The 9th Media Nation Conference that was recently held in Tagaytay boldly discussed the growing problem of media corruption. It’s very encouraging that media practitioners have finally junked their practice of Omerta — the Mafia code of silence — when it comes to corrupt media practitioners.
Even Lech Walesa, leader of the Solidarity Movement in Poland, admitted that he too was a victim of media corruption. Walesa emphasized the important role that the media play in the life of a nation and even challenged Philippine media to help build our country.
Right thinking journalists have good reasons to fear media corruption because it could undermine media credibility with the people, the news consumers. As it is, the tri-media (print, radio and television) face a serious threat — social media and those online services. So it’s not as if there’s no alternative. If enough people are convinced that the tri-media are deeply involved in corruption, they could shift to other sources of information.
A tainted tri-media would eventually suffer reduced ad support in the face of reduced audiences and sullied reputations. Advertisers want to project their brands in the best possible light. A TV network whose news reports are linked to corrupt practices would endanger the very credibility of its advertisers.
The most common signs of corruption that we can encounter in the tri-media are, as follows:
1. News stories that are heavily slanted to favor the position of one party in a given issue. News reporters are supposed to present a balanced perspective to an issue. You only get that balanced perspective when you present both sides fairly.
2. News stories that are crafted to make the patron’s position look immaculate while that of the opposing party are made to look like the bad guys.
3. An excessive coverage of one side of the issue but hardly any coverage for the side of the other party.
4. When resource persons are not clearly defined as to where they stand or are affiliated. Those who followed the CNN coverage of the recent US presidential election would notice that every resource person is identified as belonging to either Republican or Democratic Party.
5. When the news reporter intentionally leads the audience to a favored conclusion by making subtle negative references to the position of the opposing party. The good news reporter would present both sides fairly and leave it to the news consumer to draw the conclusion.
Juicy big contracts are often what drive certain parties to resort to unfair competition. When the money to be made is in the hundreds of millions, one can even scout for a sympathetic legislator that will mouth favorable attributions or even conduct an investigation — not in aid of legislation — but in the quest for the filthy lucre. This is the product of our political system that thrives on our culture of patronage. You will note how the greed is intertwined with the process.
Many of these must-dos of news reporters do not cover opinion writers. Opinion writers are allowed a wider leeway, to even take a stand in an issue. The opinion writer serves as some sort of a Court of Last Resort for making the public aware of certain aspects or nuances to an important news story that the news report failed to communicate, albeit wittingly or unwittingly. In the US, they even have a television network that’s committed to expressing the views and philosophy of the Republican Party — Fox News.
The capital of mass media is credibility. Lose your credibility and you lose your raison d’etre for operating a mass media facility. Media owners that do not ensure that they’re operating according to the highest standards of journalism are playing with fire. That fire will eventually consume them. They must remember that in this IT age, transgressions are easily exposed through the powerful pass-on capability of social media.
Remember how all those newspapers associated with Dictator Ferdinand Marcos and his cronies were all junked immediately after the People Power Revolution succeeded — that’s the fate that awaits these media operators.
Marcos was able to create a compliant media climate only because of his martial law powers. When Cory Aquino restored the freedom of speech, among other freedoms, all these sycophantic media that had promoted the dictator’s big lies crumbled from the weight of their corruption.
Planting false information in peoples’ minds is a worse form of corruption than simply giving a public official a bribe. A poisoned mind fails to properly discern and eventually makes some very bad decisions for the country — like electing the worst candidates that corrupt media promoted. The only reason why these corrupt media practitioners have not been checked and prosecuted is because legislators are politicians and are afraid of a media backlash.
Filipino minds today are over-entertained and under-informed, with a good part of the blame going to the tri-media that failed to provide its most important service. This over-entertained and under-informed state of the Filipino mind can be likened to the proverbial devil’s workshop of the corrupt media practitioners.
During the Marcos dictatorship, the gap between truth and falsehood was very glaring. Nowadays, the corrupt media practitioners are feasting on the state of the public mind. However, there were brave and noble souls during the Marcos era that refused to allow the dictator’s line to go unchallenged. Marcos arrogantly called them the Mosquito Press.
The Mosquito Press didn’t have presses that could print big volumes. They also had difficulty soliciting ads because the advertisers were afraid that the dictatorship might associate them as supporters of dissenters. It was a brave lonely fight but there were heroic Filipinos who were willing to risk it all for the sake of the truth.
The Mosquito Press enjoyed though a high pass-on readership because what they printed challenged the uniformed pronouncements of the Marcos Media. It was this pass-on readership that enabled the opposition led by Cory Aquino to neutralize the immense advantage of the Marcos media. Things got so bad for Marcos that when he needed to communicate his message during the People Power Revolution — nobody was willing to even listen, much less believe him.
There are still many such heroes in the Philippine media today. Again, it’s happening — people are beginning to see through the paid hacks and gravitate to the truthful few remaining. The media practitioners today have a choice — be a hero and help push our country forward or be a Quisling and help those who want to push us back to the dark ages.
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Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”