Traditional media: the single biggest roadblock to efforts to ‘educate’ Filipino voters

What is really the crux of any effort to ‘educate’ Filipino voters? To design a solution you need to clearly define the problem. And for us to clearly define a problem, we need to understand its true nature by taking stock of the situation that surrounds it.

voter_education_philippinesMuch of the initiatives that aim to “educate” Filipino voters come from influential people who shape the Philippine National “Debate”. So a good starting point is to reflect upon the quality of this debate. Way back in 2000, an “admired Filipino economist, based in New York” hit upon what has remained a consistent and enduring characterisation of the quality of discourse in the Philippines. “What ails the country is that Philippine society is intellectually bankrupt.” she “dolefully intoned.”

“They are droll and unintelligent, focused on the trivial or the irrelevant.” When the issues are of some significance, it’s the wrong arguments that prevail, the wrong side wins. Logic and common sense take the backseat to political arguments and the views of the poorly-educated. There seems to be some bases for her disenchantment.

Consider the EDSA People Power TV debate during its last anniversary celebration: “Is the People Power revolution still meaningful?” The TV audience voted it was no longer meaningful! And the winning argument articulated by a former Marcos’ boy was: “Are you better off now after EDSA People Power?” as if the one magical event in the world’s struggle for freedom in which the Filipinos were the acclaimed heroes had something to do with the contour of the stomach, instead of the shaping of the soul.

Her conclusion, groundbreaking at the time, is now a widely-accepted given in any discussion about Filipino culture…

There’s a weird culture in our midst: our jocular regard for our national problems, great crimes, villainous scams and calamities. Note that Filipinos are notorious for making fun, creating a joke of their misfortunes. The cellulars are full of them now. In other countries inhabited by serious and sensitive people, they mount crusades, indignation rallies or nationwide relief campaigns to meet such crises. They would weep or stomp their feet, or explode in anger, or demand punishment for the criminals or misfits. Here we tend to laugh at scams, crimes and natural calamities, as if they are part of the usual TV noon comedy shows, the Pinoy’s daily diet.

It’s very hard to be intellectual if you aren’t serious. And so far the clear evidence is that we are not a serious people. Worse, we don’t like to think.

And so:

HYPOTHESIS: Filipinos suffer from an acute stunting of mental faculties when it comes to evaluating relevance, maintaining a serious regard for sorting out the issues and remain imprisoned by their petty politics.

It does not take a rocket scientist to test the validity of this hypothesis.

* * *

Relevance

The Inquirer editor encapsulated the the essential skill Filipino voters need to acquire to earn their right to be called real participants in a true democracy — an ability to “separate substance from form, real issues from easy palliatives”.

Unfortunately politicians on the campaign trail are the true experts when it comes to making themselves relevant to voters, by giving to them the only tangible thing that makes their wretched lives worth living — entertainment. Indeed, an ability to draw crowds the same way German Moreno would is what is considered to be a “successful” campaign by the Philippines’ most revered “thought leaders.” In the recently-concluded circus brought by “Team PNoy” to northern Mindanao, for example, “social news network” site Rappler reported how “thousands of voters responded enthusiastically to questions of candidates on stage and swayed with the jingles of the senatorial bets booming from the speakers.”

Seriousness

The star of that song-and-dance, according to “reporter” Natashya Gutierrez was “senatoriable” Koko Pimentel who “enthralled his hometown and added to the lively spirits by singing to the crowd.” The jubilant Pimentel explains to Gutierrez in an interview following the event, “I want them to be inspired.” The report’s conclusion was quite simple. “The crowd lapped it up.” That pretty much answered the rhetorical question that was the piece’s title: “Is Northern Mindanao in the bag for Koko?”

Seriously?!

Politicization

Hold on… It seems the admired New York-based economist, had it wrong when she said “[logic] and common sense take the backseat to political arguments and the views of the poorly-educated”. Rappler reporters are, after all, supposedly anything but poorly-educated!

