On the Christopher Lao controversy
What happened to Christopher Lao is an issue of social media excess more than it is of journalism ethics.
A GMA News report last Aug. 2, which showed Lao driving his car into a flooded street in Quezon City, went viral. Reporter Jun Veneracion interviewed Lao just after wading through the flood—it was so deep that his car stalled and floated.
Given the conventions of news values, the incident was newsworthy for its oddity and for its being an indication of how bad the flood was. GMA News could have handled it better as the report should have provided larger context regarding the dangers of driving during heavy rains rather than focusing on Lao’s experience.
But, who really knows if the intention of the reporter was to ridicule the person? GMA News could not have known that the report would elicit such an over the top public reaction.
Lao’s statements caught the attention of social media users to the point where he made it to the Twitter trending topic, 8th worldwide and 4th in the Philippines at some point, as well as garnered a number of Facebook pages.
GMA News had to take down the video from their website because apart from sharing the news, people had started to call Lao names—used rude and/or insulting words to describe him and the incident—in other words, a clear abuse of social media.
GMA News released this statement:
“Mr. Lao was already victimized by the flood and a lack of warnings. He shouldn’t be victimized again. Many of us could have been in his situation. We are urging the public to stop the insults. We regret that our video, which was meant to provide a lesson for all motorists, was used in any way to make fun of another person.”
GMA News made a follow-up report last Aug. 4, which included their statement and an interview with a motoring expert.
Yahoo! News Philippines posted an official statement from Lao:
“The past few days have been very disheartening for me and my family. As you know I have been a subject of a viral video that showed my helplessness during a trying moment. As it stands right now, I have several hate pages in Facebook and Twitter with hurtful and derogatory messages attacking my person. The reputation that I built the past years has been besmirched. A bad day has now turned into wounded feelings and sleepless nights for me and my family.
“I have been silent the past few days as I want this to go away soon but not before saying sorry and thank you to people who matter.
“I would like to apologize for my behavior that was seen on nationwide television and now on the internet. It was unfortunate that I was caught on camera immediately after an overwhelmingly stressful mishap.
“I would like to again sincerely thank those who braved the flood to help a distraught stranger like me. Their selfless act reminded me of how dependable Filipinos are in times of crisis.
“Lastly, I would like to thank my family, friends and all of those who showed empathy, consideration and support throughout these trying times. You have given me strength and courage to rise above and be a better person.”
The Lao incident confirms the need for a more educated public regarding the use of social media. This platform provides for a richer exchange not possible on the mainstream media. But like all channels of communication, the impact is determined by the quality of the users and providers.
I have placed this comment below on the comments section of inquirer’s and gmanews’s website. As a result, they have blocked me four times, prompting me to create four accounts, just to be able to further comment on their pages.
(gmanews.tv, this is my FOURTH account. You have placed a block on three of my accounts to prevent me from posting any further comments. All because I have pointed out your errors. The public should know. The discussion should be elevated.)
Lao’s arrogance cannot be disputed. But his broken car and a number
of disapproving looks should be the only consequence of his arrogance.
Due to his potent mix of stupidity and arrogance, he deserved to have his car float and be written off. He may have even probably deserved a flu after this.
What he did not deserve is a biased, sensationalised coverage of his fate, and the wave of hatred that followed.
Hatred that keeps on swelling day by day – the shirts printed with his name on it, the Facebook page devoted solely to maligning him, the attack suffered by his family and friends and even total strangers, who just happen to have the surname Lao.
And I must reiterate this probably would’ve never happened if the news presented his story in a more balanced way. It should’ve left judgement of Lao to the viewers alone. I dare anyone to watch the news story again, but this time with renewed objectivity, and note how unprofessionally it was presented.
If the news had really intended to present the story to teach motorists about flood, there should’ve been ‘motorist-friendly tips’ or some form of ‘lesson’ given at the end of the actual report, instead of punctuating it with the sad sorry state of Lao.
Sadly, our news has become a reflection of the worst possible persona of ourselves.
Jun Veneracion and Mel Tiangco, shame on you for your condescending tone and sarcasm. You may have fooled the netizens who rushed to lynch the poor Lao guy, but you have not fooled thinking citizens.
Howie Severino, who issued the statement,”We regret that our video, which was meant to provide a lesson for all motorists, was used in any way to make fun of another person,” you should regret not that the video was used to bully Lao, but that you are editor-in-chief of a biased and petty news organization.
GMA News, shame on you for attempting to dissociate yourself from all of this, now that it has been blown out of proportion. Own up.
Contrary to what you may think, I am not alligned with any network. Do not try and cheapen my valid points by saying I am merely from another channel. Like many other thinking Filipinos, I am a watcher. I watch and I talk. I observe. And I refuse to be silent any longer.
How could social media be in excess? When is social media abusive? Christopher Lao knows that he was on television. He should have known what’s coming to him when he acted like a total jackass in from of the camera. The reaction of netizens was natural. The image creation was democratic.
How could social media be in excess? When is social media abusive? Christopher Lao knew that he was on television. He should have known what’s coming to him when he acted like a total jackass in from of the camera. The reaction of netizens was natural. The image creation was democratic.
The problem with this is not looking for the cause of the problem or neither point fingers at anyone, it’s a matter of who is responsible or not in spreading information or news. The Filipino people is already conditioned to respond in a way that when there’s news they have to share it and wait for comments from other people. If you look at it in some way, it’s just like how the media handles information, hyping it at some point and then forgetting about it. That’s what made many of us have a short attention span when it comes to issues concerning our own Government, and more important news. People are mostly focused nowadays in looking for something to talk about rather than searching for something to learn something from. This is just a comment of an ordinary person, not of the media, not of the social networks, but just a human being who also makes mistakes.
“But, who really knows if the intention of the reporter was to ridicule the person? GMA News could not have known that the report would elicit such an over the top public reaction.” – I don’t agree with this.
Sana din kasi di nalang nila pinangalanan or di nalang nila pinakita yung mukha. Ngayon kawawa naman si Lao, nilalait-lait ng mga tao dahil lang sa video na yun.
[…] Mr. Lao has been described as “dumb” and a “moron” by throngs of people online for his remarks (he even has two hate pages in Facebook). He became a trending topic in Twitter and Yahoo. Literally everyone has written about him, including The Professional Heckler (httpss://professionalheckler.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/quiztion/), New York Times reporter Carlos Conde (httpss://asiancorrespondent.com/61702/christopher-lao-a-flood-of-online-insult/), and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (httpss://www.cmfr-phil.org/2011/08/05/on-the-christopher-lao-controversy/). […]
[…] any case, as the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) said, “[Apart] from sharing the news, people had started to call Lao names—used rude and/or […]