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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:

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