By DANILO ARAÑA ARAO
N.B. – Two journalists sent questions regarding media coverage of the recent super typhoon and the public perception on the reliability of social media. These are my answers.
With ABS-CBN’s regional channels out of the picture, how do you think we fared in terms of information dissemination especially in rural areas? What were the gaps left behind by ABS-CBN, and areas of improvement for the other remaining media?
Without taking anything away from the timely information provided by the news media organizations, the well-organized ABS-CBN Regional Network Group (RNG) is sorely missed. Had ABS-CBN’s franchise been granted, we can expect TV Patrol Bicol to get information on Catanduanes efficiently and quickly. We can say that RNG is a combination of community journalists and the latest available technology for nationwide broadcast.
At the time of the pandemic, we cannot disregard the wide reach of the erstwhile leading broadcast network. Some areas in Catanduanes, for example, used to have access only to ABS-CBN as the other free TV signals remained weak.
If there is an area for improvement among certain broadcast networks, it is the willingness to preempt regular programming to provide a special coverage of what is happening. To air the usual entertainment shows while a super typhoon is ravaging certain parts of the country is insensitive and a disservice to the audience.
In what ways do you think RNG could have made significant differences if it was still operational now, in terms of filling in the information gap?
If it were operational, RNG can provide better context due to the community journalists’ cultural familiarity and proximity. The regional networks can also deliver the news in the local language, making relevant information more relatable and understandable.
How did people perceive the credibility and reliability of mainstream news media before social media giants like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram were established?
Prior to the advent of social media in the early 2000s, audiences relied mainly on the so-called old media (print, radio and television) for information. Internet access was still limited at that time and blogging was also still at its infancy. Even if coverage of certain issues would sometimes leave much to be desired in the dominant media, people were not as skeptical as they are now. Much as news media organizations would have their own share of false information, “fake news” was not yet an industry or well-oiled machinery then.
How do people view the credibility and reliability of mainstream news media after social media has become a big part of people’s lives?
With social media, the credibility of established news media organizations suffered because there are “fake news” peddlers who package themselves as “alternative media,” much to the chagrin of the real alternative media that are essentially service-oriented and cause-oriented. The skepticism remains up to now as there are Internet users who are not media-savvy enough to distinguish between the real and the fake, preferring the latter for the sensational and dramatic trappings of the peddled “content.”
How has social media changed Filipinos’ news consumption?
Filipinos with Internet access use their personal social media accounts to get the latest information. For those who use free Facebook data, they cannot click the links to get the full text of news reports so they sometimes rely on the headlines or excerpts for their information needs. Much worse, they are prone to believing the speculations peddled by certain “friends” and “influencers” and immediately assume that they are facts.
While there are still responsible social media users who really take great pains to conduct research to know the “real score,” so to speak, their voices tend to be overpowered by trolls and “fake news” peddlers.
What news consumption trends have you been seeing in the Philippines this year?
Right now, there exists an “infodemic” which is basically a combination of reliable and unreliable information. As this combination of information spreads online, the unreliable ones tend to be magnified more given the resources of the disinformation network.
A 2020 Digital News Report from the University of Oxford revealed that although Filipinos have low trust in social-media aggregated news, most of them still get information about public affairs on social media. Why do you think Filipinos still consume news on social media sites despite having doubts about the reliability of the content these platforms show?
We can attribute this to the lack of media literacy among many social media users. Even millennials who are supposed to be more media-savvy than the more senior social media users would sometimes fall for “fake news” given the sophistication that goes with disinformation.
For example, new technologies allow for “deep fakes” which were practically impossible 10 years ago. The bandwagon mentality applies to social media users right now. The assumption is that if something goes viral, for example, there could be some truth to it (no matter how outrageous it may be).
We have to remember that the “flat earth” perspective worldwide originated from YouTube videos. Here in the Philippines, historical revisionism takes root as well from YouTube, Facebook and other social media platforms.
Studies from Rutgers University and the University of Houston revealed that fake news on social media is lowering the public’s trust in mainstream media. Why do you think this phenomenon is happening?
