CMFR HAS monitored election coverage since 1992, publishing reports in 1995, 2001, 2007 and 2010. Deeply troubling issues in 2016 compelled a close monitoring of media coverage.
First, Jejomar Binay seemed an unstoppable force in 2015 as he projected his run despite 11 Senate hearings (as of December 2014) on charges of corruption. Second, the son of Ferdinand Marcos seeking the second highest post reflected the lack of national resolution in judging the Marcos regime and Martial Law. Third, the huge popularity of Rodrigo Duterte raised a candidate whose past record had been stained by charges of grave violations of human rights as he dealt with criminality in Davao.
With a total of five candidates declared for the presidency, the campaign engulfed Filipinos in months of frenzied competition and debate. The appearance of Duterte as a presidential aspirant was a landmark in the campaign, as he kept people guessing about his decision to run, keeping up a public profile to keep his name in the game. A most atypical candidate, crude in expression, prone to cussing, he was a chest-thumping local pol who did not care for the rules of finer demeanor.
As the official campaign period approached, many voters still seemed at a loss for a choice, working to clarify the pros and cons for themselves, and keeping much of this to themselves, and from the pollsters. The media did not pick up on this definitive sense among concerned citizens who could not find the enthusiasm for any one of the multiple aspirants.
These were held by civic responsibility to examine the record of candidates according to basic standards and principles. The one thing clear was their negative vote. They quickly rejected someone who had been challenged with credible cases of corruption. They had also decided they would stand against the return of Marcos. And when Duterte ran as an adopted candidate of a re-organized PDP-Laban, the same kind of voter crossed him out as choice because of the stain of human rights violations imprinted on his record in Davao.
The elections of 2016 have been described as the “most divisive” in history. Election day on May 9 was the culmination of what has also been the longest electoral season, with the declaration of Vice President Binay’s candidacy in May 2013.
Meanwhile loyalists circled their wagons around their choice. How big were these core votes? The surveys really could not say. As many voters did not make up their minds right away, campaign managers and PR specialists had their work cut out for them. The barrage of campaign ads crowded television time. Social media trolls and robots whipped up willing believers into angry arguments.
Journalists and media members hold a measure of power to win voters for one or another candidate. But their practice requires much more than spinning a line or projecting an image. In contrast to the other two influentials, the press is obliged to tell the truth.
The press community found themselves checking one another’s social media posts. Obviously, these venues allowed anyone to express their views. But weren’t they also actively campaigning then for a candidate? Howe many of them continued to cover these same subjects? What about reports of journalists taking time off to work as campaign publicists. Do they just go back to their regular jobs without limiting their areas of reportage?
CMFR’s monitor of election coverage has been designed to check not only fairness and balance in reporting candidates. Working on campaign teams on any media platform, these journalists would have to submit themselves to limits – one does not move from the advocacy for a president to regular reporting about this candidate. Editorial responsibility should proscribe coverage of these politicians for those who changed hats in election campaign.