Poblacion Girl: Getting distracted from the issues that matter

JEERS TO News5 and GMA-7 for amplifying trivia and distractions related to the case of Gwyneth Chua, who violated quarantine restrictions after arriving from  abroad last December. News5 first aired its report on January 5 as an online exclusive, an edited version of which was televised on Frontline sa Umaga the morning after, while GMA-7 broadcast theirs in a January 6 episode of Unang Hirit.

The angling of these two reports was a stark departure from how the Chua case was discussed by other media. It also differed from the treatment given the subject in the main news programs of the two channels, Frontline Pilipinas (News5) and 24 Oras (GMA-7), which focused on the violation itself, instead of the trivia surrounding it.

CMFR jeers the two reports for focusing on the party on December 23 and its attendees, drawing attention from more substantive concerns such as how it was possible for Chua to break quarantine rules, and whether  the system  allows authorities and agencies to escape accountability for their neglect of duty. 

The News5 exclusive and Unang Hirit’s Unang Balita news segment featured extensive interviews with Carlos Laurel, a former model who attended the party. Neither outlet clarified at the outset that Laurel is now running for councilor in Tanauan, Batangas as a candidate of the Nacionalista Party.  

News5’s interview ran for over 20 minutes, highlighting personal details, including who was invited and how Chua was included in the party. It had to do more with the party-going life-style rather than the serious problem at hand: a pattern of behavior that contributes to the dangerous transmission of COVID-19.  

Meanwhile, GMA interviewed Laurel live for more than 12 minutes. The interview was done in similar  fashion: empty chatter about the personal  entanglements and plus-ones of those who were at the party, and the events leading to Chua’s showing up.  

Sure, morning shows usually handle lifestyle stories. But with  Chua in the middle of the story, the report was obliged not to waste time talking to Laurel who had little to say to inform the public about her special connections and the pattern of privilege that allows people like her to evade restrictions imposed on others for public health and safety. Interior Secretary Eduardo Año himself had said on January 3 that violators routinely bribe their way around regulations. 

Given the hook which it used to capture audience attention, the producers led the public instead to listen to banal talk which plainly distracted from the point of news and public affairs, the purpose of which is to provide information  citizens need to know in order to make wise decisions and help them understand the roots of the problems we face. 

Given the continuing dangers posed by COVID-19 and its variants, media should use every opportunity to provide as much relevant information about the failures in the pandemic response, one of which is the inability to strictly and uniformly enforce quarantine protocols. With so many Filipinos returning from work or travel abroad, people like Chua must be stopped. 

Why give Laurel airtime, when these channels could have interviewed more extensively officials of DILG, the Bureau of Quarantine and leaders of the industry, especially those running quarantine hotels, asking them how they are going to address this collective problem?

Chua tested positive on December 26, three days after the party. Fifteen people in the gathering were subsequently infected with COVID-19, Año said. 

The Philippine National Police-Criminal Investigation and Detection Group (CIDG) has since filed cases against Chua, her parents, and Berjaya personnel for violating Republic Act (RA) 11332, or the Mandatory Reporting of Notifiable Diseases and Health Events of Public Health Concern Act. But the whole issue of quarantine-skipping is far from resolved. 

The country is in the grip of yet another Covid surge. It should be plain to journalists at this point that coverage of the health crisis, be it on morning shows or online portals, cannot avoid the serious stuff and should not lend itself to gossip – or serve as free air time for political hopefuls. 

The press, at every opportunity, should be arming the public with critical information and demanding a more effective  pandemic response.