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Daily dose

Will Philippine media do a News Night 2.0?

The role of journalists and in particular the manner of how they report on the President’s public statements have become the focus of discussion on Twitter in the morning after Duterte’s most recent address wherein he launched into another diatribe against Vice President Leni Robredo for upstaging him with her efforts of helping out the victims of the two recent typhoons that ravaged Luzon causing massive flooding, damages, and loss of life. Worse, Duterte’s tirade was based largely on wrong information that was given to him by his own cabinet officials.

Aside from Duterte who was once more ridiculed and called out for his lies, misogyny and uncouth behavior, veteran journalist Joseph Morong got some flak for allegedly reporting what the President said as he said them without even bothering to fact-check the statements or applying context. Such is the peril of covering the President who is known for his incoherent and at times unfiltered public statements. Rather than interpreting, Joseph Morong has just reported what the President said nearly verbatim. Which is the sensible thing to do to avoid being called out for being ‘too biased’ with his reporting.

Simply put, don’t shoot the messenger as the veteran journalist still deserve some credit for his honest coverage of the President.

However, the larger issue remains: when would Philippine media and journalists step up its efforts in covering the President in a true journalistic fashion:

And it’s something that is not hard to as just recently, the world was impressed by US media and journalists for calling out Trump for his baseless accusations of election-rigging after being denied a second term by Democratic nominee Joe Biden.

Weeks before the US Presidential elections, there was a hint of this, ‘journalistic reboot’ from ABS-CBN News chief Ging Reyes that headlined a story that was largely ignored by the public and media itself:

“Media fed our audience too much entertainment. We’re guilty of that.”

It quickly reminded me of the opening scene in an episode of The Newsroom on which fictional cable news anchor Will McAvoy gave an inspiring apology in the same vein:

It opened with a clip of Richard Clarke, former counterterrorism chief to President George W. Bush, testifying before the US Congress on March 24, 2004, in which he basically apologized to the American people for the failure of their government to stop terrorists from carrying out the Sept 11 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York City. The full transcript I reproduce below along with a clip of the episode:

“I welcome these hearings because of the opportunity that they provide to the American people to better understand why the tragedy of 9/1 1 happened and what we must do to prevent a reoccurrence.
I also welcome the hearings because it is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/1 1.
To them who are here in the room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you.
Those entrusted with protecting you failed you.
And I failed you.”

“I welcome these hearings because of the opportunity that they provide to the American people to better understand why the tragedy of 9/1 1 happened and what we must do to prevent a reoccurrence. I also welcome the hearings because it is finally a forum where I can apologize to the loved ones of the victims of 9/1 1. To them who are here in the room, to those who are watching on television, your government failed you. Those entrusted with protecting you failed you. And I failed you.”

Will McAvoy:

Americans liked that moment.

I liked that moment.

Adults should hold themselves accountable for failure.

And so tonight I’m beginning this newscast by joining Mr. Clarke in apologizing to the American people for our failure.
The failure of this program during the time I’ve been in charge of it to successfully inform and educate the American electorate.

Let me be clear that I don’t apologize on behalf of all broadcast journalists, nor do all broadcast journalists owe an apology.
I speak for myself.
I was an accomplice to a slow and repeated and unacknowledged and un-amended train wreck of failures
that have brought us to now.

I’m a leader in an industry that miscalled election results, hyped-up terror scares, ginned up controversy, and failed to report on tectonic shifts in our country.

From the collapse of the financial system to the truths about how strong we are to the dangers we actually face.

I’m a leader in an industry that misdirected your attention with the dexterity of Harry Houdini, while sending hundreds of thousands of our bravest young men and women off to war without due diligence.

The reason we failed isn’t a mystery.

We took a dive for the ratings.

In the infancy of mass communication, the Columbus and Magellan of broadcast journalism, William Paley and David Sarnoff, went down to Washington to cut a deal with Congress.

