The China executions revealed serious Philippine media flaws
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2011-02-27
The recent OFW (overseas Foreign worker) issues specifically the deferred China executions of Filipino drug mules underscored what convinces some people that Philippine media are one of the causes why we as a country cannot get our act together.

I will be the last to want to have any form of media censorship or prior restraint. However, it is one thing to have a free press and another to have an irresponsible press. When we consider the big Information Gap in our country — one of the foundations of the big Philippine Wealth Gap — that reflects how our media had failed miserably.   

Having demonstrated the most glaring example of questionable editorial judgment and reporting, we cite the recent case of ABS-CBN, the network that claims to be the most trusted.

Let’s dissect the ABS-CBN coverage of the China executions from February 11 up to February 21, as follows:

1. Last February 11, TV Patrol aired the plight of three Filipino drug mules in China who were about to be executed starting February 21. They even named one of the three OFWs despite orders from our Department of Foreign Affairs (DFA) not do so until cleared by them. The TV Patrol reporting of this episode creates the impression that the OFWs were the victims of government neglect instead of crimes that they had committed. It was a melodrama where friends and kin of the OFWs were claiming innocence.

2. On the week of February 14 to 18, when it became obvious that government was not lacking in earnest efforts to address the scheduled executions in China and after Vice President Jojo Binay managed to get a deferment of the executions, the ABS-CBN slant shifted to speculating on what the government conceded to China in order to get the deferment of execution.

3. During the TV Patrol episodes of these dates, the network ran an online TEXT POLL to gauge how Filipinos felt about the death sentences of the three OFWs in China. By an overwhelming margin, those who responded felt that the three Filipino drug mules in China deserved the sentences that they received.

4. In highlighting the hopelessness of the three OFWs in China, the network kept saying that China had denied similar requests from the British and Japanese governments for its nationals who were meted the same death sentence for drug trafficking.

Following is where I think the network should have been more circumspect:

1. It was unfair to give the impression which the February 11 TV Patrol “melodrama” created — that the government has been remiss in trying to soften China’s position. The fact is President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) even brought this matter up with China’s top official in a recent international meeting. There was even speculation that this was part of the Philippine boycott of the Nobel event in Oslo, out of deference to China. The fact is the DFA has been making representations and helping the convicted OFWs.

2. Perhaps owing to what can be considered a Filipino national inferiority complex, the mission to prevent the executions was made to appear like an impossible dream — citing how China refused to accommodate similar requests from the British and the Japanese. Nobody ever considered that in this issue, we Filipinos have distinct advantages over the British and Japanese. The Chinese have not forgotten the British role in the Opium Wars and the quashing of the Boxer Rebellion which triggered decades of turmoil in China. The Chinese have also not forgotten Japanese atrocities in China during World War II. We do not have such a baggage.

3. It was rather dense of media not to have detected the signs that a positive note was in the air after P-Noy boldly stated that the executions will test the limits of Philippine-China relations and after Vice President Binay was given the signal to proceed to China. I was not surprised when VP Jojo Binay immediately got a deferment but it seems that everybody else in media here were stunned.

In one of the ABS-CBN telecasts, it was even mentioned that the P-Noy government may have surrendered to China our claims to the oil-rich Spratlys, just to have that deferment. That was baseless just as it was stupid. Why will P-Noy cede something as valuable as the Spratlys to China when it is very clear that Filipinos do not blame the government for the death sentences of the three OFWs? Do you see the son of Ninoy and Cory Aquino doing that?

A top Asian diplomat I met last February 21 at the book launch of Ambassador (to ASEAN) Menito Villacorta provided a very good insight to why China allowed a deferment. This top Asian diplomat represents a country with extensive dealings with China over several centuries.

His take on China’s favorable decision to defer the executions was that it China’s way of balancing recent hard line positions that they have taken against the P-Noy government, especially after the August 23, 2010 Manila Hostage Crisis. China, he explained, has a keen interest in the Philippines and would not want to push P-Noy into the exclusive embrace of the US.

I think P-Noy knew this which is why he was so bold to state that the executions will test the limits of Philippine-China relations. He did not have to concede anything like the Spratlys to China. China would have been happy if we did not allow the US to establish an offensive military capability in Mindanao and other parts of our country which can be used against China. It is also for our own good that the US does not get to establish that offensive military capability here lest we become the ground zero of a US-China conflict.

Up to the mid-1980s, television newscasts did not adopt this format which I call the “tabloidization” of the TV news. In pursuit of bigger ratings and therefore ad revenue, it was decided to pattern the TV news after the high circulating tabloids. That means putting too much weight on showbiz, crime, melodrama and scandal.

Television being the highest source of news now, are you surprised that we are suffering from a serious Information Gap?

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