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P-Noy slams media bias, sensationalism

Aurea Calica - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines – It was President Aquino’s turn to pose questions to the media yesterday to underscore the importance of truthful news reporting, especially with the coming elections and regional developments that help form public opinion.

He also delved on the challenges faced by the print media in light of the popularity of social media.

Aquino said truth, integrity and responsibility must not be compromised in the face of the apparent need for faster dissemination of information.

He criticized sensationalism and biased, speculative and inaccurate reporting as well as the seeming lack of appetite for good news by media enterprises. 

“Media, and perhaps especially print media, (have) a special role to play before, during and after our elections – as it does at any critical time in even your own countries. We Filipinos will need a just,
comprehensive accounting of this historic time, and you are in the best position to do that,” Aquino said during the Publish Asia 2016 opening ceremonies organized by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and attended by local and foreign journalists.

Aquino recalled that 16 years ago, his mother, former president Corazon Aquino spoke in one of the major universities’ center for journalism in the country when she was no longer chief executive and referred to a hostage-taking incident in Mindanao. She related how journalists seeking close contact with the hostages and hostage-takers, or seeking a scoop, likewise became captives, with their watches, laptops and shoes taken from them.

“After narrating that incident, my mother posed a number of questions which, I believe, remain relevant not only in that particular context, or to Filipino reporters, but to each and every member of the industry today and in the years to come. Allow me to repeat some of those questions now: are the reporters telling what they see or what they think readers will pay to read? Do they understand what they see? Are they talking to the right people, or are they just retailing propaganda?” Aquino noted.

The President said his mother was simply questioning the journalists’ dedication to the two most important values of the profession, namely integrity and truth.

“Your dedication to these two values is especially important in light of your expansion to new media technologies, which are the crux of your discussion today,” Aquino said.

“We all know that there has been a great shift away from the primacy of print to a 24/7 news cycle, where it only takes a single Tweet to break news — where anyone can report on anything, at any time, and have it reach anywhere in the world. These new forms of media challenge what print, at its best, is supposed to represent: depth and breadth, context and a clear delineation between opinion and news,” he said.

Aquino said the job of the media had become more complicated because of the need to expand to new media forms, which have their own limitations in terms of dissemination.

“At the same time, dissemination does not matter so much as the most basic responsibility, which is to deliver information — information that the people can trust, can lead to fruitful discussions on issues of national and global importance, that can even lead to positive transformation. This is the value and the service that you must provide,” Aquino said.

He said when the distinction between opinion and straightforward news gets blurred, the journalism profession is endangered.

“This is not only a matter of principle, it is also about practicality. Sensational headlines and articles composed of controversial rumors, for example, might increase your circulation… What happens, however, when the people notice your tendency towards such, when they realize that your articles are entertaining, perhaps, but cannot be verified and consequently trusted?”

Trust and truth telling

“In the long run, will they not seek alternative sources of information — sources that they know will tell them the truth?” the President said.

Aquino said this coming elections, candidates vying for the highest posts were trying to win the people’s trust in a variety of ways: from promises, to attempts to smear mud on the names of their rivals; from presentations of their records of service, to curses and strong language.

“All of this appears in your pages — some more sensational candidates featured more prominently than others, I have to point out. Everything you publish is indeed devoured by millions. In a very real way, you are luckier than these candidates,” he said.

“By far and large, you — the press — already have our people’s trust. This alone reflects the magnitude of your responsibility to wider society: to disseminate information, instead of speculation; to foster higher levels of discourse, instead of becoming a rumor mill; to empower citizenries and nations, instead of tearing them down. It is my deepest hope that you will never forget this — that, whether in the Philippines or elsewhere in the world, you live and work accordingly with the greater good of the public in mind,” Aquino said.

These past years, Aquino said he witnessed and had even been at the center of some attempts to balance traditional print and new media, citing as example a forum that was live-streamed on the Internet, documented through social media and with articles to chronicle the event the following day.

“On the other hand, I am also told that the majority of, if not all, outlets have demonstrated a tendency to sensationalize titles, or post only provocative portions of articles online purportedly to encourage people to go through the whole piece — a tactic which I understand the generation younger than mine calls ‘click bait.’ Never mind if the reader chooses only to view that particular snippet and assume that they have been presented with the complete story,” he said.

The President said the entire situation was complicated further by the fact that these stories published also in print did not seem to adhere to any set standard and more often than not, the art of crafting headlines seemed to favor embellishment and innuendo, as opposed to the facts. 

“Some articles seem to be written with blatant bias, while others fail to adequately represent the situation accurately. Over the years I’ve increasingly wondered about this trend in light of the fact that print’s greatest advantage is that it can tell the complete story, whether in one article or in a series, and have that read by a still-strong readership,” Aquino said.

For instance, Aquino said those from the local media were increasingly read by citizens from around the world, perhaps due to the fact that more nations were turning to the region and viewing it as wellsprings of opportunity for collective growth.

“They seek information about us, which – and I believe you will be among the first to admit – you would likewise benefit from painting a complete picture,” the President said.

“Another example: Myanmar right now is undergoing a very significant transition. Print and indeed all forms of media can impair that transition by highlighting fears and unfounded speculation. The opposite path, what we are glad to be seeing, is that they have lent their support to this transition by highlighting the good news, by telling the truth about people’s sentiments, their dreams and their efforts to realize that through democratic means,” Aquino said.

For his part, Aquino said he promised Filipinos in 2010 that, when he steps down from office, he would leave behind a country in a far better situation. But in the coming elections, he said he was cognizant that his vote would be just like anyone else’s.

“When I have voted, I will wait for the results with the rest of the country,” he said.

“We believe the successes and reforms of our administration are enough to help our countrymen make the right decision in the upcoming elections; even now, I continue to do my part,” he said.

“We face a fork in the road: Will we choose to continue treading the straight path of the past few years? Or will we choose the opposite?”

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