Seares: How much can people protest when media performs badly? Protesters shouting 'Liar!' at reporters covering a Cagayan Oro City rally last Friday recalls 1995 pickets against news outlets in Cebu City.

Seares: How much can people protest when media performs badly? Protesters shouting 'Liar!' at reporters covering a Cagayan Oro City rally last Friday recalls 1995 pickets against news outlets in Cebu City.

[] When a protest is instigated by an aggrieved politician who uses his resources to hit back at media outlets that offend him, that makes the demonstration suspect. Twenty-nine years ago, a Cebu governor staged or encouraged pickets against local news media outlets that criticized his decisions.

LAST Friday, June 28 [2024], reporters were covering a protest staged by a group called FLOW (First Labor Organization of Cagayan Water District) when unidentified persons from the group right there on the street criticized their reporting of the water supply controversy in that city.

'DISCOURTEOUSLY TOLD.' The incident was hyped up by a statement from the city's chapter of NUJP (National Union of Journalists of the Philippines), condemning the bashing of media and asking the public to respect "media's role in covering an issue to deliver the truth."

NUJP Cagayan de Oro spoke only of the reporters "being discourteously told" that their news reports about the dispute between the local water district COWD and a water supplier were "a lie." "Bakakon (Liar!)" was the epithet allegedly hurled against CDO reporters.

DYMF, OTHER NEWS OUTLETS PICKETED. Compare the CDO 2024 incident with the Cebu incident on August 28, 1995 when supporters of then Cebu governor (1993-1995) Vicente "Tingting" de la Serna picketed the DYMF radio station "for alleged bias" against the Cebu governor. That was a protest action organized and deliberately mounted against media. Cebu's incident was a few notches higher than the last June 28 [2024] assault on media in CDO. And no less than a public official struck by media fire ordered the counter-move in the Cebu case almost three decades ago.

Local media condemned the De la Serna picket: then SunStar columnist, the late Cerge M. Remonde wrote that "somebody should tell the governor to stop the foolishness of picketing media organizations." The backlash, Remonde wrote, is that more people are thinking de la Serna "cannot tolerate criticism." It is "turning off" even his most rabid supporters, Remonde said.

The governor was himself waging the battle against media, in his own way. The late SunStar columnist Wilfredo A. Veloso reported on April 28, 1995 that "since Tingting de la Serna has continued to keep mum on his charge of media bias and corruption against SunStar staffers, those maligned are going to sue him for libel and damages "so that he'll really have a chance to prove his charges." No charges were filed by either camp and so the accusations continued to hang until the governor's death on September 1, 2018 at 66.

'DARK AGE OF JOURNALISM.' SunStar on the same day, in an editorial, headlined "We do not allow the mob to rule media," said: "Obviously stage-managed by politicians, pickets of media establishments aim to substitute free editorial judgment with that of the picketers' bosses."

The editorial noted that "while Cebu's media have improved and matured considerably, compared to those of other urban centers outside Manila, some of our politicians would wish to drag them back to the dark age of journalism."

MEDIA IS NOT EXEMPT FROM CRITICISM, in whatever form that is legal and appropriate in the community. It can be in a letter or statement, usually sent to the media outlet with a request for publication under the news source's right of reply. That and, in addition from new technology, the reply being sent digitally and published in social media platforms.

A picket against a news media outlet, as was done in Cebu in 1995, or bad-mouthing reporters during coverage, as was reportedly done this week in CDO, may no longer be required, what with the available forums to air one's side and dispute or refute anything reported by media. But if that is still done, it cannot be dismissed as totally wrong. It's among the tools available and very much a part of the media public's arsenal.

What's undesirable is when it is false or fake, coming not as genuine public reaction but is instigated by a vengeful public official or politician who cannot take media criticism.

Still media can only complain and plead, as the CDO press did through the advocacy group NUJP.

WHAT MAY REDUCE MEDIA BASHING. Nothing better than doing its job well and, when it errs or falters, granting ample right of reply to the person or group affected by the story.

Nothing can be worse than media being unreasonably sensitive to criticism even as it waves to public officials the Supreme Court injunction of "Don't be onion-skinned."


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