Election Fraud Allegations: The Marcos Media Edge
THE MAY 2016 elections, like other elections in the past, were marred by allegations of fraud. The most controversial this year are those alleged by Senator Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. against Representative Leni Robredo who defeated him by a margin of 263,473 votes — the narrowest in Philippine electoral history — for the second highest post in the country.
CMFR monitored the reporting by nine newspapers — the Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, Manila Bulletin, The Manila Times, Daily Tribune, The Standard, BusinessMirror, BusinessWorld and Malaya Business Insight — on Marcos’ election fraud allegations from May 16 to June 5.
A total of 85 reports on election fraud were published in the newspapers monitored. Twenty-one (21) reports gave a balanced coverage of the issue. Thirty-one (31) of these reports had a single source, citing only the side of Marcos. Twenty-four (24) cited Marcos and/or his spokespersons extensively throughout the report while mentioning the sides of Robredo and/or the Commission on Elections (Comelec) only in passing. Five (5) reports took only the side of Robredo while four (4) relied only on the statements of Comelec and Smartmatic.
The Standard ran the most number of stories which were favorable to the Marcos camp. Over the three-week period, The Standard published 13 such reports, in which seven were from a single source. Following The Standard were The Times with 12 (eight single-sourced) and the Inquirer with seven (six single-sourced) reports.
Insufficient Probing, Fact-Checking
The Standard also ran stories relying on statements from anonymous sources. One example was a story jeered by CMFR in May (“‘IT Experts’: Disingenuous Use of Single, Anonymous Source”), which relied only on the statements of an “IT expert” who claimed that 30 servers had been shipped to a warehouse in Laguna to generate about 2.65 million votes for four provinces. The report did not consult other sources to verify whether the claim had basis.
Similarly, another story published by The Standard on May 16 (“Poll body rapped for ‘hello, Garcia’”) cited an anonymous “IT expert,” this time to support the allegations of former Biliran Representative Glenn Chong that cheating took place in the recent elections. The “IT expert” claimed that the Comelec had surrendered its matching passwords to Smartmatic, giving the latter complete control over the “transparency server” even without a representative from the poll body. The story relied on these allegations without providing further context or citing the side of the Comelec and/or Smartmatic.
Reports from other papers also focused on the statements of the Marcos side, probably due to the frequent press conferences it held during this period. However, instead of fact-checking the claims and provide context, the reports relied only the camp’s statements.
CMFR has previously cheered online news site Rappler’s effort to analyze the claims of supposed whistleblowers who were reportedly involved in a vote-shaving operation in Lucena, Quezon (“‘Dagdag-Bawas’: Debunking Poll Fraud Claims”). Rappler did not simply quote the allegations, but subjected the claims to analysis to point out inconsistencies.
Past CMFR monitors have already pointed out ties that could possibly explain the favorable media mileage of Marcos and his cousin, Representative Martin Romualdez, who ran (and lost) for senator. MST Management Inc., the publisher of The Standard, is chaired by the brother of Martin Romualdez, Philip Romualdez. Philip is also married to Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez, president and chief executive officer of the Inquirer.
Manila Times president and CEO Dante “Klink” Ang II is the son of Dante Arevalo Ang, publicist of former President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo. The older Ang worked as an account executive at the Kanlaon Broadcasting System (KBS) network when it was controlled by Marcos crony Roberto Benedicto.
These ties could have given Senator Marcos the unmistakable edge over Robredo in bringing his message of electoral fraud to the public.