Tuesday, October 19, 2021

Cabaero: Neutrality in elections

Beyond 30

The usual question posed to media during an election campaign is if newspapers, televisions or radio stations should endorse a candidate.

In other countries, the United States in particular, many news organizations have taken to choosing a candidate in an election, especially in presidential and vice presidential exercises.

The Philippines will have general elections – for president, vice president, senators, down to mayors and councilors – on May 9, 2022. Will the Philippine media endorse a candidate?

This question can be answered more by the readiness of the public to see the media do that than by the wishes or preference of the news organization itself. The more apt question then is whether the Filipino audience is ready to see their newspaper or television or radio station come out with the candidate it supports.

A look at the Reuters Institute Digital News Report 2021 gives us a peek into the Filipino audience’s readiness to see news organizations do that. The Reuters study did not categorically ask the question about media organizations taking a stand in an election, but it did ask study participants if they would want the media to remain neutral on social and political issues.

The question fell under the issue on “Trust in news.” The survey asked: “Thinking about the news in general in your country, when news outlets report on social and political issues, which of the following comes closest to your view?” Here are the responses based on the choices provided:

73 percent chose the statement, “News outlets should reflect a range of different views and leave it up to people to decide;” 20 percent picked “News outlets should argue for the views that they think are the best;” and 6 percent said they do not know.

69 percent picked the statement “News outlets should try to be neutral on every issue;” 26 percent said “There are some issues where it makes no sense for news outlets to try to be neutral;” and 5 percent said they do not know.

73 percent selected as choice that “News outlets should give equal time to all sides;” 23 percent said “News outlets should give less time to sides they think have a weaker argument;” and 4 percent do not know.

From these findings, you will see that the Filipino audience mostly prefer their news outlets provide a range of different views, try to be neutral on every issue, and give equal time to all sides. Although the survey was not placed in the context of the elections next year, the findings point to how news outlets should not decide for them when it comes to social and political issues.

(The Cebu media mark Cebu Press Freedom Week starting today or from September 19 to 25, 2021. This is a chance to reflect on the challenges facing media these days and on its role in a democracy and in the coming exercise.)



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