President Arroyo pleads for the media’s help in her pursuit to leave a legacy in her remaining three years before she bows out in 2010. Addressing various media executives, Arroyo asked for media to have “balanced reporting based on verified facts, constructive commentary on public issues, and editorial focus on news that matters to the lives and livelihood of ordinary Filipinos.”
To repeat, Arroyo is asking for “balanced reporting,” “constructive commentary,” and for “editorial focus on news that matters to the lives and livelihood of ordinary Filipinos.” The best for Arroyo to do to help the media is to leave them alone and let them do their job (I think I read this somewhere in PJR). We all have seen Arroyo’s skewed concept of what is news and to hear her demand for “balanced reporting,” and “constructive commentary” is like seeing Kim Jong-Il preaching on the soapbox about the merits of being sane. For all we know, under Arroyo’s watch came the record-breaking stats of slain and sued journalists. And she is actually asking for media’s help. The idea even of a president asking the media for “help” is indicative of a flawed understanding of the role news media plays in democratic institutions. Journalists do not help, or give favors to anyone. Bil Kovach and Rosenstiel, both esteemed journalism scholars, said it best when they wrote in their book The Elements of Journalism that “journalism’s first obligation is to the truth.”
Arroyo’s views however remains consistent with the way she has treated media for the duration of her presidency. It could be remembered how she walked out in a recent press conference after an Inquirer reporter asked why her much vaunted economic improvement has not trickled down to the poor. Arroyo, in a smile that took like a million muscles to mount, said that she does not want to talk about “disappointments,” but only about the good things, or words to that effect. Therein lies the problem. For Arroyo, the media is good as long as it reports good news about her. Journalism clearly is not what she’s asking for but PR. Arroyo seems only willing to swallow good and sweet news about her administration and nothing else. No wonder, her administration is diabetic, the wounds of her mistakes rankling and festering, hovering like a ghost atop Malacañang.
Unsurprisingly, this view is not inconsistent with her other cabinet members, the most glaring example being her notorious pitbull Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez. When UN Special Rapporteur Philip Alston went to the country to investigate the rising incidence of extra-judicial killings, Gonzalez barked that the problem with us Filipinos is we allow foreigners to come into our country and examine our dirty kitchen. When Alston issued his preliminary observation commenting that the military is in a “state of denial,” Esperon harped back and said that Alston was in fact the one in denial because of his “refusal to believe that the CPP-NPA could perpetrate such killings.” The military still sells the line that the hundreds of extra-judicial killings in our country which includes activists, lawyers, journalists are all part of communist purges within the CPP-NPA, an organization which interestingly, as the military purports, have acquired the curious habit of decimating its own ranks, doing so for the past two decades since democracy was restored. I myself had the first-hand experience of a government official talking to me bemoaning that what all the media does is to report negative things about the government. Recollection of said incident triggers a leper bell in my subconscious so please excuse me if I beg off in elaborating.
The bottom line is the administration’s concept of news is anything that is favorable to them: legit news is good news.
In fact, if Arroyo is really genuinely concerned with press freedom, she could start by reformatting the government sequestered channels, mainly NBN, RPN and IBC. She could start by releasing her administration’s leash on the said station’s news programs and allow them to operate freely as news media and not as bootlickers of her administration.
Another statement made by Arroyo during her recent dialogue with media executives could also explain why killings continue to be unresolved under her watch: “You know, one of the things that allowed us to achieve 6.9 percent growth rate in the first quarter, the stock market record in our history, the strong peso, the reduction in underemployment, is our focus on the economy. And I try my best not to be distracted by politics and so we’re continuing this kind of work and mindset.”
See, Arroyo stated that she will “focus on the economy” and to try her best “not to be distracted by politics.” That’s like a parent telling her children to fuck off as her only responsibility is to generate cash for their everyday existence.
That’s a problem, a president who begs off from politics. Elementary lessons in political dynamics remind that “conflict” is the stuff politics is made of. Arroyo basically does not want to get her hands dirty. No wonder the killing of journalists continues unabated, what with her anemic measures, if any actually, to stem it.
Politics is conflict resolution, to put it simply. In the regime of a president who wishes to skirt “politics,” would we be then surprised if she fails to cut the tide of extra-judicial killings? Of course the president need not to deal with such problems first-hand, but her pronouncements are unquestionably illustrative of the virtues surrounding her governance. Alston indeed nailed the hammer right on the head when he uttered the word “denial.” Despite the increasing numbers of journalists being killed and sued (no less by the president’s husband), Arroyo has never discarded her habit of pronouncing that press freedom is well and alive in our country. Could press freedom be alive in a country where journalists are continually killed and libeled? Yes if one has a twisted sense of what press freedom actually is. (It would be well to note that a day after the president asked for media’s help last Wed, a journalist was arrested for libel (again!).)
What’s disturbing also is not Arroyo’s concept of news, (that is, good news), but her idea of how to treat negative news (if there even is such a term. Negative news only used to pertain to news that falls out of the accepted norms of what constitutes news for Arroyo, which then means anything that is critical of her administration). “Forward.” Let us move forward has been the general tune of her administration when it comes to facing political crisis. Well, that’s unsurprising considering that Arroyo in the first place does not want to be “distracted by politics.” Let bygones be bygone so they say.
In the House Centennial Rites last June 8, Arroyo said that the “overwhelming victory of our coalition in Congress and in the local governments is a continuing mandate of reform, unity, more work and less politics, looking forward and leaving behind the contentious past.” The word “forward” was repeated four times in Arroyo’s SONA in 2004. “Now, is our time to march forward as one,” Arroyo said in her inaugural address on June 30, 2004. In her address before media executives last Wednesday, Arroyo said in her opening statement that her administration intends to “begin a new phase of my administration, which is the legacy phase and we would like to share with you what we’d like to do to move forward and to ask for your support so that we can achieve all the things we want to do for the next three years.”
The practice is not entirely lost on her aides. When Comelec Commissioner Rene Sarmiento proposed to revive the probe on the Garci tapes just recently, Executive Secretary Eduardo Ermita said “Let’s move forward. Let’s leave behind things that will not contribute to our nation’s progress.”
In 2005, Ignacio Bunye said “It’s time that we move forward so that the Philippine economy can take off,” in line with the House probe on the Garci tapes.
Alex Magno, known administration apologist, said in an ABS-CBN interview on the elections day that we all should move forward and forget about the unresolved cases of the present administration. Media critic Vergel Santos retorted that we are indeed moving forward, “from fraud to fraud to fraud.” Touché.
It’s quite alarming that our situation is growing increasingly similar to George Orwell’s 1984. (Instead of big brother, we’ve got small sister). Take a look at this . Couple that with the fact of the newly-minted Anti-terror law, and the recently proclaimed EO 608, which aims to plug leaks from all sectors of the government.
Even Arroyo’s speeches and her aids have been largely suffused with Orwellian doublespeak, so what then could we expect from her if she says such words as “progress,” “development,” or even “freedom?”
Nothing. In fact, don’t expect nothing. Perhaps it would be better to expect the worst.