Take stock of the landscape of “thought leaders” in Philippine society and a large proportion of these would consist of so-called “journalists”. To be fair, this is a profession of people who are in their element writing stuff. But by no means are “good writers” connected with big media brands entitled to monopolise an important space where essential information to support continuous improvement in society is disseminated and exchanged. The trouble is, the media industry are dishonestly leading people to believe that only their community are qualified to compete in that space.
In the last several years since social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter have started eating into the mass media market that Big Corporate Media have once monopolised, members of the “journalism” industry have been fighting a desperate battle to save their collective hides. Their livelihoods and social status are now under threat as they find themselves competing for an audience with a multitude of alternatives — people, communities, and businesses who have applied lots of savvy exploiting the now-democratised mass-media space. As such, they had gone as far as campaigning to discredit these alternatives as “fake news” and to extol the virtues of the “journalism” profession and industry that subjects its practitioners to “editorial oversight”.
One particularly dishonest approach the mainstream had taken was to fashion their lot into celebrities. “If a journalist says so, then it must be right.” More disturbing: “If a famous journalist says so, it is gospel.” That is what the industry is trying to drum into people’s heads in the hope of marginalising or even discrediting the community of communicators that are giving the journalism establishment a run for their money. This is the mainstream media applying Brand Management 101 to promoting its products — basically telling people to defer to branding and not to their own better judgments to critically evaluate what these “journalists” are telling them.
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Most distubring of all is how Big Corporate Media have made themselves the news. The entire landscape of chatter surrounding “fake news” is itself hinged on the obsolete idea that mainstream media is de facto the “news”. “Fake news” is being framed as the villain and mainstream traditional news channels as the protagonists in a so-called “war versus disinformation”. This “war” is a convenient vehicle for what is effectively a PR campaign to shore up a dying industry.
The question people need to ask of traditional media is a simple one:
Is it still your mission to inform the people?
Clearly, traditional media businesses and practitioners are overdue for some deep introspection. Peter Vanderwicken who was a journalist at Time, Fortune, and the Wall Street Journal in his article “Why the News Is Not the Truth” published on the Harvard Business Review in 1995 wrote…
One consequence of the prevalence of propaganda in the press is that the public’s confidence in all institutions gradually erodes. As people begin to realize that they are being misled, manipulated, and lied to, they resent it. From 1973 to 1993, only Congress fell further in public esteem than the press, according to surveys of public confidence by the University of Michigan. The decline in confidence reflects a widening feeling that the news media are contentious, unfair, inaccurate, and under the thumb of powerful institutions, a 1989 survey by Gallup for the Times-Mirror Center for the People and the Press concluded.
Vanderbilt also cites fellow journalist Paul H. Weaver’s central thesis in his analysis News and the Culture of Lying: How Journalism Really Works which asserts…
Journalists need crises to dramatize news, and government officials need to appear to be responding to crises. Too often, the crises are not really crises but joint fabrications. The two institutions have become so ensnared in a symbiotic web of lies that the news media are unable to tell the public what is true and the government is unable to govern effectively.
Quite prescient considering these were all written in 1995 — when blogging was in its infancy and long before the advent of social media and the opening of mass communication to anyone with access to the Internet. Back then some scholars were already seeing the beginnings of the news media industry’s crisis of credibility — a crisis that would explode over the first two decades of the 21st Century and see their members flailing for survival. Unfortunately, rather than turn outward and embrace change, Big Corporate Media have turned inward, foolishly dismissed the competition (going as far as painting them as incompetent villains), turned their industry into a circus show, and got even cosier with politicians and traditional “activists”. Indeed, the latter two were their biggest undoing as these two — politicians and “activists” — increasingly became the objects of public cynicism.
Evidently, traditional media had already gone into a fatal downward spiral way before “fake news” was engineered by their industry powers-that-be into the outrage fad that it is today. The result of their desperate gasps for air as they sink into irrelevance is a sad further graying of the line between “news” and entertainment. Scrounging for molehills to make mountains of has only made the business of news “reporting” more akin to an entertainment venture and moves it further away from being the sincere informer of people (or “truth teller”) its captains would like to be perceived as. Most susceptible to the cancer that “journalism” had become are Filipinos who, like their American counterparts, are easily starstruck by celebrity. Business Sense 101 therefore dictates that to capture this market even the “news” needs to be cast with branded stars. This is the state of “journalism” in the Philippines today. That’s Entertainment. It’s a dangerous poison unleashed in a country that scores the lowest in global reading comprehension faculties and one where, in a time of pandemic, staying abreast with the right information is a matter of life-and-death.
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