(Following is what I delivered last November 6 at the 2004
NetOne International Media Congress. The Congress was held last November 4 - 7, 2004 in the Pope's summer residence at Castelgandolfo, Italy. Moderated by Alberto Barlocci, Director of Ciudad Nueva, the panel speakers were:
Fatima Roriz, Unit Director TV, Radio and Press, Jaime Camara (Brasile); Francesca Giordano, Journalist Spokesperson for the
Presidente of the Acli (Christian Workers Association) William 'Billy' Esposo, Opinion writer, Phil Daily Inquirer website (Philippines)
John Allen, Correspondent, The National Catholic Reporter (USA);
Thomas Klann, Photographer, NetOne video production (Germany))
THE Philippine example of People Power that toppled a dictator in 1986 and a corrupt president in 2001 proved that under the right ideals that can rally people to passionate activism, the mightiest authoritarian regimes can be toppled through united active non-violence. People Power debunked Mao Zedong's political dictum that power comes out of the barrel of a gun.
Yet despite these People Power events, Philippine society is far from:
Attaining social justice. There is an oligarchy that operates a semi-feudal structure where about 90% of the wealth is in the hands of 3% of Philippine society. There are two active rebellions in the Philippines - one a Communist insurgency and the other a Muslim separatist movement - that have been raging for over 30 years now.
Instituting real reforms. How can real reform come from political structures that the privileged 3% control and use to perpetuate their stranglehold on the economy and strengthen their political power?
Providing freedom for all. The top 3% enjoy much more freedom (and exclusive privileges) than the bottom 60% who live below the poverty line. The 60% living below the poverty line do not have a voice and they are mostly engaged in the fight for that freedom from want and hunger. Just days before we left Metro Manila, two members of a poor family died from food poisoning because they ate food taken from a restaurant's trash can - a common plight nowadays in Metro Manila.
In the days of the Marcos dictatorship, media were muzzled. Media in the Philippines today are officially free but not truly free to speak their mind or to promote the values that help improve lives and society. Media under the dictatorship were at least identified as muzzled and people did not trust or believe a muzzled media operating under a dictatorship.
But media today operate under the cloak of a free press when in truth they're for the most part an extension of the oppressive social structure operated by the oligarchy. Under today's media climate, few are aware that the media are part of the system of exploitation. Name a newspaper in Manila and very likely and for the most part we can tell you whose economic or political interest it protects.
And if not promoting selfish interests, Philippine media are also guilty of pandering to the gallery and serving the baser instincts instead of uplifting the information level of the Philippine public on matters that greatly affect them. The emphasis is on attracting an audience - ratings for TV and Radio and readership for Print - instead of the mission to inform people of what they have to know. One finds in the two top rating television newscasts an excessive use of showbiz tidbits that should be found in movie gossip programs. Who slept with a popular starlet takes precedence over who cheated and stole the last elections.
One of the reasons why Filipinos are disunited and at odds with each other is because many do not really know their history and do not understand the socio-economic forces that exploit them and conspire to keep them poor and ignorant.
History proved that even a known divided society like ours can be galvanized into greatness - and even inspire the world like our People Power events did - if there is a leadership that can raise the right standard every Filipino will rally to. Unity remains elusive in the Philippines because the ruling class benefits from disunity. The divide and rule dictum was perfected by the Roman Caesars and today that is applied with optimum efficiency to exploit the Filipinos.
Philippine media is placed right in the center of this national condition. Philippine media can enlighten and uplift or allow the oppressive structures to continue by not exposing and challenging it. Media can opt to promote a national consensus that in turn will foster unity or it can allow itself to be a tool of the Philippine Caesars who want to divide and rule and exploit the people. Philippine media, therefore, is a part of the Philippine problem but can also be the key to providing the solution.
In my columns, I have made it a point:
1. To inject historical background in my analysis of current events especially when the current event or situation is a recurrence of a previous historical episode featuring the exploiter and the exploited.
2. To enlighten the Philippine public on who their real friends are and who are these so-called champions whose real agenda is purely selfish.
3. To promote the best points of the national character.
Transforming Philippine media to be more attuned towards propagating values that help the country and for the people to unite under a national banner will need to be addressed from many levels, as follows:
The message crafters
The people who craft the message have to re-gear their orientation from Good News Does Not Sell As Well As Bad News to one of Good News Can Sell As Well, If Not Better, Than Bad News. The message makers must recognize this fact and allow values, good experiences, and so forth to be given equal prominence.
Unfortunately for Philippine media, the few who know how to sell good news are found in the business, sports, entertainment and society sections. Those who are assigned to the news that land on the front page are geared towards writing sensational Doom and Gloom stories. The irony of the situation is there are more people who follow the business, sports, entertainment and society sections than those who bother to read the news or the opinion makers - a fact confirmed by the INQ7.NET where I write. So it is not because there is no market for good news but a lack of good marketers of good news.
Also, media reporting must identify the positive aspects in what is seemingly bad news. The public deserves to be informed of what good opportunities there are behind bad news.
The media patrons
It cannot be ignored that the reality of media being largely owned by vested interests in the Philippines is what prevents media from fully pursuing what may be perceived as the more noble tasks of the profession. The Golden Rule in this case became an aberration to one of He Who Has The Gold Rules. The long term solution in freeing media in order to be rid of its narrow agenda (promoting the personal interests of its owners) is to promote broader ownership and discourage political interests from being involved in media. Unfortunately, there is a very small middle class and the big business community who can afford to buy media companies will tend to also promote their own selfish agenda.
At the same time, with the cooperation of the more responsible members of the media profession and the academe, a more critical public must be developed. The public who patronize media must learn to discern if they are being given a fair reporting of the news and register their displeasure if media does not perform a professional job.
Marketing history teaches us that demanding consumers get the best products and cheapest prices.
More focused media organizations and groups
There are press clubs and press institutes but these are hardly addressing the bigger problems of media. Most of the time, we find that these organizations are social clubs of media people that delve on the often petty squabbles involving its members. What is needed is for a new and more focused group to be formed so that the proper standards can be set and promoted.
The NetOne group could well be the start of such a media support group. Good seeds bear good fruits in the hands of good farmers. Media must be encouraged to be the light of the nation and not to be the torch that will burn the national house down.