Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts

Vol. VI, No. 29      Aug. 27 - Sept. 2, 2006      Quezon City, Philippines








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Macapagal-Arroyo Needs Subservient Media to Survive

The powers-that-be are creating an atmosphere conducive for a subservient media and a kind of journalism that is biased for the "official line."


The political crisis besetting the Macapagal-Arroyo administration has reached a point where the latter now desperately needs a subservient media to politically survive.

In the context of journalism, government officials want docility in the newsroom. Through this, the powers-that-be expect that journalistic outputs would depict social reality but mainly from their standpoint, marginalizing the voices of dissent no matter how newsworthy they might be.

Statements made last week by National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales and Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) Chairperson Ma. Consoliza Laguardia prove that this administration expects the media to project the government in a positive light and to help in stabilizing the volatile situation, even if this means going against the basic tenets of journalism like objectivity, fairness and accuracy.

Gonzales warned last August 21 journalists who are allegedly being used wittingly or unwittingly by the communists in the latter's propaganda campaign. He claimed to have proof of the "rising influence of the left in news headlines" but failed to present it.

The MTRCB, on the other hand, gave an X rating to the documentary "Ang Mabuhay Para sa Masa" (To Live for the Masses) on the life of former President Joseph Estrada. It previewed the documentary last August 22. In a letter to the Public Perception Management Asia, Inc., the documentary's producer, Laguardia said, "The scenes from his (Estrada's) ouster may undermine the faith and confidence of the people in their government and/or our duly constituted authority as the law provides."

At the same time, the MTRCB also demanded that the producers of Frontline, a new public affairs show of ABC 5, delete some parts of its episode titled "Shadow" featuring the shadow government of the New People's Army (NPA).

Arguments like these not only reflect Palace officials' unfamiliarity with the workings of the press. It also shows that the powers-that-be are extremely wary of journalists who practice objectivity in their reportage. For them, a balanced presentation of the national situation threatens the status quo as the side of the opposition is made known to the people who then have the option to subscribe to views other than the official line.

When the administration imposed Proclamation 1017 on February 24 that put the country under a state of national emergency for one week, the curtailment of press freedom was made evident by the raid on the offices of the newspaper Daily Tribune and the military's tight watch on other media agencies. Justifying the raid, then Philippine National Police (PNP) Director General Arturo Lomibao said the Tribune "was deeply engaged in continuing propagation of disinformation and publication of seditious and scurrilous remarks or articles."

Despite the lifting of the state of national emergency, the powers-that-be have continued the monitoring of journalists suspected to be engaged in disinformation. National Security Adviser Gonzales said, "(W)e are profiling everybody as you (the media) are profiling us." Despite the PNP's denial of surveillance on journalists for any links to the communist movement, Sr. Supt. Samuel Pagdilao said that other law enforcement agencies could be conducting this.

It is not a coincidence for Gonzales to raise the issue of the communist's infiltration of the media as the members of the House of Representatives were to vote on the impeachment complaint against President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. In the same way, it is not surprising for the MTRCB to decide against the full airing of what it deemed is politically sensitive content at this particular time.

Both Gonzales and Laguardia apparently take their cue from how Malacañang regards the role of the press in society, not as the Fourth Estate but as a mere mechanism to promote the government's agenda.

As early as November 2005 in a speech before the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP, Association of Broadcasters in the Philippines), Macapagal-Arroyo criticized the media for focusing on the bad news. "(L)et us cast aside the 'bad boy' image that the press has acquired...I appeal to you not to be used wittingly or unwittingly as pawns in political games or destabilization schemes."

She even went to the extent of explicitly telling the media what to report. "The public wants winners. The economy is the only winner here today amidst these losers who carry no public mandate."

Clearly, the powers-that-be are creating an atmosphere conducive for a subservient media and a kind of journalism that is biased for the "official line." In relation to the current political crisis, a subservient media proves to be the key to the Macapagal-Arroyo administration's survival. Bulatlat



© 2006 Bulatlat  Alipato Media Center

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