Other issues in ‘right of reply’
FROM A DISTANCE By Carmen N. Pedrosa Updated March 08, 2009 12:00 AM
All the talk on the right of reply is focused on its “attack on freedom of the press”. At first glance, it seems a conflict between politicians and journalists. But dig deeper, and you will find other issues. It is not black and white but with many colors.
Something is amiss. Just as important, if not more important, are different players like poorly paid journalists (one of the lowest in the region), the owners of the media (media oligarchs) in which they write and broadcast, and politicians aspiring for power and just as avaricious. It looks more like a mélange of interests elbowing for advantage.
They tell the same story of how democracy operates on the ground. It is certainly not black or white. Neither is it between freedom vs. responsibility of the press. It is my opinion that the debate on right of reply goes beyond all this. There are factors that may not be obvious to the naked eye or to the conformist mind but are as relevant, if not more relevant than the issue of freedom vs. responsibility of the press that others make it out to be.
Did the leaders of Congress have any choice but to back down from further discussing and approving the Right of Reply bill? If they did not they might have to swallow more than they bargained for. Better to stay on the side of “the prudence of conformity” than face the substantial problem at stake. It’s a cop-out.
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Cebu Rep. Pablo Garcia announced to media that the RORB has been overtaken by events. What events? “Congressmen don’t want to touch it, it’s now frozen.” See what I mean? There will be no plenary in the House even if the Senate has already approved the bill. By all means consult with media groups, that’s part of the democratic debate.
On the other hand Senate Minority Leader Aquilino Pimentel Jr., the bill’s principal author, says he’s open to compromise to make it more acceptable to media. “It’s balancing the freedom of the press with the right of the people to defend themselves,” he said.
As for journalists carrying their protests in the streets. (Ok din yon! ) Whenever I have a chance I tell colleagues that in a trip to South Korea I asked journalists how much they were paid. I was told that their pay follows the rate in other industries. Maybe that is where members of media can focus their efforts — that they get better paid commensurate to their ability and the risks they take.
This perspective will reveal another player in this conflict of interests that has remain unscathed despite the damage it has caused to our country’s nation-building. That player is called big business with the money and clout to use media to advance or protect their interests.
Flawed media in the Philippines has not gone unnoticed by other countries in the region. Moreover irresponsible media, unlike corruption in government has escaped blame precisely because freedom of the press is invoked whenever it is called into question.
Yet few will deny that the same freedom of the press can be a licentious corporate tool and one of the reasons why the Philippines is unable to match the progress in other countries in the region. “Freedom of the press” covers a multitude of sins, one of them is how it has brought about a weak state in the Philippines.
Media oligarchs use “freedom of the press” to block reforms or worse attempt to bring down governments if these go against their interests. Big businesses look to owning a newspaper, radio or television as an advantage over their competitors.
I have often been asked by colleagues in other countries in the region why media in the Philippines is “too involved” in high level politics at the expense of community issues more relevant to the reading public.
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Admittedly it is not just about ownership of media that often distorts responsible reporting. Deadlines and space restrictions, ideology, balance and impartiality, PR agencies — all interweave in media play in the Philippines. Guardians of the freedom of the press are loathe to admit that often the independent journalist has to maneuver through this shoals of difficulties just to be able to be published. Neither is the Philippines the only country with problems on the ownership of media.
It is true the world over that corporations rule over media. While there are intrepid investigative journalists, they are often limited to mega deals and profits that do not affect their owners.
The problem with flawed media is it restricts critical thinking. And it can be just as partisan as the politicians they deride.
Journalists like to think they have a sense of mission but are stopped by what a wise analyst called “relentless tabloidization”, meaning to give only the kind of journalism that sells.
As for time and space, some newsrooms are filled with young, inexperienced journalists without backgrounds on the articles they write, with no time to read yet to obliged to multitask and meet merciless deadlines. They work 12 or 14 hours a day for meager salaries. Do you wonder why the envelope is hard to refuse even with the best of intentions?
I remember that while on exile in London, I read about a unique newspaper that did not oblige their correspondents to send stories every day. They had to absorb the essence of the society of the country in which they were assigned, live it and know the people that inhabit it. That way when a newsworthy event breaks out, they will report accurately and wisely.
As to balance and impartiality these have been thrown out of the window. For example, the reading public has come to accept it is difficult to find media reports on anything good about the Arroyo administration. It has long been demonized and therefore cannot do good and this with the help of surveys calculated to promote hatred against it. All this, and the campaign for 2010 has not even formally begun.