A problematic exercise: Election uncertainties dominate news themes in print

Written on April 4, 2010 – 12:03 pm | by mediaandelections |

The CMFR Monitor of Media Coverage of the 2010 Elections
Discourse  Analysis: Print
(For the period February 28 -March 13, 2010)


Scope

For  the print media coverage of  the fourth and fifth week of the 2010 elections, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) monitored the front pages of the Manila Bulletin, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and The Philippine Star from February 28 to March 13.  In a major indication of how problematic the elections are regarded, the uncertainties surrounding the exercise dominated the major themes of print reporting.

CMFR looked at the news reports on the presidential, vice-presidential, senatorial, and party-list elections. Reports on the elections in general, such as the country’s preparedness to undertake its first nationwide automated polls in May and election rules, were also included in the monitor. As in the first CMFR discourse analysis, reports exclusively about local elections were not.

Number of front-page reports

Many reports discussed several categories of election news. One report, for example, discussed not only issues involving the  candidates for President, but also those that had to do with  the vice-presidential and senatorial aspirants.

Compared with the first three weeks of the the national campaign, and relative to the total number of news reports,  there was a slight increase in the amount of coverage of the elections on the front pages of the three newspapers in the fourth and fifth weeks (173 out of  388 articles/items, or 44.59 percent of the total). In the first three weeks of the national campaign, there were 200 reports/items out of a total of 478 (41.84 percent).  News about the elections, especially about the presidential candidates and possible problems in conducting the automated polls in May, continued to dominate the front pages of the three newspapers.

Particularly notable in the coverage was the Philippine Daily Inquirer’s in-depth “Think Issues” series which discussed issues that the candidates—and the public—should be addressing and remembering this coming elections. The series, which appeared on the Inquirer’s front page, flagged some of the country’s biggest problems, among them corruption, poverty, lack of agrarian development, and problems in the agrarian, urban land, ancestral land, and fisheries reform programs of the government.

The inside pages are not covered by the CMFR monitor. But  it should  be noted that there were reports on the elections and the candidates in the inside pages, including  special sections, of the newspapers monitored.  A March 1 special section of the Inquirer on the elections included discussions on possible problems such as voter disenfranchisement and infographics on how to vote on election day. The Inquirer’s “Talk of the Town” last March 7 also provided readers with the candidates’ stands on population. In its “Vote 2010” special section, the Star not only provided basic information about the presidential candidates but also their positions on various issues.

There were also numerous reports about the candidates in the lifestyle and entertainment sections, among them  Star columnist Ricky Lo’s feature on presidential candidate Joseph Estrada last March 1. There were also numerous reports in the entertainment pages about Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, whose campaign has been dragged into controversies, among them that involving his sister Kris and another actress.

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From Feb. 28 to March 13,  the Star had the most front page news reports (154), followed by the Inquirer (127) and the Bulletin (107).  More than half of the front-page articles/items about the elections in all three papers  were on the presidential elections (102 out of 173 or 58.96 percent). Stories about the elections in general, such as the possibility of power outages that may imperil the automated polls and President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s midnight appointments, were in second place at 71 reports,  or 41.04 percent of 173.

As in the first three weeks of the national campaign, reports about the vice-presidential (51 or 29.48 percent) and senatorial (46 or 26.59 percent) campaigns were few. Coverage of the party-list elections was also  scant, at 14 reports (8.09 percent).

Placement

Most election-related reports were published below the fold (104 or 60.12 percent). Thirty-seven (21.39 percent) were above the fold, while 32 (18.50 percent) were banner or lead stories in the the three papers.

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Subjects

As in the first three weeks of the national campaign, the Nacionalista Party’s  Manuel “Manny” Villar Jr. and the Liberal Party’s Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III were the most covered presidential candidates. Villar was a subject in 51 reports, and figured in various issues during the period such as his religious and celebrity endorsements, his supposedly lavish campaign spending, his high survey rankings, and the C-5 road extension project controversy.

Aquino was the subject of 49 reports. His high survey ratings, religious and celebrity endorsements, and reactions to various controversies such as Hacienda Luisita made him the second most covered presidential candidate.

Administration candidate Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro was the third most covered candidate (he was the subject of 35 reports),  closely followed by former president  Joseph “Erap” Estrada (31 reports).

Other presidential candidates were far less covered: Richard  Gordon was the subject of 18 reports; Ma. Ana Consuelo  Madrigal, 12; Eduardo “Eddie” Villanueva, 10. John Carlos “ De los Reyes,  Nicanor  Perlas , and Vetellano Acosta, who was disqualified by the Commission on Elections during the period, were the subjects of nine reports.

Among the three papers, the Inquirer reported the most about the presidential candidates (98 times) followed by the Star (86). The Bulletin was a far third (49 times).

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As in the first three weeks of the campaign, coverage of the vice-presidential candidates focused on their support for, or reaction to the controversies,  involving their standard bearers.

Among the vice-presidential candidates, it was clear that only Loren Legarda (26 reports) and Manuel “Mar” Roxas (21)—also the frontrunners in various surveys—were being given consistent coverage.

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Coverage of the senatorial elections during the period monitored, as  in the first period, still focused on the most well-known candidates and incumbent senators. Juan Ponce Enrile still led the coverage with 10 reports. He was followed by Jose “Joey” de Venecia III, Jinggoy Estrada, and Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr., with six reports each. Others received five reports or less.

Up to this period, coverage of the senatorial elections still focused on the candidates’ reactions to various controversies as well as issues involving their standard bearers (presidential candidates). There was scant focus on the senatorial candidates’ positions on  development or policy issues, despite the fact that these issues impact heavily on legislation, and that that there are 61 candidates vying for 12 senatorial slots.

