Society and media

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag - The Freeman

When a policeman gets killed or wounded in the line of duty - whether it is during an operation against illegal drugs or while responding to some other crime like a robbery - the news it generates seldom makes it to the front pages, in the case of newspapers, or to the top of the news, in the case of broadcast like radio or tv. Worse, there is little commentary, if at all, that extols the value of law enforcement, and the dangers law enforcers face in serving the public. What preoccupies the news, as well as the commentaries, is the rising body count in the government's relentless campaign against illegal drugs and whether the deaths of illegal drug suspects resulted from operations executed with regularity or were done extrajudicially. Not that these concerns do not deserve airing but that the airing is palpably distorted in favor of the law offender instead of the defender of the law.

To be sure, there are rogue cops, just as there are rogues in every sector or profession. But it is not the rogues that ought to define a calling. It is those who take their jobs to heart, who carry out their duties with a dedication and responsibility, and who sometimes are called to make the supreme sacrifice in order to keep the streets and communities safe for everyone, who ought to characterize a kind of work not everyone is willing to take.

This inverted sense of perspective is largely due to the public's over-dependence on media for a view of reality that the public has apparently stopped determining for itself. Unfortunately, the world has become so preoccupied with things of close personal interest that, almost invariably, it has to rely on the media for everything else, for its daily dose of the other reality - that which lies just outside of work, school, church, family and leisure.

There would have been no problem with that. After all, what comes out of media is a reflection of society itself, of the world in which it revolves. But the media has its own reality. It also revolves in its own world. For the media to remain the media, it must survive the economics of being one. In other words, it is a business that needs to take care of itself. All its zealousness to serve the public interest means nothing if it ceases to exist.

But to exist, media must first sell. And there goes the rub. For it makes perfect business sense to put the stories that sell up front, and the rest of the stories behind them. There is no curtailment of news or information. Just a sorting out of the merchandise. All the things that the public needs to know are still in there. You just need to sift through them in the order that they are packaged.

Again, there would have been no problem with that, except for the tiny little thing about media now defining for the public how it should view reality. For example, is the death of a drug suspect really more important and deserving of public scrutiny than the death of a policeman in the line of duty? There are, of course, as many answers to that as there are people on earth. But as the determination has been left largely to media - people will just have to take what is on page one.

Now that is not exactly a fool-proof way of arriving at reality, whatever that reality may be. People in media are human too. And while they can be objective and impartial and can be trusted to handle the truth fairly well, it is perfectly possible for them to report an apple as a shade too red than it really is, without detracting from the fact that the apple is red.

In other words, stress and emphasis, which can be subjective, can change perspective dramatically without any intent too. The red apple test serves perfectly this point. If the apple is red, there is no reporting it as green without running afoul with the truth as it is. But how red it is is subject to interpretation. It is this interpretation that is crucial for a media-dependent society to determine the direction it takes in making some of life's tough choices.

So where does society stand with regard to the deaths of criminals and the deaths of law enforcers? How society makes its choice on the issue says a lot about its character and its values, and the life it deserves to live, not only for the generations now living, but for the generations that are still coming. And the thing about it is that not even the media can help make that decision. It is one that every Filipino must make for himself.


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