Seares: How news coverage may do better on Ahong Chan ‘disqualification’

THE story about the claim of Rolando Patalinjug, who is running for mayor of Lapu-Lapu City--that Comelec has disqualified Junard “Ahong” Chan, one of his two rivals in the election--offers an interesting study of how media can help resolve an election issue.

Chan made the allegation in a press-con last March 27 but the stories that came out, as well as the denial of Ahong Chan’s camp, helped little in making the public understand. Comments in radio propaganda and the outbursts on social media offered no enlightenment.

Primary questions

On first sight, the unanswered questions were:

[1] Was the document genuine, Patalinjug having initially offered only a xerox copy of it? Would his claim pass the standard test news reporters use on a possibly bogus story? The “Smell” test would look into source and evidence and the red flags.

[2] If there was indeed an order, what specifically did it say? And if Chan was “disqualified,” what is his status as a candidate, his name being already on the ballot, how would it affect his votes and, if elected, his proclamation and assumption of office?

Genuineness of order

Authenticity of the document immediately became a primary question because what Patalinjug showed to news media was only a xerox copy, the en banc order was promulgated Nov. 28. 2018, or weeks before printing of ballots, and yet Chan’s name was not delisted, and he received no complaint or notice, and neither did the Lapu-Lapu Comelec office.

When a certified copy was finally presented in a second Patalinjug press-con last April 4, news consumers would need to know what the Comelec order means? The effect of the order is crucially important to voters. What would happen to their vote if they vote for Ahong: Would the vote be deemed stray, would it spoil the entire ballot? Or would it be counted and the order wouldn’t be a bar to proclamation and assumption if he won?

The process, the effect

In other words, the Comelec process and the law must be explained. Is Chan’s case–and those of 52 others all over the country, from different regions, who were supposedly lumped with him in the order–any different from the cases of, say, (a) Alvin Arcilla and Sisinio Alvarez who were also disqualified but for a different reason (breach of term limit) and (b) other candidates who were “perpetually” banned by the ombudsman but appealed the conviction to the courts? In sum, would Chan still be a legitimate candidate until the order against him became “final and executory?” That aspect of the issue has been absent, conspicuously, from the news stories.

Media consumers have not been told the things that matter to them most. There have been big gaps in the stories. No Comclec sources were sought, no legal experts were talking. Even the story that reported the presentation of a certified copy didn’t quote the text of the order and its effect, if any. With today’s capability of media to reproduce documents, consumers would have read in their entirety what Patalinjug had shown.

Journalism virtues

Traditional media is supposed to have the experience and the skill to pick the core and substance of the story: what the reader needs and wants to know: virtues one doesn’t regularly find in the hodgepodge of social media fare.

Yet one has barely seen those journalistic virtues in the newspaper and broadcast stories about the Ahong Chan issue. Could it be diminished resources taking their toll?


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