Column: SWS over Pulse Asia; Nograles vs media

Published on June 9, 2009. The feedback on Facebook (especially on MLQ’s wall) was fascinating.

I must quibble with my friend Manolo Quezon’s assertion, in his column of June 4, that “the media were caught napping by the goings-on in the House,” the night the administration coalition forced the vote on the constituent-assembly resolution. He was among those I followed online as the session neared its scripted end; some of the chatter on Facebook and Twitter that I tracked attacked the absence of traditional media at the Batasan, “except for ANC.” The Inquirer was even mentioned by name.

I was worried enough as to ask the newsroom, and immediately relayed the answer through my own Facebook update: there were at least three journalists from the Inquirer group present at the proceedings. Indeed, Inquirer.net’s Lira Dalangin-Fernandez posted a comprehensive report online a mere 10 minutes or so after the ignominious vote; the Inquirer’s Gil Cabacungan Jr. filed a report that became the next day’s banner story; photographer Niño Orbeta caught vivid images (and was himself caught on ANC). I am sure the same thing can be said for other newspapers and media organizations worth the name; they covered the vote.

So why did quite a number of bloggers and Tweeters and plurkers think the mainstream media was missing in action? I can only guess why. Either they did not see reporters with conspicuous press IDs on the floor (for good reason: many of the reporters “cover” in the press room, where their computers and Internet connections are). Or they do not listen to AM radio (the major stations, including dzMM and dzBB, covered the proceedings live). Or they expect the mass media to reach them where they are, in the digital networks they have come to inhabit.

Only the third reason is the fault of mainstream media; media organizations must do a better job of engaging the so-called digital natives. But the first two reasons expose the natives’ own shortcomings. Sometimes they cannot “see” other media like radio because their online focus imposes a kind of tunnel vision. And online’s addicting promise of immediacy drives some of them to comment, vent, attack, with the speed of opinion.

* * *

How do we reconcile the latest divergent findings between Social Weather Stations and Pulse Asia on voters’ presidential preferences?

At the current stage of the political cycle, I as a journalist would put greater weight on the SWS results. The SWS survey of Feb. 20-23 asked the following question (in Filipino): “Under the present Constitution, the term of Pres. Arroyo is up to 2010 only, and there will be an election for a new president in May 2010. Who do you think are good leaders who should succeed Pres. Arroyo as president? You may give up to three names.”

In contrast, the Pulse Asia survey of May 4-17 asked, also in Filipino: “Of the people on this list, whom would you vote for as president of the Philippines if the elections of 2010 were held today and they were presidential candidates?”

SWS asks for as many as three choices; Pulse Asia asks for only one. Now, aside from core supporters of the various presidential aspirants, who do we know have already decided on their vote? I would like to suggest that, at this stage of the political cycle, most voters have not yet made up their minds. (I certainly haven’t.) That makes the SWS approach more useful to journalists; it reflects the range-finding that I think many voters are engaged in, at this stage of the political cycle. We may already know whom we won’t vote for; as for our choices, we may still be considering possibilities, from among two or three.

I realize that the five SWS surveys Sen. Manny Villar commissioned, between June 2008 and May 2009, ask respondents to name only one preference: “who will you probably vote for as president of the Philippines, if elections were held today?” This phrasing, I would think, is useful to candidates; it gives them an idea of their core support. The other approach gives us an idea of potential.

* * *

When I guested, with Vergel Santos, on Che-Che Lazaro’s astute “Media in Focus” program last Thursday, I did not expect to engage in a fire fight with Speaker Prospero Nograles (I thought his participation, by phone patch, would precede ours). When the chance arose to debate with him, I held my fire, and kept to explanations and clarificatory (if hopefully revealing) questions. Representing a profession that is often taken to task for perceived arrogance, I did not want to be seen as taking part in an ambush. (But one journalist—Vergel—tangling with the Speaker, now that was a duel.)

But Nograles’ main points do need rebutting. Permit me.

That there couldn’t have been a “gang rape” of the Constitution because the proceedings were transparent: Daylight is no deterrent. Many rapes happen in the open. Surely Nograles has not forgotten the horrifying case of the Australian missionary who was raped, repeatedly, in the open, when inmates of the Davao Penal Colony rioted, in the 1980s.

That Vergel and other journalists should first run for Congress before criticizing the House: Journalists should decline, not only because of the imminent danger of victory, but because criticism in a democracy needs no pedigree.

That the House majority knew what it was doing: In answer to my question about the House adopting a resolution despite disagreement about what to do afterwards, Nograles said that in fact the majority was agreed on what to do next. Not true: the likes of Pablo Garcia say the next step is for the House to transmit the resolution to the Senate, while Rody Antonino and his cohorts say the next step is to convene the constituent assembly. Sounds like an ambush to me.

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