I expect our friends in the media, especially in radio and print, as well as the block-timers and those in community newspapers, to monitor their own ranks. May you give life to the basic principle of your vocation: to explain vital issues; to be fair and truthful; and to raise the level of public discourse. (translation from the Filipino original mine)
— Benigno Aquino III
July 26, 2010
HIS REVELATIONS about the gargantuan bonuses MWSS executives had been getting despite a water crisis he refuses to call a crisis may have shocked those Filipinos whom tales of government corruption and profligacy have not desensitized.
The information that the Arroyo government had been importing tons and tons of rice way above what’s needed, in the process further depleting the public treasury, may have even awed a public grown cynical over the conduct of its officials.
EVEN THE least literate expect the news media to provide (although they don’t always do so) information on matters of public interest so people can understand what’s happening around them. The news pages provide citizens not only the facts; they also enable them to form opinions. But columnists and other media commentators even more directly shape public opinion by explaining and interpreting events.
Opinions often lead to action, and are the bases on which citizens support, suggest changes to or reject policies, question government decisions, object to proposed legislation, and make their views known on matters of public relevance. Ideally, this is a constant, ongoing process wherever and whenever a free press exists and is able to monitor governments. But it is during elections when the power inherent in the news media role of providing information and interpretation is most evident.
IMPUNITY — OR exemption from punishment — has been correctly called a culture, a way of doing things to which a particular community has become accustomed. It is almost inevitably mentioned as the primary reason why journalists and political activists continue to be killed in the Philippines, where a culture of impunity has indeed taken root. But it also applies with equal validity to the killing of nearly everyone else, especially the poor and powerless. Few murders in this country are ever really solved, with the perpetrators and masterminds being arrested, tried and punished.
Contrary to the common perception that only the wealthy and powerful literally get away with murder, it also happens even to the poorest folk. If the wealthy and well-connected can evade punishment by hiring crafty lawyers, and bribing policemen, prosecutors and judges, those who are otherwise, if they’re lucky enough, can escape the law by simply disappearing in the vast countryside that surrounds the cities, or in the anonymous warrens and labyrinthine slums the poorest call home. Police inefficiency and reluctance to hunt down killers, if the victims are “not important” and won’t be missed except by their closest kin, does the rest.
IT’S NOT rocket science, and neither is it brain surgery: the country has a new President, and the press must re-examine its assumptions when it covers government. The ex-President it loved to hate is busy reinventing herself. She’s no longer in Malacanang, and with her have gone some of the most offensive public officials this country has had to pay out of public funds. The relationship based on suspicion, mistrust, and outright hostility between the press and the government ceased to exist last July 1. A new one will be, and should be, taking its place.
Will the task of getting information be hard for the press, or will it be easy? Will government officials be so transparent as to develop through the press the public awareness of what government’s doing every democracy needs? How its relationship with the press will develop and what that relationship will be like will largely depend on the Aquino III government and its officials.
WHEN Barack Obama was elected US President in 2008, hopes ran high that change was forthcoming both in the United States itself as well as abroad.
Obama would decisively address the economic crisis at home, reduce the unemployment rate by creating the conditions that would generate jobs, and put an end to the federal budget deficit.