Category Archives: Society

The place of media in a democracy: the HK hostage crisis

After watching this afternoon’s senate hearing with the media on the hostage crisis, I felt that we need to be more clear on the role of media in a democratic society. I’m not saying that media practitioners had no fault in this incident; on the contrary, as they have found themselves, they need to establish a few more guidelines here and there. But I think it would do well to understand better why they’re there.

I’d like to address this matter with respect to the following areas:

Reporting to the world

Photo by Sakuradate
Much has been said about the country’s maimed reputation because of the broadcasting of the hostage incident. Yes, it’s true, we’re now economically worse off because of the whole thing. Yes, it’s true, our fellow Pinoys in Hong Kong experience much greater discomfort than ever before. But to say that the media are at fault shows a grave misunderstanding of their role. The media serves as a check and balance for the government. That’s why they’re called the “watchdog” of the government in a democratic state. If, in reporting the facts, they expose the mistakes of a government, then that’s all in a day’s work, and sometimes even a job well done. The negative economic repercussions arising from the government’s mistakes, therefore, are not the media’s fault.

But how about protecting the nation’s interest? Don’t journalists have a role in that? Yes, precisely, they do, and that is in doing their job well. The media will not push for our nation’s progress by “marketing” our nation to the world. That’s the role of marketing people. They will serve the nation by bringing forth the truth that the public ought to know. The moment we ask them to lose their objectivity for the sake of making our country look good, we would have done our country a great disservice. So, regarding Sen. Enrile’s question on where journalists draw the line between national interest and professional ethics, I’d have to say that there is no conflict between the two.

Freedom of expression

Freedom of expression is a basic element of a democratic society. It’s important because democracy, as a political ideology, assumes that persons bring themselves to fulfillment through freedom. To express oneself is one of those freedoms. This applies not only to media organizations as institutions, but to individual citizens as well. We must protect the freedom of expression because not doing so will endanger our democracy. Remember what happened back in 1972? Given this, I’m in agreement with Maria Ressa, Senior Vice President for News and Current Affairs of ABS-CBN, and other media professionals in saying that we don’t need more laws in this area. Adding legislation that places restrictions on the media could give a few ill-willed or ill-witted government authorities their precious windows of opportunity.

However, there are limits to the freedom of expression. I learned from media law class that there are two specific limits: national security and the right to privacy. I suppose it would be enough to discuss national security in this case. During the hostage situation, police intelligence was obviously compromised, since the Mendoza knew some of the actions of the police through the television on board. Maybe the media should have been further away. Maybe there shouldn’t have been any live coverage. Maybe they should have assumed that there could be a television on board.

I was filled with all these maybes until I heard the testimonies of the media executives during the hearing. Maria Ressa explained that, in the past, there had been worse crisis situations, but none of them ended like this one did. Why? Because the “crisis managers” (probably the police) used their right to set parameters on the media. But this time, the authorities did not use that right as extensively as they had done so in the past. On the other hand, the media set up and went on with their live coverage, trusting that the situation was being managed as well as they had always been in the past, thinking that the meager guidelines they were given were enough. They were wrong.


That’s where the “major major” mistake and resolution arise. Maria Ressa said that the media’s biggest mistake was to assume that the authorities were managing everything properly. She and Jessica Soho had discussed that the media ought to know what to do if the authorities weren’t doing their part, which I hope would give way to more concrete guidelines for operating during such circumstances.

Of course, we’re talking about the media’s role here. We’re not touching on the government’s role yet. But in a democratic society where people should care for each other, the media have now learned to not assume that the other party is doing well. After all, they are the watchdog of the government, so that’s one reality they have to factor into their professional practice.

Thankfully, the senators were very open and constructive in their inquiry, even if some of them didn’t seem to know much about the media. One senator admitted to simply fearing them. But, through this experience, I hope the Filipino people have gained a better understanding of their role in our country. We need to understand each other if we are to support one another in building a great nation.

Thoughts on P-Noy’s 2010 SONA

President Benigno S. Aquino III delivers his 2nd State of the Nation Address (SONA)
President Benigno S. Aquino III delivers his 2nd State of the Nation Address (SONA)

It had not been a long time since the elections when our new President shook our world again. In his State of the Nation Address (SONA) for 2010, he gave a burning speech on what he’d been busy with for the past two months. In case you weren’t able to catch the SONA, here’s a copy of it.