The perils of beholdenness to formal education nga naman talaga. Yale, right?

But that’s just the way it is in Da Pinas. Everything is politicised — specially during the elections. So in an exercise such as the 2013 elections, you can’t take the politics out of the real issues. And so the real issues will never be regarded without the politically-motivated intermediaries that colour them.

To begin with, the country’s “noble” mass disseminators of information are imprisoned by the politics of their owners. New-comer Rappler and the way its self-appointed “thought leaders” take their cue from its shadowy cadre of shareholders is a no-brainer of an example and a clear write-off when subject to the criteria of objectivity. Let’s not even get started with the ABS-CBN mafia…

* * *

The problem statement to frame the effort to “educate” voters, in light of all this, crystallises thus:

PROBLEM: How do we motivate voters to regard the issues from an apolitical perspective?

Defined this way, it is easy to see how media outlets like Rappler are anathaema to political maturity and an affront to the voter education effort. How can any “voter education” initiative succeed when it is up against the Goliath that is mainstream media and “social news networks” under the control of shadowy shareholders?

The first step in solving a problem is getting a realistic idea of just how untenable it is. Not to worry though. Just think outside the square and you will find that there really is only one thing (albeit a gigantic one) that stands in the way of us seeing a more enlightened Filipino public. It is the one — ironically revered — institution that purposely miseducates the Filipino people: Philippine Mainstream Media. In my book, I cited the prescient words of the venerable Isagani Cruz in a 2006 Inquirer article…

Benjamin Franklin said that if the people misuse their suffrages, the remedy is not to withdraw the precious privilege from them but to teach them in its proper use. The entertainment industry, which has the most available access to the [Filipino] people through the movies, television, radio and the tabloids, is instead purposely miseducating them.

The Philippine entertainment industry is not only a vast wasteland, as television has been described in America, but a vicious instrument for the abatement of the nation’s intelligence. The shows it offers for the supposed recreation of the people are generally vulgar and smutty, usually with some little moral lesson inserted to make them look respectable, but offensive nonetheless. On the whole, they are obnoxious and unwholesome and deserve to be trashed.

The indiscriminate audience eagerly laps them up because it has not been taught to be selective and more demanding of better quality shows for their pastime. In fact, the easily satisfied fans have been taught the exact opposite reaction — to accept whatever garbage the industry offers them and, to add insult to their injury, to pay for it too.

The leaders of the entertainment industry are supposed to be responsible people but they have evaded their duty to elevate the taste of their mostly unthinking supporters. They have instead cheapened them into a mass of automated individuals whose ultimate joy is to roll up in the aisles at the lewd jokes of potential senators.

Thus the way forward becomes obvious:

Filipinos need to dismantle and restructure the country’s traditional information dissemination infrastructure.

Think about it. Traditional media is to voter education as the jeepney is to modern and efficient mass transit. Purging Philippine streets of the jeepney has always been seen as an impossible solution. Yet it is the obvious one. Same principle applies here.

As Albert Einstein was said to have said:

You cannot solve problems using the same thinking that created them.

The solutions are obvious.

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7 Comments on “Traditional media: the single biggest roadblock to efforts to ‘educate’ Filipino voters”

  1. Given the very poor access to the Internet (and the fact that every internet cafe I have been into in the Philippines is full of people playing games, not reading news coverage) Rappler is really only relevant to expatriate Filipino voters and to the quite small middle class.

    Politics is really a matter for television and the tabloids.

  2. We can educate somebody all we want. But if their values do not respond to what we are educating them on then it may all be a waste of time. What I find amazing is the description given by the admired Filipino economist describes the Philippines back in 2000. Thirteen years later there is zero progress if not a regression. So once again I ask someone to explain Filipino pride to me. We are proud to be dimwits?

