Rappler’s Roxas ‘Instaquote’: Out of context?

THE PULL QUOTE is a regular feature in publications layout. Used “to attract attention, especially in long articles, a pull-quote is a small selection of text ‘pulled out and quoted’ in a larger typeface.”

But some readers merely scan, pick out the “pull out” or “instaquote” and don’t read the entire story.  These texts need to be carefully selected to avoid misrepresenting either the report or the person being quoted. The quote, set apart from the rest of the text, can be the only impression that readers take with them.  If this does not reflect the context in which the words were said, they can mislead the public.

But what happens when the pull quote is used in today’s social media landscape, where it is extremely easy to share anything, often at the expense of context? More specifically, what happens when it is turned into a meme or, as Rappler calls it, an “instaquote”? As the online news site found out after it circulated an “instaquote” quoting presidential aspirant Mar Roxas, it can be a headache.

As the “tanim-bala” (bullet-planting) scheme continued to generate media reports, Rappler posted an “instaquote” from Manuel “Mar”  Roxas II using  one of the statements he made during an ambush interview on November 4, 2015. “Kung nagpasokkang contraband sa airport, paanonagingproblemanggobyerno ‘yun?” (If you bring contraband into the airport, how does that become the government’s problem?), the “instaquote” read.

On Facebook and Twitter, the “instaquote” included the link to Rappler’s report (“Roxas on laglag-bala scheme: Bullet carrier has to take responsibility”). The report included several of Roxas’s statements.

Some Twitter users complained, tagging CMFR and Rappler CEO and executive editor Maria Ressa in their tweets that called it “irresponsible and out of context.” Two days later, Rappler issued a statement (“On Instaquotes and context”), saying that Roxas’s words “could be misinterpreted.” The Rappler statement included excerpts from the ambush interview with Roxas.

It also apologized “to Mar Roxas and the public we serve,” explaining that the quote they used, while accurate, “didn’t fully represent his position on a sensitive issue.” The site promised to “strengthen our internal measures to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”

Some applauded Rappler’s apology. “Commendations to Rappler for taking action and putting things [in] proper context and perspective!” Facebook user JuLzAbrea wrote in the comments section of the post. But not a few were perplexed by it. “I think Mar was not misinterpreted nor misquoted here, Rappler,” writes Randi Espra.

Actually, if one goes by the transcript of what Rappler described as the “relevant parts from the ambush interview” (published with the apology), the “instaquote” was not out of context.  Much of what Roxas said was about the responsibility of the citizens, the need of government to observe strict international standards in checking baggage and carry-ons to ensure public safety. He also spoke lengthily about the policy of government to earn the people’s trust.

He did not talk about, at least in the excerpts given, the cases of the detained passengers who said they did not carry bullets and did not know how the bullets got into their bags.

Rappler’s “Instaquote” and report was posted November 4 and updated November 5.  On November 3, the Department of Justice had already announced that it was going to conduct an investigation of the tanim-bala incidents.

Rappler may have a need to apologize for causing confusion. The original report quoted Roxas speaking in English:  “Roxas said critics should not readily label the government as culprit and instead look at the “context of who really are behind these incidents.” — which may suggest that Roxas  was talking about the need to look at the context of the cases and to find out who are really behind the incidents. That quote is nowhere in the interview.  The closest thing to it in the transcript of excerpts is an exchange in Pilipino:

QUESTION: Sir yung damage dun sa image ng Pilipinas sa aviation industry sa…

ROXAS: Hindi. Ang damage sa industriya natin ay dapat ilagay natin sa konteksto kung sino ba talaga ang nagpapasok nitong mga contraband naito, di ba?

In providing only the excerpts of the interview, the transcript did not include the question as posed by the reporter in the beginning. The transcript started with his response, expressing his hesitation about saying anything:

Alam niyo ho hindi muna ako magko-comment dahil wala na man insidenteng na di ba I mean parang imbes na magcomment tayo sa inspekulasyon ay tingnan natin kung meron bang imbestigasyon.

This was followed by his talking about the policy and goals of Daang Matuwid.

He may not have been misquoted. The quote itself may not have been out of context. But the meme or “instaquote” was a cheap shot.  The report was a weak story, based on an ambush interview, which is not always the best way of doing an interview about a sensitive and critical matter.

Apology accepted.