Wednesday, May 10, 2006

Watched Dog

This world seems to be getting too old that it's now messing up the natural order of things, adorning the summer with rain and storm instead of glorious sunshine. Perversions in every form are also disturbing, especially the manipulation of truth where the villains become heroes and the real heroes the villains. Our country has its own share of this shocking "magic" and foremost of these is the reversal of the media's role in society from being a watchdog into a watched dog because of GMA's Presidential Proclamation 1017. Now, it's the government watching the media instead of media watching the government, which is the established order in a democratic society. The proclamation has been lifted but its "chilling effect" still hovers over media agencies, making journalists tread slowly on sensitive issues for fear of earning the government's vindictive ire.

GMA's contempt for the media stemmed from the latter's refusal to adhere to her definition of responsible journalism, which is "more of good news than bad" especially when the subject is her economic reforms and governance policies. The media's perceived penchant for negative stories is also the reason cited by Atty. Romela Bengzon, a member of GMA's appointed Consultative Commission, as justification for the malicious insertion of the phrase "responsible exercise of" in Section 4 of the Bill of Rights. The defiled provision now reads, as proposed: "No law shall be passed abridging the responsible exercise of the freedom of speech, of expression, and of the press." Of course, it will be GMA who will define the word "responsible."

Her indignation came out into the open during the 31st top management conference of the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas last November in Baguio, where she urged them to cast off their "bad boy" image and be part of the solution for national development. "A press that loses credibility as the watchdog of government and the society becomes a drag to democracy rather than a force of freedom," she exhorted. In this statement, GMA cannot be faulted totally. Truly, the Philippine media is guilty of many excesses and abuses, an institution losing its credibility due to unethical practices and corruption. It has also failed to deliver its mandate, which is to empower the poor through information, as it remains largely under the control of the ruling elite.

But it's not GMA who should lecture the media: she has no right to do so. Her name stinks and her regime is founded on lies and treachery. Leave the matter to the market. Educate the consuming public, refine their taste and teach them to be critical thinkers and the mediocre media outfits and illiterate practitioners will disappear soon. After all, it is the politicians of the same cut as GMA that are corrupting the media. The abusive media is a monster of their making. They know that journalists earn so little so they offer them money in exchange for good publicity. They know that the media wields enormous influence in the community, so they hire journalists to malign and discredit their political rivals. It was they who taught media practitioners how to convert their power into thick bundles of bills. In Palawan, some politicians have polarized the media so much that instead of criticizing social evils and rampant corruption, journalists have been hitting each other. It is a Machiavellian ploy that has shattered the collective power of the local media. If lambasted in a critical radio station or newspaper, a politician will just go to a rival media entity to hit back at the offending writer or broadcaster.

Money tames the critical tongues of broadcasters and perverts the righteous hands of journalists; bullets silence what money cannot tame. When the media is reduced to shouting praises for crooked politicians, that is the worst perversion of our time. By then, the media would have morphed into dogs licking the heels of their politician masters.

Editorial published in March 2006/Bandillo ng Palawan


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