IS THERE such a thing as a truly independent media during elections?
By the time the election period in the Philippines starts, our election laws will again resume to measure campaign airtime and space in the hope of creating an equal playing field for all candidates. But that is not the reality. With fifteen seconds of airtime amounting to 2,000 to 10,000 pesos per spot or even more, there is no such thing as an equal playing field for candidates who have no millions of pesos to splurge for a position that will yield a salary a fourth or even a tenth of what they are expected to spend.
If we truly care for our country and our cities, we should understand that information from political candidates during election time is mostly paid. Broadcasting is business. When I ran for mayor in 2019, I was billed from 5,000 to 30,000 for a few minutes of interview including the announcer's comments. I was specifically told that the announcers cannot mention my name outside of the paid airtime since I am a candidate. Is there anything unlawful? None. I signed a contract, I paid, and I was given the media exposure for a length as stated in the contract. Will the broadcaster say anything good that will sound like campaigning for me? No, otherwise it will be campaigning and therefore must be part of a paid contract. So now, do you get what I mean when I say there is no such thing as an independent media during election time. That is how our laws and our culture have always been. It was very painful for me in 2019 to have been exposed to such humiliation of having only a few thousands to pay for airtime and newspaper space, not to mention, a handful of posters -- but after all these months of "healing" -- I realized there was nothing personal there -- that is part of the trade. Media entities are private business companies, they are not charitable institutions.
Therefore, the more important question is -- where and how can the citizens at large secure pure, unpaid, independent information about each candidate? That is if they are willing to really get to know the candidate because they are concerned about the country, or their province or the city? Here are some of the steps I recommend, based on experience.
First, examine the credibility of the media company. Does it have any leaning towards any candidate? Is its ownership related to any candidate? Who are its key leaders and are they persons of credibility and competence? Is the media outfit part of or affiliated to national companies, institutions and movements that adhere to the strictest standards of media? What is the culture inside the media company? Are the members of the company people who are well respected as media practitioners in the community?
Second, read clearly how the news or information is written and cross reference this information directly from sources. For example, a court case against a candidate can always be denied by the latter, but any citizen can check court records since these are public records especially when it involves public officials. Names of candidates with public service records will also surely appear in online searches especially if they have their own website, or social media account. These are good places to start to get to know them, their platforms and their stand on issues - and whether these stands really align with their principles and not just for show. Consult elders or people who are more informed about the candidates and share with them your thoughts as well.
Third, dig deeper. Candidates will promise heaven and earth during elections. They will all sound as gurus and experts in their fields. Therefore, citizens must research further, aside from what media say, especially during paid broadcast. For example, citizens can verify previous campaign promises of candidates, and then analyze how they accomplished these through policy making, program, or any form of intervention during their tenure. Big, bold statements should no longer impress voters. Repetitive promises and slogans mean nothing unless they translate to reality. These are mere hollow words articulated as campaign promises. Beyond what is mentioned during paid broadcasts or printed in paid newspaper advertisements, voters need to check the candidates' credentials, especially if they have other professions. Sadly, many politicians have no other visible professions aside from being in politics.
These three easy steps above are made easier by the fact that we now live in the Information Age. Metadata, large, humongous data are all accessible online. And all these are beyond what paid media broadcast or publication can provide. We need to do these things if we really care for our country and our communities.