Sunday, November 12, 2006

The Glare, the Blot, and the Wave

What is there behind the glare of the lights, the blot of the ink, and the wave of the sound?

Political scientists define democracy as the rule of the people, by the people, and for the people. To us Filipinos, it means nothing greater than the shedding of the lifeblood by a few of our fellow countrymen in sheer defiance of passively sucking the miasma of tyranny and oppression that slowly poisoned the whole nation. Our country has a long, despotic history of colonial rule. Add to that 20 years of Martial Law and we now see a nation battered by the past and bereft of a “real” identity. But on the other side of the coin, history made a vigilant people out of us. EDSA 1 and 2 proved that we are no longer tolerant of erring leaders – that we no longer wanted to be subjected to any kind of force that would suppress our will. We thirsted for freedom more than anything else!

FREEDOM. It is one of the most basic tenets of democracy. Freedom of speech. Freedom of the press. Media is, after all, the fourth estate that helped restore this democracy – from the underground newspapers run by propagandists during the Spanish colonial rule, to the radio power during EDSA 1 and to the multimedia revolt of EDSA 2.

Idealistically speaking, media exists as a supporting link in a check-and-balance system of a democracy. But being a private enterprise, media has its share of issues that are too hard to ignore.

Media as a business is one big issue because the question on objectivity and fairness is always raised against the social, political, and economic interests of the media owners. The clash of news versus entertainment is another battleground as news organizations are reminded to fulfill their social responsibility and public accountability. Media practitioners today face serious threats as the country climbs to the second spot of being the most dangerous place for journalists to work in. Since the Marcos era, the number of journalist killings has been rising. And out of this number, only a few were resolved.

This year’s celebration of press freedom week attempted to touch base with these issues through a film showing, panel discussions, and open fora on matters relevant to the industry. And so, as a mass communication student myself, I thus make an attempt to make some sense of all the inputs I have consolidated during the weeklong celebration.


As their contribution to the press freedom week celebration, Sun Star Cebu copy editor Publio Briones III produced and directed a documentary, Killing Journalists: The Cebu Experience written by none other than Sun Star Editor-in-Chief himself Atty. Pachico Seares and edited by Ruel Antipuesto. The title of the documentary speaks volumes of the topic: the spate of killings that has claimed numerous lives of journalists.

The film showing was followed by an open forum with a panel of reactors from different media organizations/institutions and with a curious audience of students, some journalists, and visitors from other sectors of the society.

The film pointed out that most of the killings are not job-related. Some journalists sidelined as police assets and public relations agents for politicians. Others practiced corruption. Although journalist killings can be considered as an attack to the media, the motive is not to stifle the media people but rather to correct or probably to strike back in vengeance for what the media people did that have no bearing at all in being a journalist. Which brings us to the issue of secondary employment.

It is a well-known fact that a journalist’s job doesn’t pay much, which is mainly the reason why some journalists resort to other income-generating side lines to augment their salary. Madam Mayette Tabada rightfully raised the issue on how the news organizations can assist their reporters in assuring them the security of their tenure so that they will no longer seek other jobs that could compromise their safety and values (conflict of interest).

“Why hire them (reporters with secondary employment)?” somebody pointed out. If secondary employment is the root of the killings, why should media institutions plunge deeper into dangerous grounds? I am only familiar with Sun Star Cebu’s policy on secondary employment – that reporters are required to divulge their side line jobs. But it doesn’t necessarily prevent reporters from taking other jobs.

Personally, I think we should accept as part of the reality that we cannot control other people’s decisions to take other jobs for extra income to sustain their daily needs.

“What about killings that are work-related?” Somewhere along this line of thinking, my thoughts branched out to the Mass Communication students. Since we are well-acquainted with both the skills and the ethics of working in the media, why are these still happening? In our ethics class, the best standard of ethics is a clear conscience. Lunsay nga konsensya, if Mr. Leo Lastimosa were to put it. But a closer look at the media right now would reveal that most of them are not Mass Communication graduates. I remember Ms. Portia Dacalos from the Office of the Student Affairs once asked me why is it that our course is female-dominated yet media remains to be male-dominated. (although the latter is starting to change through the years) Point is, where are Mass Communication graduates going? And why are they not in the media industry? It’s an interesting topic of study. Is it because of the relatively low financial compensation? Is it because of the dangers of the profession? Is it because of disillusionment? I can only speculate.

