NEGROS PRESS CLUB
The Oldest Press Club in the Philippines
NCP Building, San Juan Street, Bacolod City
Telefax +63 (34) 434-8965
Good evening. Thank you for initing me. Congratulations to the new officers of the Negros Press Club, the oldest in our history; the youngest in its membership. I was saving my breath for a long and not so easy speech but I’ve lost a lot of it expressing my wonder at the splendor of the sprawing new SM. Let me tell you, I know Henry Sy and he doesn’t make mistakes; he doesn’t wait for progress to happen before coming in; he comes in to make progress happen. The new SM is an earnest of his unfailing faith in our future here.
I won’t miss a chance to return where I spent summers as a boy. There is a quality in the Southerner that he must renew from time to time by coming back, so he doesn’t lose the sense of where he is which comes from the sense of whence he came. Let me cut to the chase.
Outside of newspapers, TV, and radio, in that order, there are no other sources of news. In that order because TV and radio get their news from print or must validate their news against print. Otherwise it is “That’s your story but I heard different.”
The philosopher Berkeley asked, “If a tree falls in the forest / but no one is around to see or hear it fall, did it fall?” For practical purposes it did not. If you come across a freshly fallen tree, that’s not news unless it fell on someone of note or destroyed something of value.
Only if it’s news do events exert an influence. Only then do events shape our thinking—or whether we think at all about events. It is only as news that events might start a chain reaction for the better or the worse; or perhaps for nothing at all so things stay they way they were. Sometimes media wants it to seem that nothing’s happened so nothing will change and half-truths seem complete.
From that, you can surmise the role of media. In all honesty, it is to tell things as they happened; to describe things as they are; and with as much detail for the public to make sense of it—without dictating to the public the sense they make of events because that would be propaganda.
Sometimes media want to dictate the public sense. You wonder why. It is not like we are a whole lot smarter who report the news than those who listen to it. Sometimes, oftentimes, media pass off opinions as news, wrapping opinions with facts quickly cherry-picked before deadline.
The media did not report the raw facts that an unremitting rain of bullets drenched in their own blood a group of men doing their duty to apprehend or kill a pair of terrorists. It was not for the money, as media immediately suggested; the money couldn’t be for them; but just to get the job done.
The media has yet to finger unequivocally whence came the shower of shots that drenched our men. The MILF were hiding two terrorists in their camp.
Instead media reported that our men were mowed down but sadly also some MILF. Media won’t say unequivocally that the MILF were responsible. Media did not report what the media darling had done: going from fallen to fallen to finish off the wounded pointblank, according to early reports from the field. It took a brave soul to upload the videoed carnage on the web showing that it really happened. Other brave souls sent it forward despite DOJ warning against it.
What the media still reports is that a video of dubious provenance and doubtful authenticity was uploaded and compassionately taken down to spare the feelings of the families of the dead—though none of the grieving had asked that it be taken down.
On the contrary, if my son were killed I would want to see the worst that was done to him. I would want his commander in chief to know that he owes it to him and to me to take down his murderers whatever the political consequences. In the words of the King of Jordan “I will kill them. I will kill their friends. I will burn their houses down”— before his jet fighters took off to do just that. That’s a leader not a brat.
It was that way with opinion. Outside the trio of mainstream media, it was just, “Well, that’s just your opinion.” Exposed to the competition of a marketplace enlarged by social media to include thinking men and women, print and broadcast “opinionists” were taken down so many notches they are level with the denizens of the web.
Yet when it comes to news, only news in newspapers, TV and radio remained credible. So what did “opinionists” do? They injected their opinions, slants and biases into the news to give it flavor but really to give it spin. Facts were suppressed or their release was timed to jive with a media strategy; facts were prettified or “uglified” for the same lying purpose. Mamasapano did not make it to the news—it was damage control from the get-go.
It is only from the Senate hearings, which cannot be edited live, that the public got the facts from the mouths of direct participants in the mission turned massacre. Yet on its own, the public correctly distinguished between the likely and the unlikely in what was testified. This despite strenuous efforts by mainstream media to blur the distinction; to decide for the public what was true; and thereby dictate the public reaction to the massacred mission. But trust the public to know the difference between what a dog on a walk drops behind it and what really happened in Mamasapano. That is why the issue will not die.
How crucial is the role of media in today’s political situation? / For now, media are the whole enchilada and media know it. Which is why media’s first instinct is not to tell the facts but cherry-pick them and pass on information so dosed with bias that it tastes like meat in a lotta gravy but it is only tofu. That is changing. The news is no longer so highly regarded. Media forgets that for 13 years nobody bothered with the news. Life went on without it.
