One would think that, in an industry where creativity and originality are critical competitive edges to succeed, certain people would have learnt by now that it is important that messaging be continuously tested, evaluated, and tweaked for effectiveness. Not the Inquirer Editor though as is evident in the latest of his Op-Ed pieces making a case for embattled mega media corporation ABS-CBN.
…the President’s actions have been described as an assault on the freedom of the press. As many quarters have warned, such threats would have a chilling effect on other media outlets…
“Assault on press freedom”
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Indeed, ABS-CBN is in trouble and unoriginal obsolete copy used in messaging meant to prop up its plight certainly won’t help it. Its franchise to operate in broadcast media is expiring in March this year and it seems that neither Congress nor Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte is in any mood to renew its license. And so, as the Inquirer Editor’s thinking goes, the demise of the venerable media behemoth is expected to send chills up the spines of the Philippines’ top media execs including, presumably, those of the Inquirer. This is because, we are told, the series of events constitute no less than “an attack on press freedom” which has, wait for it, a “chilling effect” on the media industry and profession.
Fair enough. But the Inquirer saying so is like a barber telling you that you need a haircut. What Filipinos need is a second opinion from disinterested third parties. The Inquirer reporting — or opining, as the case may be — on its own industry, in short, is a conflict of interest on one front. The second front that makes the Inquirer a non-credible commentator on the “plight” of ABS-CBN is that both it and ABS-CBN have long ago been discredited as objective purveyors of unbiased news. Both, after all, are direct beneficiaries of the rise to power of the Aquino-Cojuangco clan in the 1980s and had remained consistent in keeping to paying off their debt of gratitude to the family. That’s not even mentioning the substandard “journalism” they had historically served to their Filipino readers and audience and, in the case of ABS-CBN, the retarded programming that passes off as “entertainment” it pumps into theatres and Filipinos’ media devices.
Under that light, the question…
What exactly are Filipinos losing if ABS-CBN disappears?
…becomes more pertinent.
It seems members of the little chi chi clique of “media practitioners” that presume to represent all media practitioners give a bit too much credit and gravitas to ABS-CBN in trying to convince us that its demise spells the beginning of the end of dynamism and competition in the Philippines’ media landscape. Ironically, it is fellow “press freedom” crusader-at-arms Rappler CEO Maria Ressa who had proven that this is a ridiculous notion at best. Ressa had, in the last several years, been quite successful at rallying a who’s-who and a what’s what of Western media personalities and organisations to her cause which is, get this, to trumpet the “chilling effect” of the “assault on press freedom” supposedly being perpetrated by the Duterte “regime” against her and her Rapplerettes. Who needs, ABS-CBN News when we’ve got chi chi New York Times and the Sydney Morning Herald to take up the slack “holding the line”, right Ms Ressa?
The most notable omission of the Inquirer Editor and the Big Media execs who take up the quaint cause of overcoming their chills and fighting the “evil” forces’ “assault on press freedom” is the fact of the existence of the Internet and its popular app, social media. While it may be true that there is a lot of “fake news” out there (whatever way it is defined) to winnow out, it cannot be said that this landscape is unfree. Far from it, just like democracy and its habit of allowing the popular but unsound equal shot at competing with the unpopular but (supposedly) sensible, the Net is a vast playing field upon which a free market of ideas thrives. Perhaps, as media execs lament, this revealed a profound immaturity — even foolishness — in the way people consume information, but that’s not too different from the same consumer immaturity evident in more traditional free markets like the retail industry and the human insanity on show in its infamous “Black Friday” sales.
There are, of course, items traded in the retail industry that are highly-regulated or taxed (or both) — like cigarettes, poisons, bladed tools, alcohol, and medicines to cite a few. Some are even outright banned in the industry — like narcotics and firearms. Yet there are items that remain popular but widely seen to be harmful, specially to the undiscerning amongst us, that remain fully accessible in grocery shelves and 7-11s — sweetened food, instant noodles, soft drinks, and cheap Chinese toys and trinkets to name a few. Indeed, within the retail industry, enough products are on sale that give consumers freedom to be dumb and unhealthy. Why not in the media space then?
The question around how to regulate “media freedom” cannot be resolved in a single article or within a single year. But the conversation needs to continue amongst the right parties. The participation of Big Corporate Media in this conversation is important, but they are not the only stakeholders in the media landscape. As such, they should not be allowed to lead any media “cause”, monopolise the conversation, or be given sole license to judge what is good, bad, true, or false information. More importantly, it should be recognised that no player, no matter how big, is too precious to fail. This is the confronting fact ABS-CBN need to face and one that the Inquirer Editor should consider as context when issuing his opinion on the matter.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.