Saturday , June 23, 2018

Seares: Hounded by Mamasapano, PNoy gripes anew on media ‘negativism’

PRESIDENT Noynoy Aquino doesn’t apologize, a posture he has assumed in controversies that assign blame to him as chief executive. No apology over the Mamasapano debacle, the pork barrel scandal or the Luneta hostage-taking fiasco.

He also hasn’t given up criticizing media, whenever he wants to, and harping on “negativism” of the press.

Consider his broadside last Tuesday (March 24) during the Euromoney Philippines Investment Forum at Peninsula Manila in Makati City. He slammed media’s “apparent penchant to highlight negative reports” despite “much good news” in the country. He must be annoyed that media has given more coverage to the Jan. 25 killing of 44 SAF commandos than the “surfeit” of good news.

And he played variations on the “negativism” theme in his complaints in the second half of his term:

  • Dec. 27, 2014, at a media Christmas party in Bulong Pulongan at Sofitel Philippine Plaza, Pasay City, PNoy said there are still media outlets that tend to report more negative news than positive ones for the administration. He complained against speculations over super-typhoon Yolanda and the fighting in Zamboanga City.

  • Oct. 22, 2014, in a forum with the Foreign Correspondents Association at Marco Polo Hotel Ortigas, PNoy deplored that some media members spread negativism although the country is “teeming with positive stories.”

    At the time, the pork barrel scandal was full-blown.

  • April 27, 2012, at the 25th anniversary celebration of ABS-CBN’s “Balita Patrol” at the Manila Hotel, PNoy spent the bulk of his speech to criticize news anchor Noli de Castro for alleged baseless speculations and commentaries against the administration “despite his own stint with the government” (as vice president from 2001-2010).

  • April 23, 2012, at Philippine Press Institute’s 16th National Press Forum at Trader’s Hotel, Pasay City, PNoy rapped “inaccurate and negative news reports,” saying they “affected the image of the country before the global community.” He griped, among others, on media reports about some countries’ travel advisories against the Philippines.

Common traits

PNoy’s serial complaints against media have highlighted certain common traits -- now familiar and predictable, some indicating fairness, others suggesting bullheadedness.

-- The complaints don’t generalize targets: “some” news outlets, “some” journalists, not the whole media community or establishment; in Noli de Castro’s case, PNoy hooted in the broadcast person’s face;

-- They come amid, or immediately after, scathing adverse news reports or opinions or a major lapse or error of a journalist or his organization;

-- They include a lecture on balance (see sidebar on the pimple and the glass); or throwing in “uplifting news” along with heavy-handed criticism;

-- Failure to recognize (a) media’s concern about selling its product and the “imperative of survival,” which is giving the audience what they want instead of what they need, and (b) media propensity to speculate.

PNoy has basis

Check the above list again. Many of PNoy’s complaints have basis, if one uses universal standards of the craft. And he does what any other aggrieved consumer must do: speak out, talk back.

Most other disgruntled news sources, who don’t have PNoy’s bully pulpit, can only write to the editor or curse on Facebook or post a mean tweet. Others, in parts of the country where law and order is weak, they shoot the journalist or bomb his radio station.

If PNoy just keeps to the public lecture on “good journalism” and shuns economic pressure through advertising boycott or regulation-enforcement tactics (as some presidents would do), it’s fine. And, unlike his mother Corazon Aquino, he doesn’t sue journalists.

PNoy’s repetitive harping on negativism though means he hasn’t seen the reality of media’s “penchant (his ghostwriter’s favorite word) for bad news.” Bad news is a marketing tool broadcast networks have sharpened through the years, diluting news with doses of entertainment. Some guilty pleasure that newspapers sometimes don’t resist to meet audience expectations.

Response to ‘bad news’

While PNoy’s complaint sounds forceful in a forum on journ ethics class, it becomes a whimper in the face of big issues of national interest. The rise in the country’s credit rating can’t compete in news value and public interest against Yolanda’s devastation and government’s feeble response, or the entry of a foreign firm’s multibillion-peso investment against the slaughter of 44 police troops in a bungled operation.

No contest. The good news stays in but the bad news of greater public interest gets more play and space. A media fact that presidents supposedly know even before they step inside the Palace.

PNoy can spend more time responding effectively to the bad news than complaining about media coverage. And he has the influence of his great office and Malacañang’s vast communication arsenal to keep his message on course.

Leave the balancing of good news and bad news to media decision-makers. As a news consumer, he could complain but as a politician, it would look pretty awkward.

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