Media News Analysis

A lost cause

Media coverage of Duterte
Media coverage of Duterte

Philippine President Rodrigo Duterte has slammed elements of the domestic and international media for, among other things, their prejudiced reporting. Whether it’ll have any effect is questionable given the global arrogance of this sector. The media believe they own the monopoly on holding ordinary mortals to account; that they’re above scrutiny; above criticism – absolutist beliefs, a bit like the divine right of kings. Apparently, they have a heavenly mandate for this work.

We don’t know where that comes from other than if you tell yourself something long enough and often enough it seems you believe it. What we do know, however, is that large parts of the Philippine press, like media elsewhere, are not fulfilling their mandate to the people.

Here’s the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s raison d’être in its own words: “Vision: Empowering the Filipino people. Mission: … passionately telling the Filipino story. Values, Integrity: We uphold what is true and fair. Editorial independence: We set the news agenda. We defy pressure from vested interests with passion and conviction. Responsibility: We are accountable to the nation … no ifs and buts; Dynamism: We believe in continued improvement…”

Ignore the blatant hypocrisy, if that wasn’t so farcical – given how it manipulates the news for consumption by the Filipino people, passionately tells its version of the Filipino story, is biased to the point that it’s almost horizontal, has its own news agenda, pursues the vested interests of its political masters with passion and conviction and is wholly unaccountable to the nation, no ifs or buts – it would be serious. But who in their right mind would take their statement of intent with anything other than a grain of salt? Does anyone even at the Inquirer in a lucid moment believe any of that?

Duterte charges the Inquirer with being a phony crusader with a history of cronyism, buttering up to previous administrations. And while it can’t be accused of buttering up to him – though it might to his opponents – is there anyone capable at this paper of writing a positive piece about Duterte? And if there is and such a piece was written, is this paper capable of printing it? Does the editor have permission to do so from the publisher?

Devoid of journalistic integrity, this parody of journalism is yet another example of a news organ that’s been put in the hands of journalistic dilettantes who want to play at newspapers. Their profile is the same the world over – they’re from privileged backgrounds, meaning they can jump in at the top floor without any requirement to learn the craft. Which shows. They’re also devotionally Liberal which is largely what got them the job in the first place – after all, talent per se can be dangerous.

They have inflated notions about themselves, their intelligence, their “wisdom” which they seek to spread to the masses, their abilities to “make a difference” – albeit one that invariably benefits them, their paymasters and their Liberal purpose. They hold court in wine bars, at cocktail parties and soirées – princes and princesses of the press. They play the part of crusaders and investigators in a self-indulgent masquerade that belongs in a B-movie Hollywood script.

These are not people with integrity; these are people with an illness. If they think anyone takes them seriously, they’re delusional; if they take themselves seriously – which many do – they need help. Selfishly destructive, this demographic is to journalism what locusts are to a corn harvest. The barren wasteland they’ve left behind is testament to that; they don’t present the news, they sterilize it.

In case they missed it, the mainstream media today is the most reviled group on the planet –politicians, lawyers and property agents garner more public trust. That’s an outrageous state of affairs for what was once an honourable profession. And the reason for it is that the whole shebang – right across print and broadcast – is now in the hands of large corporations and staffed by ill-trained, inexperienced, starry-eyed automatons who seem to have been chosen for their honed skills of being unable to question anything. What is it – they’re just following orders? They’re supposed to be working for the press, not the post office.

Journalists were never like that, they were cynical, irreverent, independent, rebellious. They were never led by the nose. They questioned everything and everyone and doubted all of it. They never worried about whether they upset an advertiser or some politician – if the story was good enough, that would be a bonus. They weren’t precious PC-programmed individuals, they thought for themselves.

Today, “journalists” bleat about rival news outlets – they scream ‘fake news,’ ‘false news’ for anything that runs against the grain of their own politically enhanced editorial policies, as if somehow magically that gives them more credence. In fact it gives them less; it makes them look less like newsmen and women and more like peevish children which, let’s face it, many are. They don’t want to come up with a better editorial argument; they want their ball back.

The Philippines, sadly, has a tawdry reputation as a home of solid journalism; it’s inherently corrupt – surprise, surprise – the pay scale at the coalface is derisory (hence in part item one); training is poor and usually carried out by those who’ve been similarly poorly trained; and in the upper editorial floor, editors in many cases are chosen for their social connections rather than how equipped they are to do the job.

A large part of the problem is that the media can’t be held to account. Press councils and the like have magnificently failed everywhere; the same goes for journalists’ unions. The main purpose of these is to protect their own; to circle the wagons or switch the blame. In the past journalistic ethics were just part of the job; they didn’t need to be defined and explained in voluminous house codes.

Spin never featured in straight-news reporting – it was reserved for leader columns, opinion pieces and sketch writing; headlines were used to signal the news, not howl a political message. The back bench would see to that. Furthermore, readers were respected, not treated like gullible morons who needed re-education or psychosurgery. And when papers got it wrong or offended their readers they had the humility to apologise, not brazen it out unless they got sued.

Of course, politicians and the parties they serve can also take a lot of the blame. They’ve eroded this profession for their own purposes for decades. Now they more or less run it one way or another – ably assisted, of course by their crony press barons and their wide-eyed, credulous unquestioning, loyal-to-the-cause, politically conditioned editorial servanthood.

The other problem is the media model. What we have today is corporate media – big-business owned and functioning largely as an extension of the PR industry. It’s used for everything from propagating scientific theory – climate change for example where it can boost sales for corporations in which it might have an interest – to political manipulation that could, for instance, advantage a political party from which it might also benefit.

We get all that from the good old US of A. They invented corporate media; and then they exported it to the rest of the world – complete with the full kit of cut-out journalists and sycophantic editors with skill sets in spin, self-censoring, propagandising and blatant editorialising.

It’s right across Europe, Asia and Australasia and it’s certainly very much in evidence in the Philippines. But while the profession itself has failed to rescue the press from self destruction, the people – the once-loyal readers, and some journalists from the old school – have started to rebuild the Fourth Estate across the information superhighway of the Internet.

The monopoly of the oligarchs and the political manipulators is now being challenged. And as sure as day follows night, the corporate-media empires will fall like every other empire on Earth before them.

If you want to talk about a people’s revolution, it’s right here. This is where the yoke of mass-media control is being thrown off; where the people will Reclaim the News, and where, eventually, the self-obsessed, self-assured, self-opinioned, self-congratulatory, self-indulgent, self-serving and now, self-destructing mainstream media will learn that they have no inalienable right to tell the people what to think and what to believe. And while we’re on the subject, perhaps the Liberal Party could fix that typo in their title – given their passionate policy of oppressing free expression we’re sure they meant to call it the Illiberal Party.

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