The Philippine province of Pangasinan continues to reel from the aftermath of a fatal scoop propagated by giant media conglomerate ABS-CBN through its tele-tabloid Bandila. The “scoop” involved reports that victims of a “terrible flesh-eating disease” were found in Pangasinan and that the disease as “prophesied” would engulf the rest of the planet and cause humanity hideous suffering.
The disturbing story immediately started a storm on Twitter, with the hashtag #PrayforPangasinan being the country’s top trending topic for most of the day, even long after the story was revealed by anxious provincial and Department of Health officials to be a complete hoax — the two victims (“two” being a rather small number for an epidemic of any sort) were immediately hospitalized after the story was aired by ABS-CBN, whereupon it was discovered the first, a young woman, was suffering from the combined effects of leprosy and an adverse reaction to some medication, whereas the male “victim” had nothing more than a severe case of psoriasis.
In the words of media watchdog Spin Busters, all scary stuff, yes, but “nothing beats a pandemic of reckless reporting.” Indeed, Philippine media folk may have likely killed more Filipinos from their armchairs than any of these imaginary outbreaks.
We only need to recall the appalling carnage in the 2010 massacre of nine Hong Kong tourists in Manila by gunman Rolando Mendoza. We have to thank the “heroics” of the Philippine Media for that. In their pursuit of lucrative scoops under the banner of their self-appointed role of “guardians of truth and freedom”, the Media played a pivotal role not only in triggering the fatal descent into chaos of Mendoza’s hostage drama but also provided the world with a front-row look into the banal ineptness that has come to be associated (now even more indelibly) with the word “Filipino”.
Media’s role in that massacre was fatal. Radio Mindanao Network anchor Jake Maderazo’s description of the job of a “reporter” as “an end in itself” illustrates the deadly attitude of Filipino journalists. Apparently this “job” comes first in any situation, even situations that endanger human lives. Pressed by Filipino-Chinese community representative Teresita Ang-See with the rhetorical statement “No profession should ever be more important than (saving) human lives and more important than showing what was happening inside (the bus)” to highlight the fatal role the Media played in the botched handling of the Mendoza hostage crisis, Maderazo only had this to say…
“That’s true, but it’s not our fault. We just did our job to report,” […]
Interestingly, the scripted words of Bandila mop-up newsreader Julius Babao following the flesh-eating germ fiasco as revealed by Spin Busters echoes this criminal attitude yet again: “Hindi po intensyon ng programang ito na manakot, kundi ilahad lamang ang mga nakalap naming impormasyon para mabigyan ng karampatang aksyon ng mga kinauukulan.” (Translated: “It was not our intention to scare people but to deliver to the public the information we gathered to spur the appropriate action”).
Any hope of an apology from ABS-CBN in the near future? We really shouldn’t hold our breath. It’s been four years since the Hong Kong tourist massacre and even as the Hong Kong government breathes down Filipinos’ necks as it waits for an apology from their government, nobody in Philippine Media, for their part, has owned up to any sort of accountability for the tragedy. No heads have rolled. No fines have been exacted. No media personality is in prison.
Hardly surprising then that the ABS-CBN Network remains silent on the national panic they have caused. No apologies have been issued. No heads have rolled. Nobody has been thrown in prison.
The days of Media self-adulation as “heroes” of the “people’s” right to information are over. Regardless of any “debate” around whether the death of eight Chinese foreign tourists or blatantly wrong “reporting” on the basis of sloppy research is Media’s fault or not is no longer relevant.
Public perception is the judge and jury today.
It is ironic that an industry that derived its power from a monopolistic control over public perception now finds itself stared down by the very perception it once played a key role in whipping up at its convenience.
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