Congress would allow the fledgling networks free use of taxpayer-owned airwaves in exchange for one public service.
That public service would be one hour of air time set aside every night for informational broadcasting, or what we now call the evening news. Congress, unable to anticipate the enormous capacity television would have to deliver consumers to advertisers, failed to include in its deal the one requirement that would have changed our national discourse immeasurably for the better.

Congress forgot to add that under no circumstances could there be paid advertising during informational broadcasting.

They forgot to say that taxpayers will give you the airwaves for free, and for 23 hours a day, you should make a profit,
but for one hour a night, you work for us. And now those network newscasts, anchored through history by honest-to-God newsmen with names like Murrow and Reasoner and Huntley and Brinkley and Buckley and Cronkite and Rather
and Russert, now they have to compete with the likes of me, a cable anchor who’s in the exact same business as the producers of Jersey Shore.

And that business was good to us, but News Night is quitting that business right now. It might come as a surprise to you
that some of history’s greatest American journalists are working right now, exceptional minds with years of experience and an unshakeable devotion to reporting the news.

But these voices are a small minority now and they don’t stand a chance against the circus, when the circus comes to town. They’re overmatched.

I’m quitting the circus, switching teams.
I’m going with the guys who are getting creamed.
I’m moved they still think they can win, and I hope they can teach me a thing or two.

From this moment on, we’ll be deciding what goes on our air
and how it’s presented to you based on the simple truth that nothing is more important to a democracy than a well-informed electorate.

We’ll endeavor to put information in a broader context because we know that very little news is born at the moment it comes across our wire.
We’ll be the champion of facts and the mortal enemy of innuendo, speculation, hyperbole, and nonsense.

We’re not waiters in a restaurant serving you the stories you asked for, just the way you like them prepared.

Nor are we computers dispensing only the facts because news is only useful in the context of humanity.

I’ll make no effort to subdue my personal opinions.
I will make every effort to expose you to informed opinions that are different from my own.

You may ask, “Who are we to make these decisions?”

We are MacKenzie McHale and myself.

Ms. McHale is our executive producer. She marshals the resources of over 100 reporters, producers, analysts, and technicians, and her credentials are readily available.
I’m News Night’s managing editor, and make the final decision on everything seen and heard on this program.
Who are we to make these decisions?
We’re the media elite.
We’ll be back after this with the news.”

Will ABS-CBN make good on the apology of its News chief shape up and step up to what the fictional Will McAvoy and his news program did in the Newsroom and be more objective, critical and be ‘damned good newsmen’?

Or am I just being too naive into thinking that the network will do such a thing? After what it has been through – suffering a major blow from Duterte, losing billions of revenue, its stable of talents decimated, losing hundreds of employees and making do with online streaming and piggy-backing on other network’s broadcasts, maybe it finally saw this as a wake up call. Had it done a much better job of informing the electorate about the monster that is Duterte, maybe it would not have gone through this dark chapter.

Here’s a clip of that opening scene:

Categories
Daily dose

In shutting down PCSO, Duterte has helped promote jueteng

without giving details or offering any evidence of the alleged corruption in PCSO, the public headed into the weekend surprised and puzzled with the sudden shutdown of Lotto, Keno, STL and other gaming activities by PCSO.

All the Palace could say was that details will be given “in due time.” No one from the top brass of PCSO has resigned nor has given any statement to Duterte’s shutdown order, only that they will make an appeal to the President’s office.

Recall that one of PCSO’s offerings is the Small-town lottery or STL which was meant to compete and help get rid of the illegal numbers game ‘jueteng’. Now that STL has been shuttered, one would expect an increase of jueteng’s popularity as people will turn to it for their gambling fix or livelihood.

With one stroke, Duterte has indirectly boosted the illegal numbers game. He was even able to mobilize the PNP in closing down the thousands of Lotto stalls nationwide under generous media coverage.