Just my two cents on the SONA:

  1. It seems that the checks and balances that are necessary in our system of governance aren’t in place. Why would so many unforeseen projects get implemented to the detriment of planned ones? If proper checks and balances were really in place, such things would not even be possible.
  2. P-Noy revealed a lot of controversial cases. I certainly hope they’re already undergoing due process because otherwise, these exposés could preempt the court’s decision or even be construed as public stunts. But I have to admit that before this SONA, I didn’t know people could have so many bonuses.
  3. Teddy Locsin said on ABS-CBN that he doesn’t believe in “kung walang corrupt, walang mahirap” and that structural changes need to be made. I wholeheartedly agree. If we allow our flawed system to continue spawning corruption, we’re simply going to have one public prosecution after another, without effecting a long-term change (especially after P-Noy’s term).
  4. I think it’s great that the government wants to closely collaborate with the private sector. After all, why should the government spend its limited resources on something that private citizens and institutions can do? Along that line, I hope P-Noy realizes that he should leave sex education with the parents because they’re the best people to talk about the topic. He can support this responsibility of parents by strengthening moral education in schools so that our children will grow up to be good parents. But other than that, I think taxpayers’ money should go to tasks that are really concerns of the government.
  5. I’m very happy about the move to make it easy for businesses to register. I’ve tried before (out of a real desire to pay taxes), but the process was just so tedious that it altogether discouraged a newbie like me. If the process were a lot more friendly, I bet many small businesses will emerge, generating more production and taxes.

What are your thoughts on P-Noy’s SONA?

A nation’s greatness: May 10, 2010 election day

This is my fourth time to vote. And of all those times, I just have to say that I’ve never been more proud of my countrymen than in today’s elections.

When I got to the precinct at around 10:30 am, there was a queue of around 500 meters. I know many of those who I joined in the queue wouldn’t ordinarily bear with that kind of a line. The sun was shining like there was no tomorrow, enough to scorch any Pinoy’s kayumanggi complexion. But no, we stuck it out, with our umbrellas, fans and drinking water. There were even people distributing bottled water for free (how grateful we were!) and, further down the line, I discovered a tent manned by UNTV where one can get a cup of water. Thankfully, the precinct was also near a wet market, which meant there were enough food vendors around. I treated myself to a glass of taho to strengthen myself before entering the crowded public school.

My family and I were very lucky. The room where our precincts were lodged had very few people in it, so halfway through the queue, a man picked out those who were assigned to this room. We skipped the rest of the line and headed straight to Room 209. We queued up again in that room, appreciating the three electric fans that cooled us a little. We then took our ballots and shaded those ellipses (which, I may add, are not circles. Ang oblong po ay hindi bilog. I’m sure many school teachers will have a hard time persuading preschool kids to accept that after this year’s COMELEC campaigns). We smoothly fed our ballots into the PCOS machine. Two hours in all; that certainly went well. The others probably spent around four hours because of the long queue.

Yes, there were complaints, but there could have been so much more. Yes, we all expressed our dismay at this seemingly slower process, but many of us also gave our government the benefit of the doubt since it’s the first time we’re implementing an automated system. Yes, some people gave up, but many did not. Yes, some PCOS machines broke, but many waited five or six hours for them to get fixed. All that just to get your own vote as a Filipino in.

If there’s one thing that Filipinos could teach the whole world, I think it’s this: that suffering is meaningful if you’re doing it for someone or something you love. People in developed countries, however progressive they may be, tend to be a lot more unforgiving of such inconveniences. But not we Filipinos. Whether it be going out of the country to feed our family, giving up some comforts to help flood victims, or bearing such heat for hours, we don’t mind as long as that love is in place. Today, out of love for our country, or even a candidate, the nation bore its sufferings for a purpose.

Let’s not make the mistake of ruining that strength. Yes, we can legitimately want the comforts of life, but let’s keep in mind that life is necessarily better when it’s more comfortable. What’s important is to love and to have the right loves. And sometimes, when suffering is in the way of that love, the Filipino’s greatness shines when he perseveres through it.