Can our media be trusted with sensitive information?
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-01-29
During the 1974 Academy Awards show, just as British actor David Niven was about to present a winner, a streaker (1970s fad when naked people dash around public places or gatherings) suddenly sprung from behind him and ran through the theatre aisle, drawing varied reactions from the startled audience. Unfazed, Niven coolly remarked: “The only laugh that man will ever get in his life is by stripping ... and showing his shortcomings.” The audience roared in laughter and applauded David Niven.

The critics of President Noynoy Aquino (P-Noy) remind your Chair Wrecker of that streaker at the 1974 Academy Awards event. They too like to flaunt what little they’ve got, aside from their biases.

It’s about time that the critics of P-Noy accept the reality that he will abide by his standards and not pander to theirs. To begin with, they don’t have access to the wealth of information that a president has. They don’t have the qualified staff to competently study the complete ramifications of a policy or action. They don’t have the intelligence apparatus and P-Noy is one president who is well versed on national security and intelligence matters.

It’s typical of P-Noy critics to inject a negative spin on the time it takes to accomplish a task properly. P-Noy’s preference for undertaking complete staff work will necessarily require time to accomplish. The president’s management style is focused on attaining maximum benefit at the least cost. The P-Noy administration’s savings best demonstrates what the country earned and saved from his management style.

During the 2010 election campaign, P-Noy promised the passage of the Freedom of Information (FOI) Bill, which the previous administration and Congress didn’t pass. From Day 1 of his administration, P-Noy was harassed to initiate the passage of the FOI Bill.

The truth is P-Noy has no intentions on reneging on his campaign promise. He wants the FOI Bill to be passed. He had, however, some valid reservations on initiating the passage of a defective FOI Bill that could open a Pandora’s box and lead us into a serious national security issue, among other problems. He ordered a careful study of the FOI Bill and sought to improve the provisions that could prove detrimental to the State and Filipinos.

Four areas where information should be withheld had been identified, as follows:

1. Information relating to national defense — These are accepted State secrets that the public is not allowed to know because these could compromise our internal and external defense. We’ve seen in the past how irresponsible media coverage led to divulging the positions of police or army soldiers in a combat zone, raising the risks for our police and soldiers. The Luneta Hostage Crisis is a good recent example.
2. Information on Foreign Affairs — Bilateral relations could seriously be damaged if irresponsible media divulged sensitive information that they shouldn’t possess at all. We’re presently locked in a serious conflict with neighboring countries, claimants to parts of the Western Philippine Sea. A defective FOI Bill could expose Philippine government negotiating parameters — thereby undermining our bargaining position.

3. Personal information irrelevant to issues — This conforms to protecting every individual’s right to privacy. Only personal information that is relevant to an issue should be divulged.

4. Information that are sourced from executive sessions of the legislature — Executive sessions of Congress and the Senate are precisely conducted to prevent the disclosure of certain information.

In previous columns, your Chair Wrecker had taken our media to task for the poor quality of reporting being dished by some, as well as the level of discourse. Showbiz has edged out the important news from the television newscasts. The developing conflict in the South China Sea between the US and China, where we’ll be right in the middle, is easily bumped off from front page or the TV news program by showbiz scandal.

Media should reform their questionable reporting (sensationalizing, injecting personal bias, misrepresenting what sources really said, focusing on irrelevant personal aspects instead of substance and so forth) and editorial criteria (when a showbiz gossip story bumps off from the TV news a serious national security concern). Television and radio in particular operate out of a congressional franchise and should review their franchise terms and conditions and what it states about public service.

This is not to gainsay the role that broadcast media have played in alerting and informing people during disasters (typhoons, landslides and other climate related tragedies) or its vital role in promoting public support for victims of tragedies. This is not to gainsay the meritorious commentators who really educate the public with their explanations of certain issues. This is not to gainsay the value of entertainment in promoting social harmony.

Contrary to what this commentary might put on entertainment — it is also a form of public service. Remove all those entertainment shows on television and we will likely end up with more social problems. Entertainment relieves our daily stress and recharges us for the next day’s challenges. These, however, do not justify the addiction for showbiz at the expense of depriving the people of vital information that could affect their lives.

Media should focus their energies into informing Filipinos of the many dimensions of really important issues. Media should confine their marketing objectives to entertainment programs and wholly dedicate their news and public affairs programs to purely important public service.

In search of higher ratings that in turn deliver more advertising revenues — media pandered to what the public wants. That’s wrong when it happens at the cost of informing the nation of important public issues. Editorial screening should focus not just on what people want but also on what they need to know. That’s what responsibility is all about.

Media that behave like juvenile delinquents cannot be entrusted with sensitive information that could hurt persons and the State.

* * *

  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

Suggested guidelines for liability- free Internet posts

Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

[Click here for the Archive]

Home | As I Wreck This Chair | High Ground | Career Brief and Roots | Advocacies | Landmarks Copyright 2006 The Chair Wrecker by William M. Esposo