  3. If you do not have even the nucleus of an intelligensia, inquiring and challenging minds in universities, international and reknowned professors,independent and investigative journalists in the media, or people with intellect and integrity in politics, then there is little hope of change. And the 2013 mid term elections with a plethora of dynasties, comelec fraud, campaign violations, and a fiesta approach to the whole process tends to suggest things are actually getting worse and a few good men will not stop a runaway juggernaut.

    It will never be bottom up. The poor are too busy working/surviving so their horizons understandably do not stretch beyond karaoke, cockfighting, or internet games for the more ‘educated’. So, if there is not the will to change from the higher stratas, or a focus on the right role-models then there is obviously a heavy political, economic, and social price to pay.
    The media in mind are public enemy no 1, in terms of readily abdicating their responsibilities. Token gestures are just that.

    Nothing summarises in my mind the absurdity of the ‘political sytem’ and election process than the farce unfolding in sarangani.
    Manny pacquaio is running unopposed for another term as congressman, despite doing nothing, and rarely even bothering to attend.
    But wait – it gets worse -. His wife jinkee is running as vice-governor. All i can say is WTF!!
    It will be an interesting insight into the mentality of voters since she is running against a prime candidate. Professor villamor – local boy from poor family who studied and worked hard. Spent 10 years in japan and returned to open a technical college in gensan. Sounds good, but will it stack up against jinkees strategy of showing kris aquino around their recently built 2nd multi million peso mansion. If she gets elected then maybe education could be classified as ‘pearls before swine.’
    To complete the new order and demonstrate that dynasties are far from dead – manny’s brother rogelio is running as congressman for cotabato, and sister in law lorelei as barangay chairwoman. A future dynasty dawns.

    In a country of 95 million, you can count the number of active inquiring websites, irrespective of political persuasion, on the fingers of both hands – maybe even 1 hand after the cybercrime law eventually passes! Anotger indication that there is no interest in debate or discussion, just propaganda and ‘good news’

    The bad news is that it will get worse before it gets better,

  4. Such a shame and waste of her educational talent for someone like Natashya Gutierrez I’m sure all that ethics she learned from Yale were all thrown out the door once she worked for Rappler which is essentially just a sugar coated version of ABS CBN kuno daw for objective reporting.

  5. Filpinos are passive lot. The media’s timid ways to looking how to curb if not tackle corruption is visibly one of fear. I’d rather use the word fear than bought. There are no serious investigative programs like the 60Minutes in the U.S. in cooperation with the enforecement when crime of any sort appears to have been committed. Those in power in the Philippines have that bravado of impugnity because they are friends of those in the position to look the other way. Or explain them away. So, the rule of law seems meaningless often than not. I’vebeen wondering for so long why, Veep Binay wanted that position at the DILG? Such agency that explains why so many crooked politcians’ violations of law while in office are seldom booked or sent to jail. When an FBI in the States opens a file, it almost always results to an indicment and eventually a conviction whether served or paroled. Mahirap gisinging yong nag tulog-tulogan just as di makahuli ang NBI and police pag nag bulag-bulagan often in exchange for some of value. The key to tackling corruption is stern enforcement, fair enforcement and zero – tolerance enforcement. In the states, whe na motorist is deemend to drunk is arrested and processed magtters not his position in the government or society. In the Philipppines, the cops even drive the motorist home sensing for fat tip if the drunk happens to be wealthy or rich.

  6. The “biggest roadblock” is government corruption leading to less funding for public education. Also, the same “weird culture” can be seen elsewhere, such as the U.S.

  7. What will happen if the Comelec ban the use of celebrities for election campaign? For one, who needs to be entertained in the event of Election that could make or break this country?

    Since everything gets out of hand during campaign season and the stage for platform discussion becomes a stage play, the seriousness on minding why to vote who take a backseat. And just so the people will feel accountable on the candidates’ performance after the election, they themselves should be debating the running parties on what they’ve done and what else they will do. The lack of aggressiveness to be a contributor and an inquiring body turn them into mere spectator with “let’s just get this over with” attitude or worst a mere “tuta ng politiko”.

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