The irony here is that news media organizations that should be stepping up its truth-telling mandate remain trapped in their profit-oriented ways. Commercialism especially in the age of globalization would tend to conflict with normative standards of journalism.
“Fake news” peddlers tend to capitalize on the inherent weaknesses of the media and project themselves as being free from commercial interests (even if the reverse is true). The alleged bias of news media organizations is not clarified well publicly as they even claim to be “neutral.” As we all know, neutrality is a myth in journalism but the more commercial news media organizations tend to stick to the conservative, antiquated view of journalism.
What social and political factors contributed to the proliferation of fake news on social media?
The proliferation of “fake news” in certain countries that have dictators and fascists is observable. The Philippines and the US are interesting case studies as they tend to repeat history. Hitler once referred to the German media as the “lying press.” It is natural for dictators and fascists to perceive the critical press as the “enemy” because their agenda is to control the media.
One way to do so is to harass and intimidate, as may be gleaned from the closure of ABS-CBN, filing harassing Rappler and red-tagging the alternative media. Lest we forget, the killings of journalists and media workers continue under the Duterte administration.
Another way is to discredit them by unleashing an army of trolls and “influencers” to peddle “fake news” and turning the tables against the news media organizations (i.e., accusing the latter as the ones peddling “fake news”).
In what ways does fake news on social media promote anti-press sentiment?
Because of trolls and influencers (both organized and unorganized), the public perception of the established media (whether dominant or alternative) would tend to be affected as “fake news” is packaged as the alternative to these news media organizations. By branding the latter as “biased” or supportive of the previous administration, supporters of the Duterte administration elude the criticism by shooting the messenger (figuratively, at least in this instance).
How has the propagation of mass media distrust swayed the public’s outlook on political events?
Political events are given a positive spin in favor of Duterte. Even survey results (most recently the 91-percent approval rating of the Duterte) are not given the proper context of how respondents could be wary about saying something negative during a pandemic as they get aid from the government (no matter how little or how limited it may be). Again, the organized and unorganized army of trolls and “influencers” play a major role in the mass media distrust.
How has the propagation of mass media distrust influenced people’s civic participation?
Cause-oriented groups and the more critical individuals see constructive criticism as part of civic participation. However, the narrative being peddled by supporters of the administration is for the people to just help the government without questioning its policies and programs.
In other words, “blind obedience” is being demanded in the guise of following the law for the alleged betterment of all. In this context, media are being pressured to avoid criticisms and help justify to the public controversial measures like the anti-terrorism law or the shutdown of ABS-CBN.
Aside from those that you have mentioned, what are the implications of the propagation of mass media distrust on our democracy?
Democracy is threatened as the mass media are forced to engage in self-censorship. The chilling effect is real as news media organizations try to toe the line so that they can “regain” the trust of trolls and influencers supporting the administration.
What can be done so that people will be more aware of the effects of fake news on media distrust?
Media literacy is the key here but the contents should promote critical analysis. “Fake news” should be seen as an industry benefiting a particular social class. Media should be criticized for not being critical. The public should be empowered to question authority and revolt against the dictatorship if necessary, reminiscent of the uprising that toppled the dictatorship in 1986.
In your opinion, how should the press address the rise in media distrust fueled by misinformation?
The media should resist all commercialist trappings and not favor profit over truth-telling. Journalists and news media organizations need to brush up on the normative standards of journalism, if only to realize that bias is inherent and should not be hidden.
Neutrality has no room in responsible journalism and “real” journalism should be a voice for the voiceless. Being critical of the administration is “normal” if we consider the check-and-balance function of media vis-a-vis the government.
How can the media make themselves appear more credible and reliable to anti-media people?
The so-called “anti-media” people are either “fake news” peddlers or perhaps those who fall for “fake news.” Sustained media literacy could hopefully win them over. For those who are close-minded or continue to earn from spreading “fake news,” they need to be exposed to the public so that they don’t fool others. These, however, are just stop-gap measures.