Beyond the sacrifice of truth what is most deplorable is the waste of an opportunity to do what journalism does best. That is to tell a story—and tell it as close to the truth as possible because the truth is the story, with no agenda but to tell it true.
The Mamasapano massacre-mission would have made great journalism maybe even literature deserving of verses in the saga of our race.
In the best sense of the word, Mamasapano was beautiful as only truth can be. Think of the men jumping off the personnel carriers, stepping carefully into the rice paddies, anxious that the dry stubble will betray their arrival in the deep dark before dawn. You might imagine our boys saying to themselves:
Hello, darkness, my old friend,
We’ve come to talk to you again,
Stay with us until the end.
Darkness cover us like a cape,
Do not cover us like a shroud,
Help us make a good escape
That we return standing proud.
But even in the dark it was obvious not all the men needed to complete the mission had made it across the river into the field. There were just enough for the one and not the two targets. With the speed of lightning minus flash and thunder the decision was made to take just one out; to try for two might miss them both. A door kicked in, the dark interior flickering with starlight; the sound of someone falling and a finger sawed off and wrapped in a cloth. Then the rush out the door—into the dawn’s early. Morning had broken, as the song goes. Within minutes the sun burned out the darkness and drenched the field with light so bright only slim slivers of shadow anywhere. Then came a pitiless and unremitting spray of bullets from what should have been a sleeping camp in the middle of a promised ceasefire. Did someone alert the enemy to their presence? The men make a wild dash to safety, with safety nowhere in sight. There is no high ground within reach, no commanding height to hold until help came; but there was never the intention to help. They were left to die.
From all around in the brightening day, came the unceasing crack of gunshots; bullets coming so thick and fast as to slice the tall grass like a scythe. Death had taken command of the mission; it came to take them to the soldier’s home in the ground.
As bullets slammed into them those who tried to drag the wounded to safety, with no safety in sight, were told, “Go, leave me, you will only die, I will hold them off.” Men trained to the sharpness of a knife-edge, in the most intellectually demanding of professions—which is killing for country and dying for cause—ran around in utter confusion. As blood bubbled in their mouths they knew who would bleed in their hearts: those they were leaving behind: widows and orphans bereft of care, protection and love, stripped of means to live and raise the children; left only to sob in the ears of a deaf man in the Palace.
Instead of conveying in the raw, the stark events the way they unfolded, the first media reports ruled out the MILF as the most likely shooters. Sure, it was in the MILF camp but the MILF didn’t do it. BIFF did it, BIFF the bullying brother in Back to the Future. Succeeding reports blamed the incompetence of the dead for their own deaths even if American special forces had watched the unfolding of a mission accomplished from which a safe return was always against the odds. As the Americans in the command center fold back the cloth in which they had been given the finger, to be taken to the FBI lab for confirmation, they knew what the media still denies us: how far our boys had gone beyond the call of duty so as to justify what is written in stone where 300 Spartans fell 2,500 years ago:
Stranger passing by,
Go tell the Spartans,
Here men knew how to die.
Here was a golden opportunity for media to tell a story, which is the greatest gift of mankind, and a true one in every particular at that. For without stories, we are but pairs of lungs inflating and deflating, hearts pounding blood around, stomachs digesting so both organs can keep going, and bowels excreting to make room for the next round. Stories give meaning to the cycle of life. It is not that we live but how we live and die.
The best stories tell themselves; no need for editorial comment; for special pleading let alone official defense. Mamasapana was a story begging to tell itself but media would not let it. Media had to give it a spin or it wouldn’t be the kind of news that would produce the effect media wanted. The point of the new journalism is not to tell the story but to dictate the reaction to the story that cannot be told the way it happened without losing control. It must be spun to achieve the desired effect. And that effect is to save the peace talks and a crack at the Nobel Prize for a peace that’s sure to be shattered by the certainty of a bigger war with a stronger enemy with a homeland of its own in the heart of our country.
That said, one shouldn’t, as you asked me, regulate media; that would make media worse. You cannot regulate media into excellence. Like degradation excellence is voluntary. If you don’t want it; if you won’t work for it; you won’t achieve it. Degradation is easier; just go with the flow.
Far from regulating the media, there should be open access to every source of news but with public relevance as the only constraining condition. Hence the freedom of information act that is dead in the water while Ben Evardone, a former newsman, is in charge.
Whatever the FOI will contain, it must have this provision or it is pointless. “No public funds shall be paid out, unless the sum appropriated, for the purpose stated, shall have been published and broadcast in media by paid advertisements. Any disbursement absent the foregoing shall be conclusive of malversation.”
