TV Coverage sidelines local elections; spotlights more controversies 40 days to 2022 polls

4th Report on the TV Coverage of the Elections 2022

METHODOLOGY: CMFR reviewed and analyzed primetime news programs of four broadcast stations: GMA-7’s 24 Oras and 24 Oras Weekend, ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol and TV Patrol Weekend, CNN Philippines’ News Night and Newsroom Weekend, and TV5’s Frontline Pilipinas (no weekend newscast) for two weeks, from March 21 to April 3, 2022.

CMFR looked at the number of election-related reports, their placement, subject, sources, themes or topics, background, context, and slant.

Also See: “Politics in full swing: As elections draw near, endorsements and controversies dominate local campaign news

THE SEVENTH and eight weeks of the campaign period subjected some presidential candidates to more controversies. Changes  in some parties ‘ and individuals’ endorsements of  candidates, which could make a difference in the run up to the May elections, were widely reported  as that day approached.

Coverage of the national elections dipped after the campaign for local office began on March 25. Most news reports focused on the National Capital Region (NCR), as well as on such vote-rich provinces like Cavite, Pampanga and Cebu.

TV news reported crowd estimates in the rallies of Vice President Leni Robredo and Ferdinand Marcos Jr. Television channels featured videos of supporters flocking to scheduled events, but reports seemed tentative if not entirely reticent about the numbers joining Robredo’s rallies, which in social media showed phenomenal growth. Reports cited estimates  by the campaign teams of the two leading candidates. In Robredo’s Pasig rally on March 21, organizers said that there were 140,000 attendees, while police estimates put the number at 90,000. Marcos Jr. ‘s rally in Cavite on March 25 was attended by 100,000 people,  according to Cavite Governor Jonvic Remulla and the city police. The numbers were mentioned only in passing as the news focused on what happened and what was said during the candidates’ programs. 

While the media had assigned teams to follow the campaign trails, their reports have not been consistently tracking the increase or decrease in the number of participants in the rallies. Without previously tracking them, the numbers in individual rallies have very little meaning. In the case of Robredo, for example, the consistent increase in the number of participants in her rallies can be found in social media accounts.

On another front, the media reported Manila Mayor Isko Moreno’s revealing in a press conference on February 28 the Marcos family’s failure to pay the PHP203 billion estate tax it owes the government. On March 16, the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR) confirmed that it had sent a demand letter to the Marcoses in December last year. But few news accounts referred to the BIR document and the 1997 Supreme Court ruling on the Marcos estate tax. 

Several experts including former BIR commissioner Kim Henares and Former Supreme Court Justice Antonio Carpio were quoted in a few reports as reacting to the Marcoses’ tax liabilities.

During the Comelec presidential debate on March 19, Moreno proposed to other presidential candidates present, who all agreed, that the amount to be collected from the Marcoses be spent for social services for the benefit of people in need. 

But the primetime news programs did not probe further, leaving the more extensive discussion of the issue to public affairs programs. TV coverage narrowed the scope of its treatment of this significant issue, reporting it as though it was mere anti- Marcos mudslinging on the part of a rival candidate. News programs did little more than run clips of Moreno talking about the issue during his campaign and in interviews with reporters. (See: “Marcos deficiencies: Covering the Marcoses’ unpaid estate tax”)

From March 21 to April 3, the TV news programs produced a total of 326 reports on the elections. TV Patrol and TV Patrol Weekend had 110 reports, or 39 percent of the total number of news reports aired in the program; 24 Oras and 24 Oras Weekend had 110, or 36 percent of its newshole; News Night and Newsroom Weekend had 63, or 40 percent; and Frontline Pilipinas had 44, or 36 percent.

Local campaigns marginalized

The TV coverage focused on national campaigns with only 17 reports dedicated to the local out of 338 campaign stories. The coverage of local campaigns was limited to the start of activities on March 25.

But violence in provincial politics captured media attention as evident in the coverage of  (1) the shootout between the police and bodyguards of a reelectionist vice mayor in Abra, when the latter fled from a police checkpoint; (2) the strafing of a congresswoman’s house in Isabela; and (3) cases of violence against several politicians in Maguindanao. Abra, Isabela and Maguindanao are among the election hotspots identified by the Comelec.

Controversies (re)surface

A total of 188 reports focused on the campaign trail, with 81 reports on election-related controversies and 76 on endorsements from various personalities and political parties.

Endorsements, “mixed tandems”

Sen. Ping Lacson’s controversial resignation as president of the Partido para sa Demokratikong Reporma (PDR) to run as an independent candidate was reported during the period. A few hours later, PDR President Pantaleon Alvarez and other party leaders endorsed Vice President Robredo for the presidency.

Previously, allies of President Rodrigo Duterte had expressed support for Robredo for President with Davao City Mayor Sara Duterte for Vice President.

