A problematic exercise: Election uncertainties dominate news themes

Written on April 30, 2010 – 5:05 am | by mediaandelections |

Published in the March-April 2010 issue of PJR Reports.

In a major indication of how problematic the 2010 elections are regarded by both the press and the public, the uncertainties surrounding the exercise dominated the major themes of reporting in the fourth and fifth week (Feb. 28- March 13) of the 2010 election campaign. But while there was a perceptible effort by the mainstream media to focus on election issues, some problems remained, among them the media’s usual emphasis on the front runners in the presidential elections and their ignoring the bottom dwellers. The latter was most evident in the first three weeks (Feb. 9-27) of the campaign.

Meanwhile, from an initial focus on local elections in the first three weeks, the Cebu Daily NewsThe FreemanSun.Star Cebu and Cebuano-language dailies Banat and Super Balita, shifted their emphasis to the national elections in the fourth and fifth weeks.

The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) is monitoring the front pages of the broadsheets the Manila Bulletin, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and The Philippine Star, and the news programs Teledyaryo (NBN-4), TV Patrol World (ABS-CBN 2), 24 Oras (GMA-7). CMFR partner Cebu Citizens Press Council also monitored the front and inside pages of Cebu’s English language and Cebuano newspapers to find out how the most developed sectors of the community press are covering the elections.

Beyond the front pages

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.

Many reports were on 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  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  Manila-based 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 of the Manila-based newspapers are not covered by the CMFR monitor. But there were reports on the elections and the candidates in the inside pages, including  the 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 features on candidates. There were also numerous reports in the entertainment pages about Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III, whose campaign has been dragged into mostly irrelevant controversies, among them a quarrel involving his sister Kris and another actress.

From Feb. 28 to March 13, the Star had the most front page news reports (340), followed by the Inquirer (287) and the Bulletin (239).  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.

During the first five weeks of the national campaign, reports about the vice-presidential (112, or 12.93 percent of the total) and senatorial (101 or 11.66 percent) campaigns were few in the fourth and fifth weeks of the campaign. Coverage of the party-list elections was also scant, at 29 reports (3.35 percent).

Most election-related reports were published below the fold for the five-week montor period (225 or 60.32 percent).  Eighty two (21.93 percent) were above the fold, while 66 (17.69 percent) were banner or lead stories in  the three papers.

Most covered: Villar and Aquino

During the first five weeks of the national campaign, the Nacionalista Party’s (NP) Manuel  Villar Jr. and the Liberal Party’s (LP) Benigno  Aquino III were the most covered presidential candidates.

From the five-week monitoring period, Aquino was the subject in 125 reports. His high survey ratings, endorsements of his candidacy by religious groups and celebrities, and reactions to various controversies such as Hacienda Luisita made him the most covered presidential candidate.

Villar was the subject in 120 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.

Administration candidate Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro, Jr. was the third most covered candidate (he was the subject of 73 reports), closely followed by former president Joseph “Erap” Estrada (64 reports).

Other presidential candidates were far less covered: Richard  Gordon was the subject of 37 reports; Ma. Ana Consuelo “Jamby” Madrigal, 29; and Eduardo “Eddie” Villanueva, 28;  John Carlos “JC” De los Reyes, 20; and   Nicanor  “Nick” Perlas, 19 reports. Vetellano Acosta, who was disqualified by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) during the period, was the subject of nine reports.

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,  only Loren Legarda and Manuel “Mar” Roxas —also the front runners in various surveys—received consistent coverage, both having 48 reports.

Coverage of the senatorial elections during the period monitored still focused on the most well-known candidates and incumbent senators. Juan Ponce “JPE” Enrile led the coverage with 24 reports. He was followed by Ferdinand “Bongbong” Marcos Jr. with 17 reports, Franklin “Frank” Drilon with 14 reports, Ramon “Kap” Bong Revilla Jr. and Pilar Juliana “Pia” Cayetano with 13 reports each.

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 “Pinoy” Lacson (“‘12 Things Every Filipino Can Do To Help’ Alex Lacson win Senate seat”).

Far more disturbing was the persistently 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) during the fourth and fifth week. 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 and dummies, the press (including the newspapers monitored) should have been 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 are 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 involved in a party-list group’s choice of nominees.

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

Arroyo, Arroyo, and Arroyo

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 (these were mentioned 204 times). 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 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 Chief Justice of the Supreme Court; 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 (88 reports).

