A “false prophet”?

Standard

ON JUNE 26 this year, the Manila press reported the results of a Pulse Asia survey which said that 19 percent?or nearly one out of five Filipinos, or about 15 million out of an estimated 80 million population?felt that the country was hopeless and would leave it at the first opportunity.

Although not as controversial as it appeared?anecdotal evidence has long suggested that disappointment over the failure of People Power 1, and after 2001, People Power 2, to bring about changes in governance, politics and the economy had created an ironic sense of hopelessness among the middle class?the Pulse Asia survey provoked a comment from President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo that by emphasizing what she called ?the bad news,? certain sectors of the press were being ?false prophets.?

?Who are the false prophets? There are those who tell a lie or those who tell a half- truth or only tell part of the truth?They include those who give only the bad news to the extent that if the bad news is so pervasive, it brings about a state of helplessness…(and) skepticism in the country.

?So beware of them,? continued President Arroyo. ?It is important to point out also the good news to balance it so that our people will not despair.?

The criticism that the press reports only the bad news is a theme every Philippine president within memory?from Ferdinand Marcos to Corazon Aquino to Fidel Ramos to Joseph Estrada?has felt it necessary to explore.

The agreement among these former presidents and now President Arroyo that the press emphasizes, focuses on, or limits itself solely to the bad news is apparently based on perceptions drawn from their daily reading of the newspapers.

They define bad news, although not in so many words, as news about graft and
corruption, coup attempts, the bad performance of the economy, poverty, social unrest, etc.?as news that reflects badly on the government?even as good news is defined as reports on positive developments, among them the success stories of individuals, economic growth, and those reports that suggest that all?s not lost, among them stories about honest policemen, dedicated teachers, and so on.

Events and developments that can be the subject of both ?bad news? as well as ?good news? reports do happen even in poverty-stricken, crisis-wracked Philippines.

President Arroyo is correct in demanding ?balance??but in the sense of the need for the press not to be committed to any agenda of reporting only the bad news, but news whether good or bad. It is also equally valid for the President to demand reporting as much of the truth of an event rather than reporting only part of it, because any omission can result in readers? getting a mistaken understanding of an event and its significance.

She is, however, mistaken in assuming that the newspapers, except for a few
exceptions, ignore events that can be labeled ?good news? or that they are dedicated solely to reporting the ?bad news.?

That there does seem to be more bad news in the newspapers than good news has less to do with the malice of individual newspapers as with the events that daily demand their attention. Kidnappings and murders, for example, do happen more frequently than taxi drivers returning money left in their cabs, or murderers? being caught.

As this was being written, for example, there was a dearth of the good news that
President Arroyo and her predecessors equally crave, with the impending collapse of the peace talks between the government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) occupying the front pages, together with speculations that she had sanctioned the filing of graft charges against former Secretary of Education Raul Roco to force his resignation, and to erode his popularity as a potential presidential candidate in 2004.

Yet noticeable in the press, even in such government nemeses as the Philippine Daily Inquirer, are the reports that do try to look for something to celebrate even as the country is assailed by events and developments that can hardly be described as encouraging. In the June 30 issue of the Inquirer, for example, PJR noted several ?good news? reports amid reports on the resignation of former Foreign Affairs Secretary Teofisto Guingona (for example, ?Good cops turn to farming,? by Andrea Trinidad Echavez). This deliberate effort, however, does raise questions of its own, among them that of whether seeking the good news is any bit better for journalism and the public as seeking out the bad.

For all this, however, the debate over what the news is supposed to be is a real
enough issue, and not only in Philippine journalism. PJR thus thought it timely to devote part of this issue to a discussion of it, which begins on pp. 18-19, and continues in pages 20-22, 23, 24-26, and 27-28.

(From the editor, PHILIPPINE JOURNALISM REVIEW, August 2002)

Leave a Reply