Election Day Reporting: Television Trumps Other Media
By: Melinda Quintos de Jesus with research by the CMFR Staff
A Review of Campaign Coverage
NEWS MEDIA plays a significant role in the campaign period. News and commentary, investigative reports and factual accounts contribute to the positive or negative projection of a candidate, the manipulation of public perception and the formation of opinion.
Earlier monitors pointed out weaknesses, the absence of vital information about candidates for the Senate where now new faces have edged out tried and tested politicians. Virtually unknown to the public, these won on the basis of ubiquitous campaign ads.
Journalists did not apply investigative skills to validate claims for or charges against a candidate. The few exposes were dependent on leaks and the sources found by other opponents.
Generally, reporters were satisfied to simply record the heated exchange of opponents.
The monitors of election reporting focused on nine newspapers and four TV news programs (ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol, GMA-7’s 24 Oras, TV5’s Aksyon and CNN Philippines’ Network News). Unfortunately, these did not include columns nor did it capture the biases which ran rampant in a number of public affairs programs and talk-show hosts.
Neither could CMFR cover the positions taken by key political bloggers and the vicious manipulative effect of the social media which constituted significant inputs that the voter had to sort out in choosing a candidate. Unfortunately, CMFR did not have the means to its review beyond May 9.
TV news and most news accounts generally maintained a measure of neutrality in their reports. Different candidates were subject of negative reports based on developments and revelations which placed them in bad light, but these were not consistently against one person. 2016 did not see any collective position by the major organizations against a candidate as the community did against Joseph Estrada in 2000.
CMFR found mainstream media coverage strikingly tame, if not banal and outright boring. Print reports resorted to “he-said, she-said” leaving it to the candidates to criticize, cuss, or threaten one another with potential suits.
Dominated by reports from the campaign trail, the daily feed from the field failed to provide helpful information about the candidate. Campaign teams were largely invisible. Embedded media clearly failed to get more facetime with the candidate, which they could have used to get deeper into issues. The news convention did not reveal aspects of administration and management which clearly reflect strengths and weaknesses.
Television plays a significant role in the coverage of significant events such as elections. With its visual advantage over radio, the immediacy of TV provides its viewers the illusion of seeing and experiencing an event themselves…[Read More]
CHEERS TO several news websites and online platforms of news organizations for the effective use of visuals on the breakdown of votes…[Read More]
The time afforded the candidate with free media exposure at the expense of greater public understanding of what candidates really had to offer. As pointed out in earlier monitors, the close interaction between media and campaign handlers can evolve the kind of affinities that results in pack reporting, with campaign news teams dishing out the same stuff as their competitors.
This abdication of the duty to help citizens examine the background of candidates has been duly noted as a waste of the power of press freedom. Citizens were generally left to work through the crafted messages, move from indecision to choice.
Exhilaration on Election Day
Election day has passed. The political dust stirred up by the contest in most areas has settled; even as Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos insists on a recount of the ballots, claiming that he, and not the candidate with leading numbers, had won.
On May 9, the challenge of the campaign paled in comparison to the physical requirements of covering almost 46 million Filipinos casting their ballot. The day started as early as 5 AM for television media and two channels committed to more than 24 hours uninterrupted coverage of the conduct of the ballot.
Among the free TV channels, GMA-7 went back to its regular programming from 12 noon to around 4:15 PM. ABS-CBN 2 also aired its noontime show during the day before resuming the coverage. Both CNN Philippines and TV5 announced continuous coverage on election day.
The conduct of the election itself deserves cheering. The new leadership at the helm of the Comelec had done its homework. Their teams came prepared and the BEIs from DepEd were in place at the crack of dawn, dedicated and resourceful even as the day wore on.
The lines grew in length as the hour approached mid-day. There were mechanical glitches surely. There were failed elections declared at the end of day. Not perfect—but it deserved to be described as a most positive experience as expressed by a majority of those who went to vote. From the initial application of machine voting, the electoral process in the Philippines has come of age.
Clearly, it was the kind of news day that projects the unique power of television, reminding the public that only its dynamic fusion of audio-visual elements can hold an audience and fix its focus for extended lengths of time. On such occasions, the medium holds forth in a manner that cannot be challenged by anything going on in the new media. Adding to that, most organizations positioned the most seasoned anchors backed up by field reporters whose energy and intelligence enhanced their presentations.
Clearly, it helped that the conduct of the election itself went through a dramatic upgrade from 2013. In various ways, the event itself was stunning, given the systemic inadequacies in a developing economy, the performance of election teams, including citizen groups seemed to energize the coverage of the day.
Highlights of the Day
TV dressed for the occasion. Studios showed off bold color and sleek design. (See sidebar) As the industry leans heavily on its entertainment programs, management recognizes that on this day,news moves to front and center of the enterprise, projecting political communication as a paramount purpose.
Clearly, the physical set up alone required meticulous preparation and ample budgets, if only to remind news teams that elections are their most visible primary duty. Noontime shows and teleseryes may boast of the ratings that pull in the money; but the business remains bound to this obligation and entertainment values can never overcome the shame of failing at this job. And so the broadcast journalists faced the cameras, bright and beaming at the first hour in the morning.
For all that, the focus of coverage remained essentially the same. The news teams ticked off the usual topics on the agenda: the obligatory coverage of prominent candidates casting their votes, the long queues, the steps in the process, the assistance of BEIs and volunteers. The failure to find one’s name in the precinct list became less of a staple for field reporters as this was overtaken by the glitches of the VCMs.
All the networks gave a glimpse of the last time President Benigno Aquino III was going to cast his vote as president of the country. No special treatment. Here was the president as just another ordinary citizen, doing his civic duty, same as everyone else. As he will no longer be president in less than 50 days, this was a story.
