Covering elections still exciting, say JVO Journalism Seminar panelists
by Pauline Mie R. Rapanut
COVERING AN election campaign and elections, said the panelists in this year’s Jaime V. Ongpin Journalism Seminar (JVOJS), is among the more exciting tasks of a journalist. But, reviewing the media’s performance during the May 2013 midterm elections, the panelists also suggested that the news coverage could have been better in terms of its impact on the results.
The Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR) organized the JVOJS in 1995 in honor of the late Jaime V. Ongpin. Ongpin was not a journalist, but he was a press freedom advocate and appreciated good journalism. He was a business leader and a public servant who fought against the Marcos dictatorship.
Grants from the National Endowment for Democracy and Ateneo de Manila University made the JVOJS possible.
The panelists this year for the Seminar were Lynda Jumilla-Abalos of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corp., Deo Dominic Almazan-Bugaoisan of GMA Network Inc., Malou Mangahas of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Henry Omaga Diaz of ABS-CBN, Pia Hontiveros-Pagkalinawan of SOLARtv, Raissa Robles of raissarobles.com, and Ryan Rosauro of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
The panelists, known as JVO Fellows, were chosen by the committee from a list based on CMFR’s PJR Reports and other recommendations. Since 2010, there have been 24 fellows.
Educating the voters
Jumilla-Abalos observed that many Filipinos still vote on the basis of their “emotional connection” to the candidates.
“No matter how much we bombard voters with information about backgrounds of candidates and issues about dynasties, it still seems not to sink into the voters. It has become a source of frustration for many of us in the media,” said Jumilla-Abalos.
The inability of the media to connect properly with its audience in the most remote areas of the country may also be a reason why citizens still do “emotional voting,” she added.
Omaga-Diaz said “some candidates in the midterm elections were good and honest, but were not popular.” In most cases, the voters only know the candidate who has been in the Senate or who is the son or daughter of a well-known politician. Hence, the media should exert greater efforts to do stories about all the candidates, particularly those who are relatively unknown and who don’t belong to political dynasties, so the voters can have a wider field to choose from, especially from among those who are “good and honest.”
“If voters get educated, certainly the election results will improve,” Omaga-Diaz said.
But the voters should also know themselves, Bugaoisan said.
During elections, the focus is always on the candidates and their qualifications, but “seldom do we focus on who the voters are and what kind of voters we have right now.”
Political dynasties have always been an issue in Philippine politics and elections, Mangahas observed. Contrary to popular belief, there were good stories in the media last elections—stories that could have helped prevent the election of some members of political dynasties.
“We can’t say with certitude that we did not have some impact or that our coverage wasn’t good enough in terms of the types of stories that the voters needed,” said Mangahas.
However, while the voters, Mangahas said, needed “hyperlocal stories that would affect their votes for mayor and governor,” the media still focused on the senatorial candidates. The real question is whether the coverage met the need for information of voters at the local level.
Meanwhile, Jumilla-Abalos said there was a “huge failure on the part of the Comelec (Commission on Elections) in administrative and managerial levels in conducting the last polls.” As regards automation, Hontiveros-Pagkalinawan said we should “get rid of the ladderized process of counting and canvassing.” Although the mechanism is meant to check and countercheck, Hontiveros-Pagkalinawan said it just creates unnecessary problems.
The voting precincts and balloting centers should also be secured. Rosauro said election violence is still “rampant especially in the countryside.” He said “no matter how informed the voters are if gunmen can still force the BEIs (Board of Election Inspectors) to preshade the ballots, we will still have ‘homeworked’ elections.” Omaga-Diaz also thought that the Comelec has not addressed the issue of vote-buying.
Journalists are not spared from danger during elections. Rosauro said “election coverage is more risky than covering encounters between the government and the MILF.” He said in covering elections, no one knows where the henchmen of politicians are stationed, unlike in warfare where, “we know where the warring parties are.”