Development/policy issues were  also the subject of 88 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 problems. (“Teodoro: Time for RP to go nuke but not Bataan plant”)

Villar was not only the most-covered presidential candidate; he was also the most cited source, alongside Aquino who were cited for 53 times. They were followed by Estrada (24). Party-list groups and candidates were least cited during the monitor period.

Validating a complaint

As if to validate complaints that the media very seldom provide the contextualization that the public needs to fully understand events, more than half of the reports during the period did not provide sufficient background (215 out of 373 or 57.64 percent). Less than half gave background information (142 or 38.07 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 (4.29 percent).

One  report that provided background information was a March 13 Inquirersidebar 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.

One source stories, etc.

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 (342 reports or 91.69 percent). Thirty two were considered slanted (8.58 percent). This included a Bulletin report which, while mostly neutral, had a part slanted against Arroyo.

A March 3 Inquirer article 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.

Cebu papers increase coverage

Weeks 4 and 5 (February 28-March 13) of the monitoring period showed an increase in the percentage of election-related reports in Cebu’s English-language dailies from 19 percent to 22 percent (335 election-related reports to 1,511 news hole). Both Sun.Star Cebu and The Freeman allocated 23 percent of their news holes to election-related reports while the Cebu Daily News had 19 percent. A shift in emphasis from the local to the presidential elections was evident.

Only 6.22 percent of election-related reports were on the front page;  the rest were in the inside pages (93.78 percent). From 19 bannered election-related reports in Weeks 1, 2 and 3, this decreased to eight reports in Weeks 4 and 5, although the Cebu newspapers continued to provide primary treatment of election-related reports; 58.7 percent (425) of election-related reports in the inside pages were placed in the main news sections and 35.08 percent were distributed in the secondary sections like Nation, Business and Community.

Overall, coverage of the local elections in general (264) was second to coverage of local elections in Cebu (119). However, data for each newspaper in Weeks 4 and 5 of the monitoring period reveal a shift in focus in the election coverage by Cebu’s English-language dailies from local elections-dominated in the first monitoring period to growing coverage of the presidential elections (to 97 from 92 reports). Note that the only number of reports on presidential candidates increased during the second period of the monitor. Except for Sun.Star Cebu which remained largely local elections-focused, the presidential election was already on top of the coverage of the Cebu press during the fourth and fifth week, followed by “Elections in general.” Party-list coverage decreased further.

Emphasis on the local

With 277 reports during the first weeks of the campaign, Cebu’s English-language newspapers were reporting the activities of candidates for the local elections although the campaign period had yet to officially start. Comelec issuances, rules, promulgations, actions and processes under the theme, “Other Comelec-related issues”, was still the second most covered election-related theme with 194 reports.

While the theme “Development/Policy issue” came in third, a number of these reports lacked background and deeper treatment or tended to rely solely on motherhood statements from politicians. For example, a report entitled “Spend public funds on projects that help the poor: de Venecia,” quoted extensively senatorial candidate Jose “Joey” de Venecia III. However, nearly all the quotations sourced from a press conference were motherhood statements on poverty, corruption and rice importation.

The local press sustained its coverage of the political battle through personality-oriented reports (137) and cockfight or mudslinging themes (136). “Complaints or reports of irregularities” also increased from 23 (Weeks 1, 2 and 3) to 42 reports (Weeks 4 and 5). There were fewer reports on “Election-related violence/Peace and order” as the heated political conflict in northern Cebu, or the initial interest it generated, cooled.

The top development or policy issues in the first three weeks of the campaign were education (20), economy (20) corruption (14) and governance (9) while in weeks 4 and 5 were corruption (18), health (13), the environment (13), and infrastructure (12) discussed the most. The corruption angle and the tip that voters should not vote for candidates corrupting the Church emerged, for example, when during the launching of the “Vote God” campaign of the Church, Cebu Archbishop Ricardo Cardinal Vidal admitted to receiving candidates’ donations.

At a school forum in Cebu, presidential candidate Richard Gordon also repeated his claim that his rival Villar offered him a Cabinet position and reimbursement of his campaign expenses if he withdrew from the presidential race. Another report was a repetition of this point, with Gordon claiming that Villar also made him an offer in exchange for his participation in the toppling of Enrile.

Reproductive health also became an issue as church groups embarked on their “Vote God” campaign and amid the related issue on the distribution of condoms by health officials in the campaign against AIDS/HIV.

