Media failure

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Some civil society groups as well as individuals concerned with the state of governance in this country have been asking why Filipinos remain unmoved by the corruption scandals the Arroyo regime has generated.

In addition to the usual, predictable answers—the people are pre-occupied with survival; they have become so cynical about government they no longer think any kind of reform is possible; the people themselves have internalized the culture of corruption succeeding governments have nurtured since independence—the suspicion that the media may have something to do with it is growing.

Granted that the media have not been remiss in reporting what’s happening on a daily basis via the usual “he said, she said” news stories. Granted that media commentators have been interpreting events to the best of their abilities in the hope of shaping public opinion.

But where are the investigative reports that in 2001 led to Joseph Estrada’s impeachment, and eventually to his ouster? Where are the reports that in 2005 and early 2006 shook the Arroyo regime by exposing the “Hello Garci” tapes, their source, and the individuals involved in the perversion of the 2004 elections?

The answer is mostly nowhere. The investigative reports that could have shed light on the NBN scandal, for example, are still to be written. Assuming they will ever be written at some point in the future, they shall have passed into irrelevance by then, the need for information being current and critical.

So are the reports on the ongoing bribery scandal nowhere to be seen. For the most part, the public has had to rely on news reports that by their very nature have neither the opportunity nor the space and time to provide the complete, relevant and comprehensible information a supposedly sovereign citizenry needs to make sense of events.

Note how citizens are receiving information piece-meal and without the crucial context needed for them to understand the most recent Arroyo regime scandal.

Gloria Macapagal Arroyo was “angry” and “hurt”, said two of her subalterns, over suggestions that she “tolerated” the distribution of bribe money to congressmen and local officials last October 11. What’s more, Interior and Local Governments Secretary Ronaldo Puno and Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye said, Mrs. Arroyo had ordered an investigation of the incident the day after it was reported.

“Tolerated” isn’t exactly the word, however, and Secretaries Puno and Bunye were being somewhat though understandably evasive in their choice of words to describe public sentiments. But its use is calculated, and in the current context of a critical information shortfall, shrewd.

Mrs. Arroyo is not being accused of ”tolerating” the bribe-giving. She is not just suspected of wrong doing. She is already widely seen as the mastermind and the source of the P200,000 to P500,000 bribes that were supposedly distributed to certain congressmen and local officials, some of whom have admitted receiving the money.

After all, reports from the usual informed sources say that the October 11 Malacanang meetings discussed, and agreed to throw out, the latest impeachment complaint against Mrs. Arroyo. Although that complaint, being intentionally fatally flawed, and quite probably the brain child of the usual band of Malacanang operators, would have been thrown out anyway, the “gifts” won’t hurt Mrs. Arroyo’s cause either.

But there’s another reason for the widespread belief that she was the bribe giver, and it’s not only because it happened in Malacanang, where Mrs. Arroyo holds office. It’s also because practically every allegation of bribery that’s ever been made in the last three years since the elections of 2004 has been traced, if not to Mrs. Arroyo herself as well as to hers, at least to Malacanang.

There’s the National Broadband Network project, in which the allegations of bribery all point to the Palace by the Pasig. There were the last two failed impeachment complaints of 2005 and 2006, in both of which there were rumors of bribery from, naturally, the beneficiary of those complaints’ being thrown out.

In the present case, there seems to be no doubt that it was Malacanang employees and bureaucrats who actually handed the congressmen and local officials their “gifts”. But Messrs. Puno and Bunye’s statements suggest that Mrs. Arroyo had no knowledge of it, which is why she’s having it investigated– so she can find out who was responsible and to determine the source of the money that, bundled into wads of P100,000 each in gift bags, seems to have been widely distributed last October 11.

The implication is that Mrs. Arroyo knew nothing about what was happening under her very nose, in meetings she called, and in the presence of her allies in the House of Representatives, whom she had summoned to make doubly sure that the impeachment complaint recently filed against her won’t prosper. Puno, Bunye and the boss of all bosses would also have us believe that the one President de facto who’s known to micro-manage everything—including making her own phone calls to an election commissioner so he could “protect” her votes—knew nothing about an event that involved the dispensing of P120 million.

And yet the regime is peddling this silly “explanation”. It thinks the public will buy it because, so used is it to the current failure of the media to find, report and interpret the information equivalent to the information on Estrada’s hidden wealth, corporate interests, and involvement in jueteng that gave the public a comprehensive understanding of corruption in the highest places in 2000 that it thinks it can get away with the most absurd tales to explain away such scandals as the NBN-ZTE bribery and backroom deals, as well as the bribery that took place in Malacanang itself last October 11.

Investigative reporting has proven to be crucial to better governance. Not only has it exposed the intricate webs of corruption woven by the most corrupt political class in Southeast Asia. It has also recalled the nation to the imperative of honest and transparent governance as the condition for this country to pull itself out of the pit of poverty, injustice and mass misery corruption has pushed it into. Its current failure will mean the failure of the campaign for honest and competent governance, and for the realization of the aspirations that since 1896 have eluded Filipinos. If this continues, there will be reason enough to blame the media for the continuing sorry state of the country of our sorrows.

(BusinessWorld)