Then there was this speech the President gave last June during an oath-taking ceremony of newly elected officials in Malacanang:

May mga jueteng na activity…Maski sinong Presidente ilagay mo dito, for as long as the economy does not really provide food on the table for so many families, hayaan mo na lang ‘yan. At least ang pera doon [There are jueteng activities. Regardless who the President is, for as long as the economy does not provide really food on the table for so many families, you just let it be. At least the money is there]

Kasi hindi ko talaga rin kaya. At pagka sinira ko ‘yan, ang papalit sa apparatus niyan, droga. So choose between the lesser evil [Because I also can not do it. And if I order the closure of jueteng, it will be replaced by the drug apparatus. So choose between the lesser evil]

So it seems that Duterte has really chosen the ‘lesser evil’ and gave jueteng a Presidential boost by shutting down its competitor. Until Duterte reveals more details or progress of his so-called investigation into the alleged corruption in PCSO, the public will just have to wait and wonder.

Categories
Opinion

Politics & Religion – INC Leader’s Appointment as OFW Special Envoy

Without doubt, the appointment of Iglesia ni Cristo’s Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo as a Special Envoy for OFW concerns has stirred debate and controversy. Immediately, the topic of ‘separation of church and state’ is raised by both critics and neutral commentators. So it’s important to know what ‘separation of church and state’ really means and if indeed it has been violated by the INC leader’s appointment to a considerable position.

To answer this question I refer to my favorite expert on the Constitution, Fr Joaquin Bernas, SJ. He discussed what “separation of church and state” meant in a column that appeared on the Philippine Daily Inquirer in March 2010:

It is sometimes thought by some that separation of church and state means that church people should not get involved in the hurly burly of public and political life. In other words, they should confine themselves to the sacristy. But to understand the subject properly one must begin with what the Constitution says. The constitutional command says: “No law shall be passed respecting an establishment of religion . . .” Immediately it can be seen that the command is addressed not to the Church but to the State. It is the State, after all, which passes laws. The fundamental meaning of the clause is the prohibition imposed on the state not to establish any religion as the official state religion. We are familiar with the background of this prohibition. Under the Spanish Constitution of 1876, Catholicism was the state religion and Catholics alone enjoyed the right of engaging in public ceremonies of worship. While the Spanish Constitution itself was not extended to the Philippines, Catholicism too was the established church in the Islands under the Spanish rule. As the established church, or the official church, Catholicism was protected by the Spanish Penal Code of 1884, which was in effect in the Philippines. Thus, of the offenses enumerated in the chapter of the Penal Code entitled “Crimes Against Religion and Worship,” six specifically and solely referred to crimes against the Catholic church. We know that one of the immediate effects of the advent of the American constitutional system in the Philippines was the denial to the Catholic church of the privileged position it occupied under Spanish sovereignty. The Philippine Bill of 1902 “caused the complete separation of church and state, and the abolition of all special privileges and all restrictions theretofor conferred or imposed upon any particular religious sect.” The separation, in fact, came earlier than the Philippine Bill, which merely repeated the provision relative to religion in President McKinley’s Instruction, which, in turn, merely implemented Article X of the Treaty of Paris. The constitutional command, however, is more than just the prohibition of a state religion. That is the minimal meaning. Jurisprudence has expanded it to mean that the state may not pass “laws which aid one religion, aid all religions, or prefer one religion over another.”

Also known as the ‘non-establishment clause’ it simply means that the government cannot pass a law that establishes an official religion or laws that favor any and all religions. Does the appointment of INC Executive Minister Eduardo Manalo as Special Envoy for OFW concerns establish Iglesia ni Cristo as the official religion? No.
Does the appointment favor Iglesia ni Cristo over all other religions? Not necessarily. There are other religious leaders appointed to various government positions and functions which are perfectly legal. Unless of course Manalo was appointed with the specific mandate of serving only OFWs that belong to Iglesia ni Cristo or he starts to behave and carry out his position catering exclusively to his INC brethren. In other words, the appointment is not unconstitutional. Technically speaking.

