Normally, an opinion maker like your Chair Wrecker would be in the frontlines defending press freedom be it physical threats against the journalists, undue pressures from certain political or economic interests, or the bribery that destroys the soul of the crusading writer.
However, when larger national interests are negatively affected by what are deemed as bad, at times irresponsible and counterproductive media practices — that is a time when we need to consider the creation of a system of check and balance that will ensure that media will operate under the highest standards of our profession. Many times in the past, your Chair Wrecker had called to task our media for propagating the Information Gap in our country. This Information Gap serves the interests of the oligarchs, power brokers and foreign powers in exploiting clueless Filipinos.
President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) has basis for complaining about the media reporting his administration has been getting. Television, some committed to the “tabloidization” of their newscasts, has this penchant for melodrama which tends to provoke emotion to rule over reason. Proper context and perspectives to important issues are lost because of the addiction to melodrama. A leading TV network is so deeply immersed in this undertaking that one gets the impression they really believe that they’re the government which can solve the people’s problems.
There is really too much emphasis on negative aspects, of what are mostly mere speculations. Too much credence is given to the shallowest documentary evidence to a suspected wrongdoing. Speculation and insufficient evidence receive so much media attention that one could easily get the impression that P-Noy has abandoned his promise of DAANG TUWID (the straight path), which is not the case.
Of course, many of these unfounded accusations of official wrongdoing are instigations of parties seeking to undermine the administration or remove certain key administration officials. The recent accusation that Executive Secretary Jojo Ochoa owns an estimated P40-million mansion being constructed in a posh Quezon City subdivision played in a TV network known for patronizing the Balay faction which has been gunning for the head of Jojo Ochoa. No other TV network picked up that story — a sure sign that it was baseless.
Unheralded, amidst all the negativism, are the bold strides the P-Noy administration has taken to implement meaningful reforms. The K + 12 Education Program, the Conditional Cash Transfers and the Universal Health Care Plan are sterling examples of reform policies that will decisively address the poverty situation. Balance, desperately needed if we are to attract investors and progress, is very much lacking in many of our media.
We’re not even asking for the “overly positive” media reporting that one finds in China and Singapore. We’re only asking for balance — communicate the positive along with the negative developments. Come to think of it, if “overly positive” media reporting can be proved to be behind the economic successes of China and Singapore, it may not be as repulsive as what some of our press freedom advocates are suggesting.
P-Noy struck a raw nerve during his February 17 address to the AdBoard. He said: “As we induct the new set of officers of the AdBoard, I am sure you recognize the incredible power you have to influence what people see, what people hear, and what people believe. I know that you have heard this before, but let me renew the call for you to consider using this power for more than just commercial purposes. I understand that advertising is commerce, but the decisions of where to advertise can also be used to encourage responsible corporate behavior and improve the level of discourse in our country. Instead of just cost per thousand, why not add other criteria? Does the program where you are placing your advertisement promote the values of good citizenship? Does the network or newspaper that receives your placements uphold truth and fairness?”
P-Noy added: “Our administration has been promoting good governance, and has been highlighting the importance of transparency and accountability. We are working overtime to shed daylight on the country, and you can help by encouraging media to police its own ranks, and to provide clarity to issues. Needless to say, the marketing communications sector can help promote a trustworthy, transparent relationship between the government, and the Filipino people.”
Indeed, if there can be a counter balance to substandard and irresponsible media — those are the advertisers, the people who own San Miguel Beer, Smart, Globe, Nido, Milo, Joy, Downy, Head and Shoulders, Tide and so forth. Actually, this imposition of an editorial standard by advertisers which P-Noy suggested is already being practiced. Advertisers are reluctant to place ads in many tabloids because they feel that the image of the publication does not promote their desired brand image. The Eye to Eye scandal-plagued program of the late Inday Badiday was a top rater but it was not supported by advertisers. Scandals don’t jibe with the wholesome image an advertiser wants to create for the company’s brand.
If the advertisers feel that the kind of media reporting the country is getting will only weigh down business and the economy, then they’re well within their right to support only the media that are deemed as positively contributing to the well being of their company and the economy. Media are being hypocritical for demanding absolute press freedom but will not allow advertisers to consider editorial judgment and content as an important basis for media selection. What gives press freedom more right than the advertisers to choose the media vehicles that best promote their commercial interests?
To begin with, this “tabloidization” of the TV news is all about the insatiable quest for the advertising revenue. Instead of giving people what they need, some TV networks are pandering to what people want. That’s how melodrama extended from entertainment to now also play on the news. TV networks that are operating like tabloids do not have the moral high ground to ask advertisers not to consider editorial standard as an important basis for media selection.
The issue here is not censorship as we’re not talking about advertisers dictating to media what to write and how to write. The point here is that advertisers are entitled to support media that promote their commercial interests and not to patronize media that are detrimental to their commercial interests.
* * *