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Defending media

One online-only news organization has issued the call to defend media, of all things. And I would defend media, too—if media didn’t make defending it so damn hard.

I’ve come to the sad conclusion that the loss of trust of ordinary Filipinos in their mainstream media, as shown by the inexorable rise of social media, for instance, is basically self-inflicted. It’s not just a question of technology, its portability and interactivity; media’s problem is a loss of confidence and trust, something that can’t be fixed by adapting to supposed new rules.

It’s a whole new game, the current media landscape is. And media, as we know it, can’t even seem play anymore by the rules of the old game that it’s still playing.

Two recent incidents make me wonder if mainstream media is really serious about shoring up its eroding credibility and gaining back its audience. One is a huge unreported story ignored by the national press, while the other is a small-time crime in my own neighborhood.

The first has to do with the disclosure last Friday of the filing of a new affidavit by an alleged narcotics syndicate member named Ricky Serenio, who implicated defeated presidential candidate Mar Roxas, Senator Franklin Drilon and Iloilo City Mayor (on indefinite leave) Jed Patrick Mabilog in the illegal drug trade. Serenio’s sworn statement, published by a credible Iloilo-based media outfit, claimed that the three Liberal Party officials had been identified by slain local drug kingpin Melvin Odicta as his protectors.

Now, such an explosive report should make waves as far as Manila, which is always looking for the next big story. Only it didn’t; by yesterday, only one broadsheet had picked up the story and the big Manila-based broadcast networks had not even mentioned it at all.

In Iloilo, the Serenio story has gone through the entire media cycle, to the point where the motives of the affiant (who is out on bail on drug charges filed against him in the middle of this year) are already being questioned; his supposed ties of an influential local mayor, who is supposedly attempting to curry favor with President Rodrigo Duterte, are now being blamed for the belated release of his affidavit implicating Roxas, Drilon and Mabilog to the drug trade as protectors of Odicta.

But the point is not the credibility of Serenio or his lack of it. For all we know, Serenio could really be a pawn being used to bring down the three prominent Ilonggo politicians by their pro-Duterte rivals and would-be local kingpins and cannot really prove his allegations in court.

The point is that the story was so obviously suppressed by the media in Manila. And it was ignored by the same organizations that religiously reported, say, Davao City Vice Mayor Paolo Duterte’s alleged ties to some still-unidentified international drug ring based solely on his refusal to show a tattoo to Senator Antonio Trillanes.

Whatever happened to “breaking” a story first and letting those on the receiving end give their side, instead of just killing it before it can air or see print? Why can’t the mainstream media seem to report unfavorable stories about leaders of the Liberal Party, when they jump on anything that sounds like it can bring down Duterte?

This is not a media strategy that I can defend. And some people in media want the people to rally around this?

* * *

Meanwhile, closer to home, late on Sunday night, my usually quiet Quezon City neighborhood was all agog after it was treated to a rare occurrence: an all-star, over-the-top broadcast media coverage-fest. All over a small crime that didn’t even involve one extrajudicial killing.

Motorcycle-riding gunmen held up a local laundry, taking P30,000 in cash and cellphones from three customers of the shop. Hey, it must have been a slow Sunday night, which explains why news crews from all the major television stations—include cable news stations—and some radio reporters, descended on the neighborhood police headquarters.

As a former news executive, I can forgive the blanket coverage more appropriate for the visit of a foreign dignitary. But what I don’t get is that the news crews returned the following day to do a follow-up story of the same robbery, which they had already reported on their Monday-morning shows. They had to have a followup, the reporters and cameramen explained, because they had prime-time evening news reports to file. And they would not go away even if they knew that there were no new developments in the case.

The police had arrested no suspects, had no new leads and didn’t even have anything like revealing new CCTV footage. And yet nearly all of the news crews returned on Monday to flog the same dead news horse for their evening broadcasts.

These were the same news outfits, by the way, that still had nothing on the Serenio case. How can anyone defend this?

Of course, some will ask why, if I’m so bearish on mainstream media, I still work there. My answer has always been the same: because I still hope that media will come to its senses and remember that its dwindling readers, viewers and listeners are its true constituents, and not the political or economic elites that it has increasingly become servile to, are its true constituents.

I could be wrong. But I’m still waiting for media to defend itself before it demands that the increasingly skeptical populace comes to its defense.

Topics: Jojo Robles , Defending media
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