By itself, this provision answers both concerns about national security and privacy. on the one hand, and the need of the public to know, on the other. The public does not need to know everything that’s talked about and done in government—so long as no public funds are spent on it. The public does not need to know the private life of public officials—so long as no public funds are spent on GROs. We don’t even need to know if the executive is working with a foreign spy agency. If it is never known it will have no effect other than that discreetly intended; so we don’t need to know it. But if we break the story we must take the legal consequences for a breach of national security. But no money must be spent on anything, including espionage, without prior publication even if the precise mission is revealed only, as in the US, to a select committee of Congress. We just need to know if money was spent and for what purpose; in case the money was actually spent on GROs or pocketed by executive officials for that purpose as everyone knows.
We need a right of reply in the FOI. Why shouldn’t we want the right of reply? It fleshes out our stories. Real newsmen know that the real challenge of journalism is how to get paid well when we are still paid by the word. This will help pad our narratives.
We already have the advantage in breaking the news so we must face the prospect of being corrected on that score. Beyond fairness, getting out the other side enriches our story—unless we are getting rich telling only the half of it.
The reply is part of the story: be it a bare denial or proof to the contrary. That is how the late Alvin Capino ran Karambola. He got all sides, and if he couldn’t, one of us stood in for the side we did not get; and that one played the part as if he was in the dock himself. And that is why, though the station has a relatively short reach and a smaller audience than others, Karambola under Alvin Capino was the most talked about and respected program on radio.
Without the libel law, we won’t be sued; we’ll be shot instead. Worse yet, journalists will be immune to justice. I prefer to be sued than shot—or protected by the law from the correct consequences of my misdeeds.
Social media can and has been abused and the way to punish it is with the same libel law—and not with new cybercrime legislation. The last thing we want is government in the web, we get enough government lies from mainstream media. If anything leaves a permanent trace of publication, it is the Internet. Hillary Clinton’s e-mails are being investigated.
The block time problem is a mystery to me but it seems to be solving itself. The threat posed by the last assassination seems to be doing the job. Block timers are more careful. Envelopmental journalism thrives in the most respectable establishments where it passes itself off as enabling journalism. This is the new journalism that helps the government get its way even if government always gets its way except in the matter of public opinion. The public isn’t buying any of it.
When the issue of murdered journalists came up, Isagani Yambot, the great late publisher of the Inquirer, told the International Press Institute that, with a few exceptions none of which he recalled, most journalists who got shot were asking for it. They were fooling around with a politician’s girlfriend or shaking him down to cover up his crimes. Noli de Castro was asked if he wanted the crime of homicide to be qualified when the victim is a journalist. Qualified means made heinous. Noli said, No. Why should killing a journalist be worse than killing a plumber? There is no reason. Without exception, what we all do is just our job because it is the only way we know how to make a living or it is what we like to do. In either case, we must take the consequences like everybody else doing his job.
There is no need to balance freedom of expression with ethical practice. By definition, freedom of expression is the ethical exercise of it. Every basic right is limited by another’s right to the same or to another basic right. Anyone who feels the need to balance freedom of expression and ethical practice is already planning to violate the ethics of it. He is only weighing the risk of libel or assassination against the profit of slander.
President Aquino is handling the various crises facing the country today as best he knows how, which isn’t very good. In fact it has never been good starting with the Luneta hostage massacre. But it is worse for him now that media balks at covering up his mistakes as in the past. I blame the media for everything that’s gone wrong. Keep praising a man for his mistakes and he will make worse mistakes to show he is really good at it. After all, he got plaudits from media for past mistakes.
Media should never help a president defend himself. It should publish his defense but anything more is disgusting. The President has more than enough power to defend himself even against correct criticism of his indubitable mistakes. What he can do is to start correcting those mistakes and not repeat them. For media to defend power in error or abuse is for media to abdicate their sole reason for existing; which is to speak the truth to presidential power and not any other kind because there is no other kind. A silly woman said mindlessly repeating the Executive’s accusations against Chief Justice Corona was speaking the truth to power. How silly. Executive power is real power. Legislative power is deliberative and porcine. Judicial power was described by Bickel as that of the Least Dangerous Branch and therefore the weakest of government.
How should President Aquino handle criticism in media? By seeming to ignore it; and where the criticism is true, by quietly correcting his mistake. If he doesn’t see it as a mistake, he should manfully take the criticism. Time will prove him right or wrong. He can’t have it his way immediately or no way and never; the way he challenged critics to come up with an alternative to his awful peace plan from which, indeed, there is no going back to the way things were because he has emboldened the enemy to take greater liberties and, as we see, many more lives. Thank you. #