The controversies dwell on the politics aspect of the appointmen which was made in the aftermath of Duterte’s ordering of a deployment ban to Kuwait which in turn was made in response to the latest case of abuse suffered by Filipina maid Joanna Daniela Demafelis. Her dead body was found in a freezer a year over from when her family last heard from her in 2017.

Some would agree with Malacanan’s argument that Manalo was appointed because of the international network established by Iglesia ni Cristo’s global expansion program establishing congregations throughout the world wherever Filipino expatriates are found. INC is now celebrating its 50th year of global presence. Knowing that timing is everything in politics, it’s easy to say Malacanan has impeccable timing.

INC has welcomed the appointment, painting it as a recognition of its tireless efforts in helping Filipinos abroad. However, it cannot be denied that this assistance effort goes hand-in-hand with its global evangelical mission. That in giving assistance to Filipino abroad, it offers the opportunity of winning them over to join their congregation. In this endeavor, the INC is relentless. It is also in this vein, where concerns about giving the INC an advantage over other religions comes up as raised by Randy David:

Mr. Manalo’s new role will no doubt involve frequent travels abroad, something he has been doing as INC head. While the position carries no compensation, it is hard to imagine that the job will not entail expenditure of public funds. The law prohibiting this seems clear. “No public money or property shall be appropriated, applied, paid, or employed, directly or indirectly, for the use, benefit, or support of any sect, church, denomination, sectarian institutions, or system of religion, or of any priest, preacher, minister, or other religious teacher, or dignitary as such, except when such priest, preacher, or minister, or dignitary is assigned to the armed forces, or to any penal institution, or government orphanage or leprosarium.” (Art VI, Sec. 29 [2], 1987 Constitution) Even if the government refrains from allocating public funds for Mr. Manalo as he goes about performing his work as special envoy for overseas Filipinos—precisely to avoid violating this legal restriction—one can still argue that his official diplomatic appointment gives undue preference to his church. While other churches are not explicitly excluded from reaching out to Filipinos abroad, the official appointment certainly lends to the Iglesia Ni Cristo a special cloak of authority that belongs to officials of the state alone. And, this is so not just in relation to foreign governments, but, more particularly, when dealing with offices in the Philippine bureaucracy that have anything to do with the concerns of overseas Filipinos. We may have no reason to doubt Mr. Manalo’s readiness to serve the interests of all overseas Filipinos, irrespective of their religious affiliation. But, surely, there is something fundamentally wrong, and perhaps unconstitutional, when one church is placed in a privileged position to promote itself by virtue of the special access to the civilian bureaucracy that is conferred upon it.

Another important question: is Mr Manalo properly equipped for the role that is essentially diplomatic in nature? Being the head of a religious group with a global reach is one thing, dealing with foreign governments in an official capacity is a completely different proposition. With the intricacies of diplomacy and international relations, with all of its protocols, customs and even traditions, one cannot help but wonder what’s the reaction of the Diplomatic corps be like? How many other career diplomats have been by-passed by the appointment? These questions I leave to the experts.

Lastly, the appointment cannot be isolated from the open secret that politicians regularly seek the support of the INC because of its block-voting practice and in return, individuals it endorses gets appointed to various government posts. We go back to Randy David who has pointed it out clearly:

The Duterte administration seems to take this game a notch higher. It has dropped all pretenses concerning the link between religion and politics. Short of actually establishing the INC as its official church, this administration makes no attempt to hide the fact that the Iglesia, which supported the President in the last elections, is its favored church. Both seem determined to keep this partnership strong and enduring.

Mr Manalo’s appointment is unprecedented, while there have been other INC members, some with rank within the congregation, that have been in various government posts, he is the first Executive Minister to hold one. The implications on the inter-play between politics and religion would be profound. Note that a year from now, we will be electing 12 Senators that will shape the fate of the Duterte administration.

Disclosure: The blogger is a convert to the INC. His views and opinions are entirely his own.