The worst bias

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TEODORO CASINO of the leftwing party list group Bayan Muna is running for senator in 2013. In an attempt to publicize his candidacy, Casino, who’s currently Bayan Muna’s sitting nominee in the House of Representatives, jogged in the rain last October 3 to file his Certificate of Candidacy at the Commission on Elections office in Intramuros, Manila.

Casino had earlier been quoted as declaring that he would do anything to further his candidacy. At least one Manila broadsheet reported that, among other statements, he had said that “If (the voters) want me to sing and dance, I’ll sing and dance.”

“He claims he’s not a trapo (traditional politician)—but he will sing and dance for your vote,” said a Philippine Daily Inquirer report.

“In fact, the second national convention of the militant Makabayan on Friday, during which Bayan Muna party-list Representative Teodoro Casiño was proclaimed the coalition’s lone senatorial candidate, had all the trappings of a traditional campaign sortie with some activism thrown in.

“There were political and celebrity endorsers, bands, dancers, a fliptop portion (rap battle), and ‘Gloriaquino’ bashing (referring to both former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo and current President Benigno Aquino).

“When Casiño took the stage to accept Makabayan’s endorsement, he said he would engage in the usual political gimmicks if that’s what it took to bring about a ‘politics of change’ and give a voice to the common people in the Senate.

“‘If I have to, I will dance,’ then he gyrated, much to the audience’s delight. ’If I have to, I will sing…’”

Casino’s arrival at the Comelec office while dripping wet was similarly and mockingly reported over television.

It was unusual for the media to even mention Casino or anyone else from the Left in their reports. But what was even more evident from the media’s reporting Casino’s statement, and his filing of his COC, was that the media are prepared to make an exception so long as what Casino or any other leftist personality says or does is unusual—or, what’s even better, provides the media with the opportunity to demonstrate that not only are the programs and plans of leftwing candidates too silly to even mention. Since 2010 they’ve also demonstrated that leftwing declarations of noble intentions are even more hollow than those of traditional politicos, and even hypocritical.

Already marginalized in terms of their lack of resources and traditional political machineries, leftwing candidates, since Partido ng Bayan ran candidates for senator in 1987, have been deliberately marginalized—denied access to either print or broadcasting—by much of the media, demonized, and when the opportunity presents itself, mocked and ridiculed. The unstated justification is that they’re communists, whatever the names of the groups they represent may be. While few in this country, and certainly fewer in the media, could provide a credible definition of what communism is even if their lives depended on it, that assumption alone—based on the similarity of what they say about public issues with what’s popularly thought to be the communist agenda—is enough for everyone to sagely nod their heads and to vow that they’ll never get their votes.

And yet the dominant media have not been remiss in joining the chorus—of the fat cats of government particularly the police and the military, for example—urging leftists to participate in Philippine elections. Apparently they don’t see the contradiction between this demand and their repeated demonstration of bias against leftwing candidates.

In the elections of 2004 and 2010, the party list elections were covered only when such personalities as Satur Ocampo were involved in controversy. There was no attempt whatsoever to present the platforms and programs of the party list groups contending for seats in the House.

When former New York Times and International Herald Tribune stringer Carlos Conde did a story in 2011 on whether the Aquino-Cojuangco clan would distribute Hacienda Luisita to its tillers, he interviewed, among other sources, Anakpawis party list Representative Rafael Mariano. That was enough to make his article the subject of a broadsheet editorial which, among other statements of bias, declared that he should not have interviewed Mariano because he’s a leftist. At least that editorial was honest enough to declare that it’s media policy to deny anyone who’s so perceived the right to express his opinions on public issues.

The bias extends even to the coverage of events involving the media themselves. A few days before the Supreme Court issued a Temporary Restraining Order (TRO) stopping the implementation of RA 10175 (the Cyber Crime Prevention Act of 2012) for 120 days, TV news teams from the leading networks not very subtly demonstrated that bias by conspicuously shutting down their lights and cameras once a speaker from the women’s group Gabriela dropped the word “imperialism” during a round table discussion on the Act at the University of the Philippines College of Law.

Of course the media won’t let anyone forget such Left errors as the alliance between Bayan Muna and Senator Manuel Villar’s Nacionalistas during the 2010 presidential campaign. How could Bayan Muna ally with a party that also had Ferdinand Marcos Jr. as a candidate? And yet, they don’t hold other so-called political parties to account for such acts as supporting the Cyber Crime Prevention Law, preventing the passage of the Freedom of Information Act while claiming to support it, or entering into alliances of convenience with local warlords in order to reap the benefits of the command votes the latter control.

Ideological bias in the media is unremarked due to its often subtle expressions, which are very rarely so perceived. A violation of the Philippine Journalists Code of Ethics injunction against discrimination on the basis of political beliefs, it is the worst form of media bias. It is even more destructive of the democracy the media so loudly claim to be defending than socially-based ones such as the unspoken commitment of much of the media to supporting Gloria Macapagal Arroyo in the elections of 2004 no matter what because they could not countenance a Fernando Poe Jr. victory.

By marginalizing leftwing candidates, and, as in the Casino case and even in that of the Bayan Muna-Villar alliance in 2010, forcing them into using the same tactics as those of traditional politicians (and then accusing them of doing so) rather than giving them the opportunity to present their alternatives to the nebulous and even non-existent programs of government of the dynasties that have ruled this country since 1946, the media prevent elections from becoming authentic contests among alternative platforms and programs.

Instead they consign elections to the permanent status of contests of who has the most money, who has a name the voters will recognize—and/or who can best sing and dance. Ideological bias is among the factors that have dumbed-down Philippine elections, and made them practically meaningless as opportunities for the exercise of democratic choice.

(BusinessWorld)

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