Media on Elections and Violence 2016
A Report of the Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility
CMFR established media monitoring to implement its flagship program on media ethics and responsibility. Press freedom in itself does not guarantee that the press will provide quality news service. The framework for media development must look at both freedom and responsibility as necessary facets of the role and function of a democratic press.
The activity involves tracking news in order to identify good practice as well as failings and weaknesses of press coverage. These findings direct CMFR efforts for training or for other measures that can help strengthen or improve news coverage.
Published first in print format, Philippine Journalism Review, the monitor is now uploaded online as Philippine Journalism Review Reports (PJRR). The digital platform provides content drawn from the media monitoring exercise: brief critical notes (Cheers, Jeers), more extended articles analyzing coverage as an aspect of governance, politics and development, as well as content that can serve to expand the reference of news accounts. PJRR functions as an on-going evaluation of how well or badly the free press is doing its job. This is in line with the task of informing citizens who can meaningfully participate in public affairs to improve governance.
MEDIA AND GOVERNANCE
The premise of the media monitor assigns a profound significance of the impact of the press on governance and policy making. Indeed, the press is the “fourth pillar” of democratic government, enabling and empowering with information the stakeholders in the outcome of democratic institutions and process. The press enables the public to check the exercise of power of public officials, and the power and influence of other institutional forces, the church, business and civil society.
This framework presumes freedom of the press from government regulation. It posits institutional autonomy from other influential forces.
The press in the Philippines has not fulfilled its mandate to help build an informed citizenry which would make meaningful freedom, popular sovereignty and representative government and the framework of freedom meaningful. Newspapers, electronic broadcast programs and now “new” media are involved in the proliferation of information and news, widening of debate and discussion. But news conventions can sometimes prevent more focus on what is relevant. Failures in accuracy and context can also create all kinds of false and misleading narratives in the public mind.
The on-going critique of press performance becomes necessary for a democratic system to function for public service and for the benefit of all.
It has taken CMFR some time to carve a place of reference for the media monitor and review. Indeed, it has proved useful to identify weaknesses as in the review of the coverage of hostage-taking and other crises. The monitor has concentrated on thematic threads in the coverage, such as women and gender, peace and conflict, FOI legislation and elections, among other issues and concerns.
REPORTING CRIME AND VIOLENCE
The press has always looked to conflict, war and crime for news. Violence inherent in these issues has become a staple for news. Such news is also of wide and popular interest as these are accounts of experience which is generally out of the ordinary. Journalistic accounts of these events hold a legitimate and central place in the news as these help broaden insight and understanding about deeply embedded problems which can lead to solutions.
Crime news has sustained a loyal viewership, and news organizations exploit this news stream for ratings as much of it is joined to violence.
But crime news fails to capture the underlying issues that these episodes so common and ordinary. For such news to be of value, journalistic practice must apply analysis to data, so as to identify patterns and the recurring motives or issues reflected in these incidents.
Clearly, gaps in governance and in policy-making have made it possible to entrench criminal elements in communities and in institutions. But news does not dwell on these aspects. For example, the connection between crime indexed by police (murder, burglary, robbery, assault etc.) and the proliferation of drugs has been fixed in the public forum only recently, as the anti-drug/crime policy of the Duterte administration has become the subject of reporting.
Media have kept to the surface of this and other issues, reporting incidents and episodes as separate events, rather than the inter-connected issues of governance, economics and failure of law enforcement.
Government’s response to criminality, including drugs, has been limited to police or military action.
And people cope with the threat of crime only in terms of increasing personal safety and protection, such as living in gated communities and private security services and mobilizing the barangay tanod system.
All other government agencies and stakeholder groups typically work out interventions within the same box.