But one  report about a relatively unknown senatorial candidate was a feature article in the Inquirer last Feb. 28 on  Alex Lacson (“‘12 Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help’ Alex Lacson win Senate seat”).

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Far more disturbing was the negligible coverage of the party-list elections, given  serious concerns on whether all the 187 party-list groups accredited by the Comelec as well as some of their nominees actually represent “marginalized” sectors. Compared with the first period, coverage of the party-list elections showed no improvement, with 14 reports out of 173 (8.09 percent). In the first three weeks of the campaign, only 15 out of 200 reports (7.5 percent) reported on the party-list groups and issues.

It seems hardly necessary to point out that in the context of claims that  some of the most-covered party-list groups and candidates are administration or opposition fronts, the press (including the newspapers  monitored) should have be more aggressively covering the party-list elections. For some reason, however, the press seems to be balking at providing the public further information on the party list system, including its core reason for being (to broaden representation in  law-making, which both the Constitution and the Party List Act [RA 7941] assume without stating it, is skewed in favor of the rich and powerful, thus making a mockery of the country’s claims to democracy).

Substantial information and discussion is needed on the purpose of RA 7941, and on whether the COMELEC-accredited groups  meet the law’s intent. Another urgent issue the media have not addressed is the selection process in a party-list group’s choice of nominees.

1-United Transport Koalisyon (1-UTAK) led in the coverage of party-list elections. The group became the top party-list subject because one of its nominees is energy secretary and Arroyo  associate Angelo Reyes.

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Themes

Many reports did not just focus on only one theme. Common were reports, for example, that were on several themes at once, such as “campaign finances”, “development/policy issues”, and “poll automation”.

The major problems that have emerged in the 2010 elections  dominated the print coverage (114 times). During the monitor period, among the leading election issues/problems that occupied the  broadsheets were:  the possible power crisis and its effect on the polls, to the extent of leading to a failure of the automated elections in May; the granting of emergency powers to Gloria Macapagal Arroyo to address the power shortage in Mindanao and concerns over emergency funds given to local government units; questions over Arroyo’s last-minute appointments in the military and the executive branch; concerns on whether Arroyo can appoint the next Supreme Court justice chief; and  the Supreme Court’s ruling that appointed officials  running in this year’s elections must resign.

The second most covered theme was  Arroyo’s rumored plans to sabotage/subvert the elections or to hold on to power even after her presidential term ends in 2010 (39 reports).

Development/policy issues were  the subject of 35 reports, but this did not mean substantial coverage. More often than not, the stories only reported the positions/views of  the candidates on issues such as agriculture, corruption, or poverty without  providing background or explanation.

One exception was a March 6 Inquirer report which looked into Gilberto Teodoro Jr.’s stand on nuclear energy as a way of addressing the country’s energy concerns. (“Teodoro: Time for RP to go nuke but not Bataan plant”)


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Photos and artwork

The Inquirer had the most election-related photos (53), followed by the Star (20) and the Bulletin (eight).

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Among the candidates, Estrada had the most photos during the monitor period (10), followed by Aquino and Teodoro (nine photos each).

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Sources

Villar was not the only most-covered presidential candidate; he was also the most cited source (26). Aquino was second (19 times), followed by Estrada (14).

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Party-list groups and candidates were least cited in the period monitored.

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Background

More than half of the reports during the period did not provide sufficient background (92 out of 173 or 53.18 percent). Less than half gave background information (75 or 43.35 percent). Some items that were independent of other reports/items on the front page (such as “stand-alone” photos) did not have space for background information. Thus, background information on those items were marked “N/A” (not applicable). There were such six items during the period monitored (3.47 percent).

One exceptional report that provided background information was a March 13 Inquirer sidebar which provided a historical account of the political feud between the Aquinos and Cojuangcos. Aquino and Teodoro, who are both eyeing the presidency, are second cousins.

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Slant

Some reports contained more than one slant for or against a candidate, institution, or group. The study included all stories/items for or against any of the candidates, groups, or institutions. It is thus possible that a report may have been slanted for someone/something and at the same time slanted against another candidate, group, or institution.

The coverage during the period was overwhelmingly neutral (167 reports or 95.98 percent). Seven were considered slanted (4.02 percent). This included a Bulletin report which, while mostly  neutral, had a part  slanted  against Arroyo.

Among those considered slanted was a March 3 Inquirer article that was biased against Hacienda Luisita farmers (“Noynoy’s sisters also want out of Luisita”). The article relied only on Maria Elena “Ballsy” Aquino-Cruz and Aurora Corazon “Pinky” Aquino-Abelleda’s statements on the Hacienda Luisita controversy.

Worth noting is the  Bulletin’s  tendency to publish one-source stories. While most of its reports were generally neutral, the Bulletin’s frequent  use of  stories based on  one source (a candidate for example) suggests a reliance on press releases sourced from this or that candidate’s camp. This practice of the paper was already evident during the 2007 senatorial and party-list elections.

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Download the report here. (in Word or PDF)

CMFR Monitor of the News Media Coverage of 2013 Elections

Given the special nature of the 2013 campaign and elections, the media’s role as credible and critical sources of information and analysis during the election season bears watching. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) is monitoring the news media coverage of the 2013 campaign and elections in the context of both the special circumstances in which they were taking place, and the opportunity for improved and meaningful reporting and analysis the exercise offered to the Philippine media. 

CMFR has been monitoring media coverage of Philippine elections since 1992, and in every instance has made recommendations towards the improvement of media coverage. These efforts have not been unrewarded. Changes in media coverage incorporating some of the recommendations of the CMFR monitor in 2004 were evident, for example, in the media coverage of the 2007 elections.


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