Columnists, Partisans and Conflicts of Interest
by Luis V. Teodoro
with research by Rupert Francis D. Mangilit and John Reiner M. Antiquerra
(A condensed version of this article will be published in the forthcoming July-August 2010 issue of the PJR Reports.)
(See sidebar “Sidebar: When is a columnist too partisan?“)
The public expects the news media not only to provide information, but also to interpret matters of public interest so readers/viewers/listeners can understand what’s happening around them as they discharge their responsibilities as citizens. In print, the news columns provide citizens the information that will enable them to form opinions on matters that concern them. But columnists and other media commentators even more directly shape public opinion by explaining and interpreting events, presumably in their best lights and on the basis of the facts and logical analysis.
Opinions often lead to action, and are the bases on which citizens support, suggest changes to, or reject policies, evaluate government decisions, support proposed legislation and act on other matters of public relevance. This is ideally a continuing process wherever and whenever a free press and a free citizenry exist and are able to interact with each other. But it is during elections when the power inherent in the news media role of providing information and interpretation is most evident. News media reportage, comment and analysis can have an immediate impact on voter decisions.
The personalities and groups in contention last May seemed aware of the media’s critical role in shaping voters’ opinions, and, therefore, influencing who they will vote for. The campaign for the 2010 national elections was primarily waged in the media.
In print, the columnists helped readers navigate the maze of claims and counter-claims by the camps of the candidates for the Presidency and other national posts, and in several instances managed to get at the truth behind those claims. But some of the columnists’ having been part of the campaign machineries of the candidates while they continued to write their columns was disturbing. Their non-disclosure of their links with the candidates was equally worrisome for the questions they raised.
The service the columnists provided the public was evident in two high profile instances during the campaign period. Near the final stretch of the election campaign both Manuel Villar Jr. and Benigno Simeon Aquino III had to contend with claims obviously meant to imperil their respective candidacies.