Unification Talks

Unification talks were again the subject of news reports during the period, when vice presidential candidate Lito Atienza expressed his willingness to back out to give way to a more “winnable” candidate against Marcos-Duterte who are still leading in the surveys. Atienza also urged other candidates to consider the idea. Lacson and Moreno were very clear in the reports that they were not backing out. For his part, Sen. Manny Pacquiao said he was waiting for “a sign from God” to guide him,  

Issues confronting Marcos Jr. and his family 

Most of the controversies during the period involved Marcos Jr.: (1) the Marcos family’s PHP 203 billion tax liabilities; (2) his non-participation in the Comelec presidential debate; and (3) cash distribution by local officials during his rallies. None of these were simply thrown at Marcos Jr., as these have resulted from his long-standing failure to honor tax obligations along with the dubious conduct of his campaign. 

Marcos Jr. had previously said that he would rather talk about his platforms than respond to the issues that have been raised against him, mostly his non-payment of taxes. He has been consistent about remaining silent when questioned about these matters, handing the mike to his spokespersons who would either deny or dismiss such issues as political tirades and mudslinging. 

His refusal to respond to these issues determined the slant of media reports. While Marcos Jr. and Robredo tied in the number of favorable slants at 37 reports each, Marcos Jr. had 13 reports slanted against him. Marcos and Robredo had received several negative slants in previous monitoring periods, but this was the highest Marcos has had to date.

Because of controversies, Marcos still most reported 

Marcos Jr. has been consistently the most reported since the start of the campaign. CMFR noted the incremental number gained from the disqualification charges, his refusal to be part of the debates, and other questions which he did not respond to, sticking to a script about what kind of president he plans to be. Although these controversies reflect negatively on Marcos, the news treatment given him has been remarkably neutral. The controversial points raised against him have actually amplified his media coverage. 

These issues kept Marcos Jr.’s coverage above that of other presidential candidates in primetime TV coverage.  From March 21 to April 3, Marcos Jr. was the subject of 103 reports. During the same period, Robredo was the subject of 81; Moreno, 56; Pacquiao, 55; Lacson, 54; and Labor leader Leody De Guzman. 35. Other presidential candidates were covered in 21 reports or fewer.

Among the vice presidential candidates, Duterte was the most covered with 57 reports. There were 43 reports on Sen. Tito Sotto; and 32 on Sen. Kiko Pangilinan. The rest of the candidates were the subject of fewer than 15 reports.

Presidential candidates quoted almost evenly

Pacquiao was the most quoted presidential candidate with 47 reports, followed by Robredo with 46, Moreno with 45; and Lacson with 42. Pacquiao and Moreno, in several statements aired over TV, called out Marcos Jr. on issues related to him and his family.

Marcos Jr. was quoted in 30 reports; and De Guzman in 24. All the other candidates were quoted in fewer than 10 reports. Most of these quotes were accounts of their statements on the campaign trail.

Among the VP candidates, Sotto was quoted with 34 reports, followed by Pangilinan and Duterte with 24 reports each; other candidates were quoted in fewer than 12 reports.

Other subjects that deserve more attention

Aside from activities in the campaign trail, there are other important issues that need to be highlighted.

Development and policy issues have been sidelined in the campaign coverage. Reporters following the sorties do not ask the candidates about these issues and reports are limited to references to these as campaign promises. There is little effort on the part of the media to explore how well the candidate has thought the issue out as policy that will have to be implemented. 

However, CMFR has noted reports on CNN Philippines that highlighted the plight of the marginalized including the LGBT community, persons with disability, persons deprived of liberty, and  overseas Filipino workers. (See: “CNN election reports spotlight marginalized sectors”). Issues from the margins deserve more airtime to help the voting public evaluate the inclusivity with which the candidate will lead should he or she win in May. 

The election preparations should be kept under close media watch especially since the Comelec has finished printing the ballots and has started delivering equipment and poll supplies to local hubs. Media should assure the transparency of these processes and pump up their coverage of Comelec issues to raise awareness among the voting public. 

Some election watchdogs also flagged issues that need to be addressed by the Comelec. The media should follow up on these issues: 

  • Security issues on election conduct, both digital and physical
  • Pending cases against candidates before the Comelec
  • Continuing delivery of voting supplies in local hubs
  • Consolidation of voters registered in two different precincts
  • Delisting deceased or “ghost” voters

With the elections happening in less than 40 days, CMFR would like to remind the media of their commitment to the Wag Kukurap’s Elections 2022 Pledge, which aims to encourage journalists “to provide accurate, reliable and essential information that will empower voters and encourage public discussion and debate.” 

The pledge was publicized in July 2021 and has since gathered the signatures of more than 400 individual journalists and media organizations, including those from the primetime TV news programs reviewed by CMFR.

The pledge has raised important points as a guide in covering the 2022 elections:

  • Challenge the statements of political candidates
  • Report on the partisan activities of government officials, including those working for national and local agencies, the courts, law-enforcement and the armed services.
  • Monitor the independence of the Commission on Elections, the courts, the military, the police, teachers and all other individuals and entities involved in the conduct of the election.
  • Highlight the efforts of the public and private sectors to uphold the honesty and integrity of elections.
  • Monitor vote buying, campaign spending and the use of public funds to win elections.
  • Contextualize reporting on surveys and the winnability of candidates. We will not Report on surveys without verifying the source of the polling data, the track record of the companies conducting the polls, the methodologies used, and the questions asked.
  • Focus on voter education, citizen participation and empowerment.

See pledge here: