No fence to sit on

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By Arnold Alamon

Wrapped in Grey

Tuesday, January 28, 2014


THAT media and entrenched political and economic interests in this country are strange bedfellows is not a secret.

The so-called fourth estate essentially functions as one of the bailiwicks of the national and local elite and the protection of their interests is a given and even expected. There are a gallant few in media who have the temerity and intelligence to see through these machinations and work their way around these constraints but by and large, the slant and tenor of news items especially in national media are always weighed towards the interests of their patrons.

There are sacred cows in Philippine media just as there are favorite whipping boys but the depths of crassness that this state of affairs at times descend to is troubling. Take for instance, the congregation of 12,000 or more Yolanda victims in Tacloban last January 25, 2014 to press for continuous aid at the same time call to task the absence of timely and proper government response in the aftermath. The news reports we have from the national media outlets depict the mass action as measly labeling it as a gathering of “some” Yolanda victims.

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12,000 are indeed a fraction of the millions of Filipinos affected by the Category 5 typhoon that cut a wide swath of destruction across the Visayas. But these thousands are hardly what you can describe as “some” like they were just a handful and therefore inconsequential.

These typhoon victims manifested their demand with their bodies in the thousands, suspending the daily task of rebuilding from the rubble, and coming together in a show of unity and force. With just one word, this dimension is glossed over and re-appropriated to denigrate the victims’ very goals and objectives. A national daily covered the same activity but the article obsessed over the demand for monetary compensation subtly implying that the victims were unreasonable and even ingrates.

In the same week, news reports also carried the findings of the SWS Survey undertaken a month after Yolanda challenging the perception that public reaction found government response wanting. According to the study, 13% of the sample population reported that they were victims of the typhoon or a total of roughly 201 households in their sample size of 1,550. From this 201 households, 73 percent of adult respondents reported satisfaction with the President’s performance where only 38% of the respondents came from the Visayas.

What I believe was not captured by the study was the fact that destruction was concentrated in specific places of the Visayas such as Tacloban. The perceptions of people here may not have been properly represented in the sampling method that was designed as national in scope. When they sampled for Tacloban, for example, how many adult respondents did they ask? Five to ten adults who happen to express satisfaction with the President among the possible pool running into the hundreds of thousands? Nevertheless, the survey results were lapped up by national media outlets as good news for their yellow patrons.

One wonders if these are just the mangled versions of sly news desk editors involved in the concerted effort to douse the growing dissatisfaction over this administration or ideological takes of the journalists interpreting phenomenon through certain bias lenses.

I think it is these two dispositions which are at work here. There are gatekeepers in newsrooms who filter the news and give it a spin and they are the ones who make their patrons happy. But the field journalists are also complicit by failing to keep in check their own ideological biases. Some journalists think that their access to facts and reporting on these is all that is asked by their work. What they fail to consider is that in the process of writing a news item for example, they are also framing the manner by which the facts they present will be interpreted by the reader.

Consistent in the production of news items in national media for instance is the default anti-poor bias of writers, news desk editors, columnists, TV reporters, anchors and all types of journalists. When Pablo victims staged an organized mass action to retrieve aid that had been languishing in the warehouses of DSWD, it was labeled as looting with the organized community activists referred to as hooligans. The media bias against the recent mass action of Yolanda survivors emanate from the same anti-poor disposition.

But is there really a middle ground upon which media workers can claim to stand upon and produce objective reporting? I do not think so. There is no fence to sit on in this nation ruled on the one hand by the callous elite and on the other, the suffering poor.

***

(Arnold P. Alamon is an Assistant Professor IV, Sociology Department, Mindanao State University-Iligan Institute of Technology.)

Published in the Sun.Star Cagayan de Oro newspaper on January 28, 2014.

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