Sharing some excerpts from the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s study on how the Philippine news industry has somehow worn the dazzling cloak of showbiz…
President Aquino’s love life, Pope John Paul II’s beatification, and the British royal wedding were among the major stories in the Philippine media last April. These landed on the front pages or were leading stories in the major broadsheets and TV news programs. Although one could speculate that the coverage of Pope John Paul II’s beatification was driven by the belief that it would be of interest to Filipinos out of piety, what these stories seem to have had in common was entertainment value.
The same value is evident even in reporting events that could be characterized as serious. In many cases they are reported with an eye on their lighter or “human interest” angles in an effort to gain and hold public attention. These are in addition to the usual treatment of “soft news” from the show business and lifestyles beats.
Broadcast media have focused on the entertainment aspects or values of events as part of their effort to sustain high ratings. The “hook-and-hold” approach is evident as the practice of placing entertainment news between hard news.
The delivery of the news, however, has become more problematic as anchors now report hard news in the same way they report human interest news. Most anchors exaggerate their delivery, reporting events in rapid fire and high decibel fashion. TV news anchors Mike Enriquez, Erwin Tulfo, and Noli de Castro, who dominate the flagship news programs of the major networks, report the news in exactly the same exaggerated, high decibel manner.
On the other hand, this kind of delivery was not the issue in the networks’ reporting of the British royal wedding. What was at issue was what they chose to focus on, which were the venue of the wedding, the invited guests, what clothes the bride and her family wore, the food that was served, among others.
The beatification of Pope John Paul II could have been reported in a straightforward, no frills manner. Instead, the Philippine broadcast media opted to focus on such details as the supposedly life-changing experiences of Filipinos with the Pope. Papal relics and people named after Pope John Paul II were also featured as part of the beatification coverage.
Effects of trivialization
The emphasis on the entertainment value of events tends to mislead readers and viewers on the significance of those events by pandering to their impulse towards being entertained, thus undermining the basic media responsibility of providing the public both the details as well as the meaning of events.
The indicators of media failure are everywhere in the “industry.” Many news organizations are losing money, indicating a loss of viewers/readers/listeners, among other reasons because the media organizations still cling to the old belief that it is entertainment rather than information that the public wants.
Back in the mid-2000s, the broadcast company I worked for was in a neck to neck fight over ratings with its biggest competitor. And with that our news managers and chiefs were breathing down on our necks, forcing us news desk editors and reporters to come up with better stories and more exclusives.
But back then the emphasis was still on coming up with news stories which exposed corruption, illegal activities, and the glossed-over reports of supposed good governance and economic progress. We were not asked to shift the emphasis on showbiz news nor package hard news as entertainment features.
What I find detestable in how news reports are packaged nowadays is the tendency to exaggerate the trivial aspects of a story instead of getting direct to the point and making a deeper analysis. I often find this in news items on poverty and rapid urbanization.
Instead of the reporter focusing on the causes of poverty and citing statistics and the weaknesses of government programs, he anchors his whole story on the life of one subject, delivering his lines slowly and emphatically, so as to complete the usual two-minute length of a TV news package. But does he make sense? Does he show why the public should be alarmed about the rising cases of poverty? No.
The same is true with stories on rapid urbanization. In stories about demolitions and relocation. More often than not, the reporter tends to focus on the emotions of the informal settler rather than how that settler came upon the land and settled. The reporter would highlight the tears, the anger, and fury of the demolition, with complete disregard on the legal underpinnings which caused the whole situation.
While the emotions and the “feel” of the situation are important in a news story, a brief background on the phenomenon covered, with data and legal aspects if need be, would not hurt. In fact, the addition of these elements to the parts which deal only with the emotions of the subject (or subjects) would make the story more credible.
Then again, this is just me and I am an old wolf. Maybe, the kind of stories I grew up to and was trained in are already passé. Maybe the kind of journalism I know is no longer the one yearned for by today’s viewers. Maybe, nowadays viewers want to watch the news not to understand the events which are happening around them, but merely to be entertained.
Certainly not sir. There are still many people who hunger for true investigative journalism and not the pathetic sensationalism that is being presented by modern media. The problem, though, is how the culture of sensationalizing trivial details in order to gain readership or viewership has already rooted itself deep in the social psyche. Entertainment value is always held in higher regard over the veracity, the fairness and the quality of information of news and journalism. Journalism, from a humble and pure social service is commodified into a variety skit.
I think it is with great urgency that we try to inculcate once again the importance of research and reading and investigation in cultivating the non-passive and resilient characteristics we have made known to corruption most popularly during the People Power revolutions, when ousters were made to corrupt leaders. It was during then, I believe, that the true power of journalism and investigation was really at its zenith. It was when many different radical and resilient ideas were formed. Furthermore, it was when the true premises of journalism were trodden on by the early media.
Today is the time that we should resurrect that frame of mind: the frame of mind resilient from corruption, the frame of mind resilient from sensationalism, the frame of mind that independently fosters the value of research.
It is a challenge to our present and upcoming media to try to strengthen their investigative foundations and start reforming the Philippine media into one where the truth is neither entertaining nor boring, but true.