Vhong-Deniece stories:the question of too much

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By Atty. Pachico A. Seares

Media's Public

Saturday, February 8, 2014


A COMPLAINT aired publicly about the most-read and most-watched story during the past two weeks: excess of print space and broadcast time on the controversy over the mauling of TV host-comedian Vhong Navarro and the alleged rape of student-commercial model Deniece Cornejo in a Metro Manila condo.

Was there an over-supply of the Vhong-Deniece stories, not proportionate to their newsworthiness and social value?

Joining frenzy

Criticism of media having gone overboard about Deniece’s friends beating up Vhong and Vhong raping Deniece (denied by the alleged perpetrators) doesn’t single out television, the “main culprit.” While TV’s impact is strong and pervasive, it’s not the entire media.

Newspapers -- broadsheets based in Manila and community dailies in the regions -- can’t be said to have given to the Vhong-Deniece affair more than the usual treatment of interesting controversies.

Most print publications, especially the mainstream, excluding tabloids, have joined the “media frenzy” but have kept restraint: the story broke into Page 1 only when it became more than just a crime piece.

It was mostly showbiz stuff, with Vhong as centerpiece, when it first erupted but soon added elements such as a love triangle, an alleged extortion attempt by Cedric Lee, who was involved in messy deals with NBI and, locally, in an aborted contract with the Cebu provincial government. The charge of rape, with alleged oral sex (“bad ka”) in a previous incident, added spice.

The suspense

But what held audiences was the suspenseful question of who lied, which can be more riveting than the mystery of who did it. Still, overall print media kept its zeal within respectable limits.

It was on TV, newscasts and entertainment shows alike, that feasted on the story. It was on radio that commentators chewed on the Vhong-Deniece piece even as they didn’t stop barking at and biting their villains of choice.

Broadcast after all was only dishing out what the public needed. A rule of thumb in broadcast is to give the public what they want and what they need.

It’s on the mix that print and broadcast formulae don’t match and media and its critics don’t agree on.

It’s a familiar wail of those who deplore media’s “crass commercialism” in packaging their programs and media’s defense that public taste dictates media content.

Balancing interests

Editors and program chiefs try to balance the competing interests but insiders say that few would care for anything but success in audience and advertising share. Besides, no one can tag precisely a series of stories or strategies in handling stories as the cause for a media outlet’s survival or fall.

Often, it’s a hit-and-miss thing but what the public talks about is a safe bet.

A broadcast executive told me that it took only one network to start with a barrage of stories on the Vhong-Deniece caper. The others followed and suddenly news groups were in a mad rush to outdo one another.

In a way, audiences benefited as they got an abundance of stories they wanted to see and hear about. TV chased almost every facet of the story: from the background of the alleged muggers and Deniece’s parents and ex-bfs to Lee’s business interests. How would a businessman, presumably wealthy, engage in petty extortion? They even looked into Lee’s Cebu connection that almost snagged a contract for his allegedly dubious company.

As to why media didn’t pour its time and resources on bigger stories of public interest: but media did. Didn’t newspapers and broadcast outfits go hammer and tongs, pulled all stops and (to keep the idiom roll) gave the whole nine yards and more to the pork barrel scandal?

No other story in recent history demanded, and got, the full treatment from media.

Right to shun

Admittedly, there are media companies whose marketing plan only covers scandals and seamy stories. But they are few and they serve a specific kind of readers and listeners who’re entitled to their preferred entertainment and education.

Audiences have the right of choice. If they find a newscast heavily loaded with Vhong-Deniece fare, they can switch channels or switch off -- and turn to the papers where they can also shun or ignore the stories they’re already sick of watching on TV.

Criticisms of excess more than ever highlight the need for the public to choose, from the tons of data within quick and easy reach nowadays, what can inform, entertain and maybe even uplift.

[publicandstandardssunstar.com.ph]

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on February 08, 2014.

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