For those interested in pursuing a career in journalism however, I emphasize that ethics and conscience should be the guiding principles in reporting the news. Sun Star columnist Eddie Barrita said, “Don’t call him crazy even if he is.”

I would also like to note that the kind of media that we have right now is an “attack-and-attack” media, which I believe is not a healthy sign of the current state of the industry. When I interviewed radio personality Nanding Celeste for the CJJ2 handbook, he said: “Musaway gani ka, kanang dili sad ka salawayon. Unya pananlitan mu-criticize ka, kinahanglang naa kay suggestions… the principle is this, musulti lang gyud ka sa tinuod. I think media should go beyond criticizing the government or the ordinary people because theoretically, agenda-setting will mould people’s minds that officials are generally corrupt and there is no hope for our country to prosper so we might as well leave the country for good. I am not favoring the side of politicians. I myself am convinced that corruption exists. What I am trying to say is that we have yet to see a kind of media that would offer solutions (constructive criticism) and not just merely comment on what is happening around.

To end this reaction, I would like to share this quote from Nanding Celeste who has spent 47 years in the media industry. (Note: He said this in the context of “new trends” in radio broadcasting, like being able to say bad words like “buang” to a judge on air.)

“Himuang inspirasyon ang proper ethics sa journalism. Sunod gyud sa inyong nakat-unan, nga dili tungod kay nay bag-ong trend nga wa gitudlo diha kaninyo nga mulunot mo sa bag-ong trend.”

Goodnight and Good Luck

Directed by George Clooney, the movie “Good Night and Good Luck” candidly portrays the conflict of interests surrounding the broadcast media industry. At the outset, the battle between Edward Murrow and Senator Joseph McCarthy is the most obvious conflict. Exchanging heated words on air, the two caught the attention of all America. Further analysis however, would reveal that behind the broadcast media’s ubiquity and influence, issues exist such as news versus entertainment and business versus social responsibility.

The face of Filipino prime time television is ENTERTAINMENT. Which is why we now have Koreanovelas and fantaseryes invading our households every night. Apart from the statistics that indicate a greater number of the masa than ABC classes, I believe it is more of the culture that we have. Filipinos are very fatalistic – bahala na, to put it more concretely. Somehow, we are a passive people, brought about by the long periods of colonial rule. Television is our escape medium from all our troubles. Momentarily, we are swept by dramatic and comedic moments on television. But it doesn’t mean that media should necessarily give what the people want. If the media has a firm will to give the people more relevant programs, it actually can. However, most or all of time, at the mercy of the second issue highlighted in the movie.

Business vs. Social Responsibility. Here is a snippet from one of my past interviews with Super Balita Managing Editor Emmanuel Mongaya:

“We try to cater to BCD nga market bitaw. Sa BCD market, the usual tabloid stuff. Hold-up. Patay. Artista. What sells. Kung as far as social concerns, we try to put it inside. Ambot lang. Nasuwayan namo sa una, mga issues nga makaayo sa tawo [ibutang sa front page], di mamalit. Daghan kaayong magreklamo mga teachers, students. Ethics kuno, nganong pirmi patay. Pero people don’t buy it. Mamatay ang newspaper.”

The quote vividly illustrates the conflict of running a paper (or a media institution). Media is a private enterprise our country so although it is free from government control, its freedom can not go that far as it should brings profit to the media owners or please its advertisers. Again, it is one reality we can never change.

But news reporters can still control the way they report the news.

“Tell stories in an engaging, relevant manner. There has to be a clear connection to the readers.” Eileen G. Mangubat, Cebu Daily News’ publisher tipped the students during the open forum following the film showing.

So what is there behind the glare of the lights, the blot of the ink, and the wave of the sound? What is there that controls the fate of the people struggling in their snares? Is it really a what? Or would it make more sense if I say who? And if I do, who?...

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