As the campaign coverage focused on candidates, election day redirected media attention to the ordinary voter. As individuals, voters constitute the decisive factor for the day by forming a majority. Television did well to feature citizens casting their vote, looking shyly at cameras, dutifully waiting their turn, but mostly enthused by the brief moments when they become the subject of the news.
ABS-CBN 2 reporter caught a voter in the Cordillera Administrative Region garbed with the traditional “bahag” or G-string of the Igorots. The plight of PWDs was noted by the monitored networks.
A stand-out feature by ABS-CBN 2 and GMA-7 captured the extraordinary exertion of a senior citizen to cast his vote. In Antipolo, Rizal, Edwin Aceranhad to be carried in his wheelchair so he could vote in his precinct in the second story of a schoolhouse. ANC’s Teddy Boy Locsin Jr. mentioned a tweet about a senior citizen who had to walk a great length under the sun to the assigned precinct. There is no age limit after all to the dedicated practice of citizenship. On May 10, media also covered the story of Geraldine Roman, the country’s first elected transgender woman. Roman is Bataan’s first district representative.
Election day as a “beat” takes the reporter to several locations. Veterans and newbies were on the runrotating their shifts, transmitting the latest announcement at the Comelec, the centers of PPCRV and NAMFREL. They chased after the colorful, funny or infuriating incidents happening in the different precincts around the country—as far away as Abra, where supporters of mayoral candidates shot each other, killing one, or Maguindanao where a rifle grenade exploded in a public market.
The national view is not always comprehensive on TV screensin the capital region. This election day was an exception, no corner was too far to leave out of the story on May 9.
Some caught on to the emerging vote and began to trail the soon-to-be “presumptive president.” Duterte voted late in the afternoon in his home city.
After the precincts closed at 5 PM, TV continued to hold its primacy. Full color graphs and pie charts simplified the up to the minute transmission of vote counts from the regions. Given the long day, the speed with which this was done recharged and sustained public attention through the long night.
If only to connect to the mania for social media, TV also reported tweets and emerging word clouds. Reporting this, anchors utilized a touch screen, enumerated trending topics and selected words which would cause a display of tweets about it.
What’s election coverage without experts. A fresh line of panellists took over from the media pundits who had suffered from overexposure during the campaign season. Among the resource persons interviewed were Pulse Asia’s Ronald Holmes, Stratbase’s Dindo Manhit, De La Salle University Political Science Professor Richard Heydarian, SWS’ Mahar Mangahas, University of the Philippines Political Science Professors Jan Robert Go and Ranjit Rye among others. These panel discussions were most helpful in deepening the public’s understanding of the meaning of the votes.
(The regular and periodic uploads of the PJRR review of electoral reportage has been funded by institutional support for CMFR flagship programs, of which the PJRR is one, provided by the National Endowment for Democracy and the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Manila.)
Print, Poor Print! Old Style Headlines on Election Day
By: Melinda Quintos de Jesus with research by John Paul Omac
HOW DOES the oldest practice in the news compete with magic of television? The answer is quite simple. In a world of electronic and digital media, the daily newspaper needs to learn one thing: it should not try to do the news as though it could ever again be the first to report what happened yesterday.
The day following the elections saw newspapers publishing outdated information. The Philippine Daily Inquirer ran “Duterte heads for landslide, Marcos enjoys big lead over Robredo,” with “Senate race: Villanueva surprises at top spot” on the front page. While initial transmission of data made these apparent in the evening of May 9, but early morning of May 10, Leni Robredo had overtaken Marcos, and Joel Villanueva slipped to the second spot in the senatorial race.
Other Manila newspapers had similar stories. The Philippine Star bannered “Duterte, Marcos in early lead,” while The Standard reported, “Duterte races to early lead; Bongbong holds slim advantage over Robredo” The Manila Times also had “Marcos leads partial count” on the second page which even proclaimed in its lead that “Victory appeared imminent for Sen. Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. who topped the partial, unofficial count of votes in the vice presidential race in the May election.”
Initial transmission reported these leads but changes had occurred after midnight including rankings in the senatorial race.
Print cannot compete with broadcast media or the Internet in terms of speed in disseminating information. Newspaper reports risk being outdated and wrong because of the obvious lag time involved in printing.
Newspapers should leave it to their online teams to report the transmissions direct from mirror servers of the Comelec. The approach toward reporting election results requires rethinking news, thinking long on strategies to get ahead of the story or to break through the surface of events into the processes these reflect.
Why didn’t print take the time to track the shift from PCOS machine to VCMs so reporters on the day itself could follow and knowingly question the claims about probably cheating or to evaluate the glitch for themselves, the hits and misses being quite rare on the day. These machines were at the heart of the election’s success. The voters should appreciate their marvel or their inadequacies.
The change in the leadership of Comelec deserved an account. What problems were targeted, what were the great successes, the frustrations and even failures?
Can we ever liberate our poor teachers from the ardous duty as BEIs? What scenarios should be considered? The views could fill in many pages, along with lots of pictures from the files of election history.
There are more areas where the newspapers could have gone as only print can go in-depth. Visualization on print does not have to stick to pictures although these are certain to enhance story-telling. Graphs, pie charts as well as maps can just as easily tell a complex story on print as these do in other media.
Publishers and editors should continue to think on the future of print and how they can sustain its value into the future.
I am a firm believer in core values which define our humanity as communication technology forces us to morph along with our culture and way of life. News in print has that special relationship with the public that has upheld the values of liberty, freedom and justice in democracies.
The vitality and quality, the depth of human exchange and interaction has been sustained historically by print. Newspaper space should be given to more insight, more ideas, more analysis and debate that articulate these ideals.
It is hard to imagine how culture and learning as we know it can do without the power of this older medium.