Media News Analysis

Mickey Mouse coverage of Philippine Disneyland

Earlier this year, the Philippine media, and particularly its social media, was set on fire with the news that the country was to have its own Disneyland. President Aquino had met with Walt Disney International Chairman, Andy Bird, in Los Angeles after attending the US-Asean Summit and had apparently discussed the corporation’s plans for a theme park in the country.

According to the Filipino website, Okd2.com – the original source of the story – the parties had gone on to sign a US$350 million deal to establish the facility. Trendy online metro guide, When In Manila, confirmed that Aquino and Bird had met and specifically discussed investment opportunities in the Philippines. Front pages and airwaves in the Philippines seized on the news. Columnists and talking heads argued this way and that over the benefits or otherwise of a Philippine Disneyland. On Facebook and other social-networking platforms the story went viral.

The Okd2 article claimed that Philippine Disneyland, which would create 12,000 jobs, was expected to be up and running by the summer of 2018. Its source for that information was Disney executive, Mark Paulson. The website credited Vice President for Global Public Policy at Disney, Jim Flippatos, with the disclosure that the location of the theme park would be in one of the provinces – although, according to Okd2, an earlier Disney press release had identified Batangas, Laguna, Bulacan, and Pampanga as possible locations.

“I think Metro Manila is already extremely crowded. We need at least 125 acres (50 hectares) of land to house the Disneyland Philippines”, Flippatos was quoted as saying.

Furthermore, according to the website, the Los Angeles meeting was nothing more than a rubber stamp. The actual deal for a Philippines Disneyland had been finalised two years ago, Bird confirmed said Okd2.

Meanwhile, no one it seems from one end of the media to the other actually contacted the Walt Disney Company for corroboration of the facts. And while all this went on, for the best part of a week Aquino and his spokespersons remained stoically silent on the issue – neither admitting nor denying that a deal had taken place.

That job was left to the Disney Examiner, an independent online magazine, which published an ‘Exclusive’ refuting the story. It stated: “Contrary to multiple reports mostly from Philippine news outlets, Disney officials did not confirm the investment or building of a Disney Park in the country in the Philippines”.

The Examiner had received a press release from Walt Disney Parks and Resorts which explained: “While the Philippines is an attractive market, we have no plans for the region at this time”. In Asia, Disneyland currently operates theme parks in Tokyo and Japan and Shanghai which opened on 16 June.

Morning News USA, an online news organ owned by Tune Media, finally put the matter to rest explaining that the Okd2 report was nothing more than a hoax.

While there are some very serious journalists of integrity in the Philippines, they are not the mainstay of the profession there. News editing is poor with verification of facts virtually treated as an optional extra rather than a fundamental requirement. With rumour and conspiracy theories as well as both political and corporate influence often being the real news source, basing any investment strategy on what appears in the local press would be extremely foolhardy.

The Volatilian Assessment of the Philippine Media, 2016. In the category, Media as an Extension of the Entertainment Industry, the Philippines scores an A+; in the Reliable News Source category, it scores a C- (an average score among Asean media); in the Government Media-Manipulation category, it gets 7.5 (10 representing full state control); in the Corporate Ownership of the Media category, it scores 8.5 (much of the most-influential media are in the hands of large Philippine corporations which regularly use it for their own purposes); in the Press Freedom category it is deemed “Partially Free” (the consensus view of other media-watching agencies such as Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders); in the Publishing of Apologies category, it scores a D- (retractions by the media are rare, other than when a threat of legal action has been issued); in the Journalists’ Integrity category, it gets ‘Poor’ status (the repeated failure of institutions such as the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, to address corruption and discipline issues in its membership has greatly contributed to this ranking).