshing our memory on how embittered he is about the way the media portrays his utopian kingdom.
In a speech he delivered during the 38th top level management conference of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas in Tagaytay City, Aquino stressed the importance of reporting positive stories and not just negative ones.
He said Filipinos and the country would benefit from truthful, balanced, and complete reporting, which essentially is something similar to his principles on issues about the media and the public like his favorable view on the right of reply.
PNoy has also expressed support for the Right of Reply, which is pushed by lawmakers to be included in the proposed FOI bill. Why he supports only a part of the prospective bill, which he, incidentally, will benefit hugely from, instead of supporting the billâ€™s entirety is a matter of, shall we say, mystery.
One thing is for certain, however; the presidentâ€™s penchant for throwing tantrums when he doesnâ€™t hear the things he want to hear, while dragging the people to his sentiments. Again and again, we have heard PNoy complaining about negative news filling up national television.
In the earlier part of his speech, Aquino said that he had observed that the media had the tendency of reporting mostly negative news.
“Sa karanasan ko po, tila ba nakasanayan na ng media ang mapaulan ng batikos sa mga lumalabas na balita. Allergic po yata ang iba sa good news-kundi man iiwasan ang mga ito, ay hahanapan naman nila ng masamang anggulo,” he said.
[In my experience, it appears that the media have gotten used to issuing a lot of criticisms on the news that comes out. It seems that some of them are allergic to good news-if they don’t avoid it, they look for the negative angle of a story.]
He said that as purveyors of truth, the media’s responsibility is to present both sides of the story from specific and verified sources.
“Bilang mga alagad ng katotohanan, ang responsibilidad po ng mga mamamahayag ay ilatag ang dalawang panig ng anumang kwento mula sa tiyak at beripikado nitong pinagmulan,” said Aquino.
He proceeds to highlight the apparent importance of presenting â€œbalancedâ€ news, claiming that the average Juan will be enticed to join the efforts towards a better Philippines, and that the capacity of the citizenry to form their own opinions will be given importance. Well, isnâ€™t it dandy? The benefits of these â€œbalancedâ€ news sound like music to oneâ€™s ears. If only we know exactly what he means by â€œbalanced.â€
Really, how can news be called â€œbalancedâ€? What are the specific parameters to quantify the balance of journalism? Alas, PNoy withholds the sacred answers from our insatiable curiosity. But letâ€™s try to play along, for the sake of the argument. A crude response to such queries would be; if enough positive news coexists with negative ones in a consistent manner.
But this leads to another couple of questions; what is â€œenoughâ€? Should the number of good news match that of the bad news? How can you even do that? But perhaps, PNoy meant that journalists should present both sides of a news article; the good and the bad. That warrants another question; to what extent? Should journalists search for a positive side about a murder or theft? What is the scope of this provision?
But then again, maybe PNoy is not really concerned with the crude quantity of good news, but with the quality and the â€œbignessâ€ of the news. Like, say, the news saying that Philippines is an emerging Asian Tiger!
Visiting Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper called the Philippines yesterday as an â€œemerging Asian tigerâ€ as he thanked President Benigno S. Aquino III for inviting him to visit the country which was last visited by a Canadian leader 15 years ago.
Ooooooh, sweet news. The Philippines is starting to get it on with foreign investors, like the current Asian Tigers! Good news, good news. We need more of this stuff! But then:
President Benigno S. Aquino III has signed Executive Order No. 98 to expand the investment areas and economic activities reserved to Philippine nationals under the 9th Regular Foreign Investment Negative list, Executive Secretary Paquito N. Ochoa Jr. announced on Friday.
…which kind of defeats the requirement of being an Asian Tiger, which is to establish a market setup more conducive to budding foreign investors. But seriously, we canâ€™t worry about that, can we? This is good news weâ€™ve got on our hands. Letâ€™s see, what else can we find? Oh, hereâ€™s another one; the part where the Philippines is called an â€œemerging Asian Tiger!â€ And thereâ€™s another one about the Philippines being an emergent Asian Tiger!
There just isnâ€™t enough big good news to keep up with the presidentâ€™s frenzied desire to beautify the image of the Philippines through media. And itâ€™s not the journalistsâ€™ fault to begin with. How can journalists publish good news to match bad news when there just isnâ€™t enough? Should they start withholding the publication of more negative news? Isnâ€™t that intellectual dishonesty? Should they repeatedly bombard the people with this dubious Asian Tiger tagline which somehow found its way to the name of our country? Isnâ€™t that more like propaganda now?
The president claimed that journalists do not have to worry about the Right of Reply bill, provided they observe fair and balanced reporting. But how can a journalist feel safe when he/she isnâ€™t even aware of how the president defines â€œfairâ€ or â€œbalancedâ€ or “complete”? Devoid of an objective and systematically defined standard, how can you be sure youâ€™re not violating the law of the land?
What should the journalists do, PNoy, so that they wonâ€™t suffer your wrath? What should they exactly do so that they wonâ€™t meet their doom in your hands?
Alas, our president is mystical and cryptic. Ever since his ascendance to presidency, PNoy only hints us towards the straight path (the notion of which is by itself also vague), guiding us with his unfathomable wisdom. What does PNoy mean by â€œjudicial reformâ€? We can only but put our faith in him. Where does the â€œstraight pathâ€ lead to? We can only but believe.
Maybe, just maybe, the president should consider keeping his nose out of what journalists write and focus more on actually making the good news; settling the issue of the FOI bill, fixing the contradictory nature of our economy as â€œhospitableâ€ to foreign investors yet expanding the negative list to serve as a â€œguide,â€ and generally not being a total jerk.
Until then, journalists would do well to tread softly on these dangerous waters, lest they incur the wrath of our equality-crazed president.
A thought just occurred to me; what if the reason we donâ€™t run out of bad news is because PNoy himself is the bad news? Uh-oh, gotta find a positive side about this one.