Media News Analysis

The war of words

As the media war between mainstream and social continues to gather pace, it seems increasingly obvious that there can only be one winner – and that won’t be the mainstream. Readerships are won by attraction not by bombast, not by telling readers what to think – the Liberal-Left’s tools of trade which are getting blunter by the day.

The now financially struggling New York Times and the Guardian among others – and more recently the Philippine-based Rappler (though its finances as far as we can tell are in order) – have all lost large numbers of readers and followers. This is a result of the people exercising their freedom of choice. They’re stating that these organisations no longer represent their interests – worse, in some instances, that they represent the politically prejudicial agendas of their financers and the political elites that seek to diminish or silence their interests.

The online-only Rappler was an unreserved supporter of former president, Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino, and remains very much allied to Liberal Party thinking and the camp from which it emanates. Consequently, it’s a severe critic of incumbent Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte and his policies. All that is the mast to which its nailed its colours. That’s its choice.

Yesterday, Duterte hauled one of its “reporters”, Pia Rañada, over the coals at a press conference for her latest invective that sought to humiliate him. The “glamour” of journalism for Mz Rañada seems to start and end with her self-promotion as a hard-hitting newshound – mostly, it seems by trying to sink her teeth into Duterte’s hide. But having watched her press-conference technique, to us she’s as relevant in that arena as a fly fisherman at a bull fight. We can’t think of a politician anywhere who would take her sniping approach seriously. No doubt her Rappler chums will massage her ego, but how does she think the viewing public appreciated the spectacle she made of herself?

Here, as elsewhere, it’s the public that will sanitise its own exposure to media. They’ll decide who they trust in telling the Philippine story, and that performance by ‘Princess’ Pia certainly won’t have helped its endearment to Rappler. Moreover, the more objections which the mainstream lodges against social media, the bigger will be the exodus from the former to the latter. Sheer weight of numbers is what will determine the outcome of this war. Like it or not, social media has a bigger megaphone.

Furthermore, it’s not for any part of media to seek the exit of a rival voice. That right remains – solely – with media audiences. There’s no point chiding former readers for seeking their news coverage elsewhere – on other social-media sites; that’s their prerogative. They’ll decide whose views best express their own; which media genuinely address their concerns. All media’s fate – rightly – is in their hands. And it will remain so.

In the case of the overseas-funded Rappler, it would seem it’s not been paying close enough attention to its ‘Mood Meter’ – a device by which it can track reader reaction to its stories when readers click to answer “How does this story make you feel?” Though less than precise as an analytical tool, it should provide a loose indictor to how its coverage is being received.

Certainly this was highly innovative and for it Rappler won the 2012 Bronze Medal for Brand Experience presented by the Internet Media Marketing Association of the Philippines. And rightly so; it was welcoming feedback from its readers; it was appearing to be listening to them. But, given the way those readers have been leaving Rappler, they clearly felt it hadn’t been.

The Mood Meter had become like one of those great pieces of legislation – the 2012 Responsible Parenthood and Reproduction Health Act, for example – that look good on the statute books but have never properly been implemented or enforced. Decorative more than useful.

The readers are really not the problem – though they became so for Rappler back in October last year when, over a four-day period 33,000 followers left its Facebook site. But Rappler had been hemorrhaging follower for some time. On its main site, between July and December last year it lost 9.81% of them each month – 49.05% went offline there over that period, plunging Rappler’s total website traffic from just under 15 million to just over 7.5 million.

The October departures were in response to an article by the organisation’s founder and president, Maria Ressa, which attacked the popular pro-Duterte Facebook page of singer/dancer Mocha Uson. Her article claimed – among other things – that Mocha Uson “grew her Facebook page with sex advice and sessions in the bedroom with her all-girl band, the Mocha Girls”. Those remarks are pretty close to gutter journalism in our book and they had the inevitable effect.

In that article, Ressa also asserted that the entertainer had “caused controversy” with her “campaign for the Reproductive Health [RH] Bill for sex education and access to contraceptives”. Really? For that she shouldn’t be condemned, she should be roundly praised – even by a media rival. But that’s a good illustration of how mainstream media attempts to foist opinion on the public. (Oddly, however, it was Aquino whom her media operation wholeheartedly backed who fought for the RH legislation).

Rappler, Ressa, Rañada – what is this the three Rs of anti-Duterteism. Certainly, on this form, they have little to do with the two Rs in ‘Reliable Reporting’.

Rappler, however, is no lone wolf prowling after Duterte. Far from it; it’s just another member of the mainstream pack baying for his blood. But social media has thrown up a defence network that’s virtually unassailable. Certainly it won’t be broken down by the whinging and the whining of the Liberal-Left.

In the early days of Duterte’s administration, Presidential Press Spokesman, Martin Andanar, asked the Malacañang Press Corps (MPC) whether, like them, social-media outlets should receive press briefings. Their answer was a resounding “No” – a very telling response.

But the MPC is not supposed to be some owned-and-operated Liberal-Left lobby that can determine who gets access to government. Generous though it was of Andanar to ask their opinion, it’s ultimately his office that makes those decisions. But what are they afraid of anyway? That an alternative voice to theirs may express a contrary view? That such rivals – Heaven forbid! – might take a less-combative stance against Duterte and his administration; even support his policies; challenge the Liberal-Left party line? If that’s it, then they can’t be that too sure of their convictions.

Seeking access bans like that, however, has no place in the arena of healthy journalistic rivalry where news organisations fight for readership through the skills of reporting and analysing news; skills that benefit the public, not that seek to treat them like idiots.

That Secretary Andanar should be expected to bend to the self-serving will of a media elite by suggesting he impose access restrictions on social-media outlets that don’t share mainstream media’s views is outrageous. It has nothing to do with freedom of the press – actually, it has everything to do with the reverse of that principle. In a word, what they were voting for was ‘protectionism’. Imagine if social media – which speaks for multiples of mainstream’s followers – suggested that a press-release embargo should be placed on one of them; they’d be outraged and rightly so.

But, as with most things Liberal-Left, they are the opposite of what they list on the can. For a start, for Liberal read illiberal; for ‘The Greater Good’ read for their greater good; for ‘Egalitarian’ read elitist. To them, Freedom of Speech means freedom of their speech – an exclusive right of the Liberal and Progressive Left; Freedom of the Press translates as freedom of the Liberal-Left Press – and no other; Freedom of Religion in their vernacular means freedom of religions and their practices as approved by them; Free Markets are only those that subscribe to the Liberal-Left view of the world; Civil Rights are championed exclusively for citizens who challenge governments that don’t kowtow to Liberal-Left demands.

On a general note, The Volatilian™ doesn’t seek the demise of the Liberal-Left media – they have the right to express their views under the press-freedom charters even if some among them would like to deny that right to media (whether traditional or social) whose views run contrary to their own. Media should be a rich canvas allowing all shades of thought. That’s something we shall always stand up for. Our acceptance of that, however, doesn’t run to the antics of the likes of Mz Rañada who hold the profession of journalism up to ridicule. They do a great disservice to our trade and should be regularly called out.

The days, however, when the talking heads and the scribes of this political-establishment elite can drown out opposition to their views, thankfully, are drawing to a close. The people – the Filipino people in this case – are tired of being told what to think and what to believe by an autocratic press that has become the unacceptable face of journalism and the epitome of partisanship.

This war, however, is more than that; it’s blowback against the untrammelled march of a political faction that has sought to dominate thought and opinion for the propagation of its progressive political ideology – an effort in which the mainstream media has been the cause’s loudest mouthpiece.

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