Media must evolve

CTALK - Cito Beltran - The Philippine Star

For the last 50 years, Philippine media has been the work of three generations of journalists, broadcasters, public relations practitioners and owners, practically running and doing things the same way.

If you watch TV, cable news, listen to radio or read newspapers – physical copy or digital – and then compare it with archived materials of the same organizations, the names and faces may change but the content, sound and style generally remain the same. There is no evolution towards greater, useful information. The trend and style lean on being entertaining or amusing or still “masa” or dumbing down content.

News gathering and news coverage have remained the same; radio and TV programs have been designed and “aired” similarly in the last 50 years while profit and competition remain the driving force, until ABS-CBN was shot down like a dove in flight. As a result of this, I was told that GMA-7 find themselves slightly disoriented, with no one to compete or compare against.

 I recently spoke at the ED Talks event hosted by San Miguel Corporation in Cabanatuan City. In attendance were about 90 practicing journalists, broadcasters, publishers and owners of various media outlets all over Central Luzon.

During my talk, I delved into how media in the Philippines has not changed in spite of being overtaken by social media, the disappearance or dislocation of companies such as CNN, ABS-CBN, Inquirer. How schooled and professionally trained graduates of journalism, broadcasting, communications and research are also being displaced by independent, self-taught and self-styled content producers – and AI. 

I also pointed out that there are more journalists and broadcasters and publishers who are attacked, murdered or terrorized in the provinces than in Metro Manila because in the provinces, everything is community-based, relationship-focused and personal. 

That part really brought a brief moment of silence, signifying the fact that it remains a harsh reality for media in the provinces. I pointed out that every time a member of media gets a death threat, is attacked or murdered, the spouse and family are equally hurt and injured and financially dislocated. 

Every time a media practitioner is sued for libel, detained, imprisoned or fined, the legal consequences also extend as emotional and financial consequences on family members. The bad part is most media practitioners fail to ask, consult or consider the opinion and consequences that may befall the person or child they say they love.

In the provinces, the media also lose sight of the fact that they and the people they criticize or attack belong to one community where relations and personal honor are felt and shared. It’s personal, unlike in Metro Manila where people in exclusive villages never even see each other and generally don’t care.

Instead of playing hero, I said play nice or send an anonymous complaint to authorities but don’t take the bullet for someone else’s job.

Many of the older media folks spoke up about being the Fourth Estate whose responsibility is to watch out for abuse and corruption and expose the wrongdoing of public officials. It was expected because, like I said, nothing has changed in the last 50 years.

I argued that the “Fourth Estate” was the creation of business owners, practitioners glorifying their role and place in the political arena because before the creation of the Fourth Estate, people only recognized the three co-equal branches of government in the US.

Too many people have placed unrealistic and false responsibilities on the media. Many media practitioners have given themselves imaginary rights and powers and use these to demand things or portray themselves in roles or positions that are not reflected in their job description or the Constitution, and end up getting shot or sued for libel.

Media people were taught by American businessmen in the early 50’s about what journalism and broadcasting were, based on the American experience, not Filipino tempers. All the virtues and vices of the profession have since been passed on with hardly any changes except in technology. The industry has reached its level of incompetence. 

Negativity sells; crime, sex, sports, scandal and entertainment are the only products. To this day, most media outlets still maintain “police reporters” and one or two police stories, next to a picture and story about a sexy man or woman. But what beneficial good is there to retaining “police stories” that are all about crimes?

Simply filling a box with bad news filled with blood and gore does not uplift society. They just have it out of habit and to present a buffet of content, most of which don’t make us more intelligent, richer or happier.  

News desks sort out what the public gets to see in the same way a cook or a housewife decides what’s for dinner and that is based on what is conveniently available in the refrigerator or the grocery. Then they say, the public wants it! Most cooks serve vegetables but not all kids want it! 

The turnover of news resembles the work of a short order cook in speed and duration, but in light of the internet, social media, etc, news as we know it is simply a retelling of what has been shared in some portal, platform or link. There is nothing new about it.

This is why media in the Philippines must evolve or become extinct. News alone won’t sell, not even sensationalized news. Like the SMC ED Talks suggests, we need Editorial Development among practitioners, our attitudes, goals and content. 

 Media must provide a service to all, develop relationships that promote business, community and responsible governance through cooperation, not combative editorial misconceptions that are culturally misaligned, unproductive and unprofitable.

We are reporters. We narrate, analyze to teach and educate and encourage. May the scales fall out and off our eyes and may we all become instruments of hope.

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