Political stuntism

Exie Abola (the Shakespeare Guy himself; here’s an article in the Loyola Schools Bulletin, but please scroll way down) and Caloy Conde (Mr. New York Times) have started an exchange about media’s role and reputation; I hope I can join them later today or early tomorrow. Among others, Dean Bocobo and Abe Margallo have also weighed in on the current crisis. Again, I hope I can respond at some length sometime before the fullness of time.

For now, though, I just want to add to what I wrote about the political stunt the senators pulled in the Senate last night. It reminded me of the political gesture made by colleagues of mine (that is, fellow journalists, though I do not know them personally) who shaved their heads yesterday, to protest Proclamation 1017. An admirable sentiment, but I’m afraid a misguided one. It was, as a TV executive told me this morning, "made for TV." Exactly. It looked good on TV, but I am not sure if it will help all of us in media fight the reign of intimidation 1017 has inaugurated.

What we need to do is to continue writing and reporting and producing and presenting the news as we see it. To be sure, not all news organizations may be able to resist the various forms of intimidation that will come in the wake of 1017 (that is, even after it has been lifted). There is thus a need for journalists to band together, to encourage each other — unself-consciously, without apologies for doing so, in full awareness that this isn’t about us; the right to a free press isn’t ours, principally, but the public’s.

I can understand why fellow journalists undertook that symbolic act of protest. Journalism in the Philippines, even without 1017, is a chancy business; for most practitioners, and contrary to public perception, the profession has very limited power. For many of us, the sense is: We are not part of the powers-that-be. That, I think, makes the act of protest comprehensible. Protests like these are resorted to by the powerless, or those with very little power.

Senators, on the other hand, have P200-million pork barrels, their own security force, and a national constituency. When they don protest gear, I am led to wonder: Are they admitting they are powerless against the Arroyo juggernaut?

PS. Rep. Risa Hontiveros Baraquel, of the Akbayan party list group, has the right idea: Fight fire with fire, intimidation with intimidation. This afternoon I heard on radio that she had threatened to cut the budget of the National Telecommunications Commission down to zero, if it did not stop interfering with broadcast news organizations. That, at least as I see it, is the way to do it. (Of course, I realize that Risa, who is a friend, is one of those congressmen who also join protest actions. Do I contradict myself? That, I guess, is matter for another post.)

1 Comment

Filed under Readings in Media, Readings in Politics

One response to “Political stuntism

  1. “Journalism . . . is a chancy business” is a smart quip. But depending on who is talking, it may also evoke different meanings.

    Let me explain. For media owners, the business of news is business and therefore chancy. For example, a TV news program for which large investments by the owners may have been made could go awry and fail to generate the audience (the product) expected to be sold to the advertisers (the market). That makes a business venture like that “chancy”.

    But the risk a professional journalist takes when writing or broadcasting to inform or to tell straight the news story is probably akin to the danger a soldier faces once dispatched to the battlefield or the hazard a professional pilot copes with as soon as his aircraft taxis on the runway. It just comes with territory, so they say.

    “We are not part of the powers-that-be” is a wittier remark if, like the first one, is presented to come from “us in the media” rather than the media itself. Again, the individual journalists, like the one who shaved their heads in protest against President Arroyo’s Proclamation 1017, are easily vulnerable to intimidation (in the Philippines, the risk among journalist is statistically higher in the provinces with or without 1017); but certainly not the unsinkable Fourth Estate.

    I think what Oscar Wilde has written, while a bit hyperbolic, relates to the point being made here:

    “But at the present moment it really is the only estate. It has eaten up the other three. The Lords Temporal say nothing, the Lords Spiritual have nothing to say, and the House of Commons has nothing to say and says it. We are dominated by Journalism. In America the President reigns for four years, and Journalism governs for ever and ever.”

    The media “governs” in the way it creates events and frames issues on its own terms. Conditions in our midst that are not considered critical by the media or social problems that affect mainly ordinary people could be passed up for important public debate. Agenda-setting is power, an awe-inspiring one, in fact.

    That the “profession (of journalism) has very limited power” is open to debate. But now, do we still doubt the power of the sound bytes?

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