Sensationalism

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Friday, February 28, 2014


A FEW days ago, ABS-CBN’s late night news program “Bandila” announced that a “mysterious flesh-eating disease” was “slowly spreading” through Pangasinan. The reporter that covered the case was wearing protective gear and a face mask, and described the “mysterious disease” as the flesh-eating disease that would ravage the world – the same disease mentioned by the self-proclaimed Indian prophet Vincent Selvakumar.

In 2013, Selvakumar prophesied in front of a Filipino audience that a great storm would ravage Samar, Leyte, and many other areas. Eerily enough, Typhoon Haiyan proved his prophecy to be correct. But he added that after the storm, a great plague that would “eat the skin and bones” and that it would begin in Pangasinan and spread throughout the whole world… unless the people of the Philippines repented from sin.

Now, the victims of the “mysterious flesh-eating disease” turned out to be two people with completely different diseases who weren’t infecting anyone. One had leprosy and an adverse reaction to her medication, and the other one had psoriasis, which caused his skin to become scaly and peel off. Neither of them were contagious, and thankfully, health officials were quick to reassure the public that Pangasinan wasn’t going to be quarantined because of flesh-eating bacteria.

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However, in the days before that, netizens who followed Bandila were beginning to panic. I’m willing to bet that at least one person went out of his way to purchase a chemical suit from one of those crazy doomsday prepper websites. This initial panic was caused by the media. They blew the story out of proportion and it just so happened to be enough for the gullible and superstitious Filipino masses to swallow up. It’s a good thing they put a lid on the situation before the residents of Pangasinan could decide to evacuate the province.

Sensationalism in Philippine media isn’t new. In fact it’s been around since before our independence from the United States. An article from the Los Angeles Herald (April 2, 1899) stated that there were “30,000 Philippine cannibals” of the Monolo and Mandaya tribes who liked to eat “rice-fed young Chinese.” The Mandaya tribe, who live in the area up to this day, only ate the hearts and livers of enemies that showed great valor, and even then it was only the warriors who ate anything. The LA times warns visitors to the area that they might be the centerpiece at the next Mandaya fiesta, although the tribe never considers cannibalism to be anything other than a rare religious ritual practiced only on its enemies.

A more recent example of media sensationalism is the infamous Vhong Navarro-Deniece Cornejo-Cedric Lee case. This case, which had absolutely zero national importance was reported on so frequently and with such excitement that two other people surfaced to claim that they too had been raped by Vhong Navarro, who is apparently the world record holder for fastest rape – being able to rape Deniece Cornejo in one minute, while also breaking the land speed record, travelling from a concert in Cavite to rape rejected beauty contestant Roxanne Cabañero in Pasig on the same night. Navarro is also apparently a magical psychic rapist, able to remotely rape beautician Dennis Cornelo Nahalay in his literal dreams.

Nahalay claimed that Navarro, from his home in the NCR, used his magical raping powers to reach him all the way in Cebu. He also added, and I quote: “Diyos ko, na violate akesh. Aminin ko feelanga ko siya, chopopo — pero neuro, ka-shokot! Pero buya, nagsakit ang aking uranus.”

Why are we entertaining things like this? Is it because news in this country is slow? I understand that TV shows need ratings and newspapers need readers but there have to be better stories to cover than this useless trash.

Published in the Sun.Star Bacolod newspaper on February 28, 2014.

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