Comelec was lead subject and source

The first five weeks had the Comelec as the most reported news subject with 174 reports. With increasing local press coverage of the presidential election, survey frontrunners Villar (104) and Aquino (103) were more frequently reported than the other presidential candidates. Estrada also became more visible as a news subject with 35 reports, compared to only 16 reports about him in the first monitoring period. Teodoro and Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeña (62) also became notable news during the first period. Other presidential candidates in the news who were not reported during the first period were Gordon (10), Villanueva (seven), Madrigal (four), de los Reyes (three), and Perlas (two).

The vice presidential candidates in the news were Roxas (41), Legarda (15), Jejomar “Jojo” Cabatuan Binay (seven), Bayani “BF” Flores Fernando (four), and Eduardo “Edu” Barrios Manzano (two). Binay, Fernando, and Manzano were not used as news subjects during the first period of the monitor.

The senatorial candidates who were used as news subjects were Enrile (14), Gilbert Remulla (14), Vicente “Tito” Sotto III (12), former Cebu governor Lito Osmeña (11) and Ana Theresia “Risa H.” Hontiveros-Baraquel (nine).

Others were Drilon (seven), Jose III “Joey” de Venecia (seven), Nereus “Neric” Olaivar Acosta Jr. (six), Ralph Gonzalez Recto (six), Danilo “General Danny” Lim (six), Jinggoy Estrada (five), Rozzano Rufino “Ruffy” Biazon (four), Lacson (three), Revilla (three), Susan “Toots” Vasquez Ople (three), Adel Abbas Tamano (five), Ariel “Marines” Oliva Querubin (two), Marcos (seven) and Francisco “Kit” Tatad (two).

The local personalities most featured in election-related reports were still Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeña (102) and Cebu governor Gwen Garcia (69), ahead of their respective rival Jonathan Guardo (50), Osmeña’s rival for the Cebu City South district congressional post, and Hilario Davide III (14), son of the former Chief Justice and Garcia’s challenger for the gubernatorial post.

NGOs, civil society and civic groups also became more frequently featured as news subjects with 39 reports, including “election watch” efforts, voters’ education and organizing candidates’ forum. There were also reports about civic and Church-affiliated organizations voicing their stand on issues like reproductive health and corruption. The Church also became more prominent in election-related reports with 22 reports during the second period.

The Comelec continued to be the top news source for Weeks 4 and 5, with its local and national officials, with its local and national officials interviewed or quoted in 160 reports.  But the Church was also a frequent news source during the fourth and fifth week of the campaign with 28 reports.

In the first monitoring period, incumbent Garcia was quoted as a news source  far more often than her rival Davide, at a ratio of 3:1. For this period, the ratio was 1:1— Garcia in eight election-related reports and Davide in seven.

Neutral, basically

All three newspapers during this period were basically neutral in 613 of 724 election-related reports or 84.67 percent of the stories. Of the slanted reports, there were 69 with a positive slant and 54 with a negative one. Villar both had the most number of stories with both positive (12) and negative slants (10). These were in reports like that on Richard Gordon’s accusation that Villar tried to buy him out of the race, in survey stories (“Villar, Aquino remain ‘tied’ in latest survey,” “Villar not moved by recent survey results”), and endorsements by various groups. In the report “Pro-life groups back candidacy of Villar,” the headline did not jibe with the report as there was actually no definite decision yet if the groups would support Villar because they were still in the process of considering other candidates.

Cebuano papers: emphasis unchanged

In the second monitoring period, 19 percent of the reports in Cebu’s Bisaya-language dailies were election-related (100 election-related reports in a 518-report news hole), lower than the 22 percent (122 out of 543 reports) during the first monitoring period. Banat had more election-related reports numerically and proportionally than SuperBalita at 51 (22 percent) and 49 (17 percent), respectively. Some of the reports were stand-alone public relations-like photos of candidates appearing in the “Komunidad” (Community) page.

Most of the election-related reports (96.40 percent) were in the inside pages. Banat had three election-related reports in the front page. Of the 214 reports in the inside pages of the two papers, 55 (28.35 percent) are in page 2.

Unchanged focus

Both Bisaya-language dailies reported more on the local elections in Cebu with 110 reports, followed by reports of elections in general  (61) and presidential candidates (55). Coverage of party-list, senatorial and vice-presidential elections coverage were meager.

Reporting on the sorties and other campaign activities of the candidates and their parties still led the election coverage of the Bisaya-language dailies (84 reports). Candidates attacking their opponents also received significant attention as the second most covered theme with 36 reports. Standing out among these reports were the politicians in Talisay City, particularly vice-mayoralty candidates Aberdovey Belleza and Alan Bucao who were quarreling over their respective parties’ standing in the surveys and other issues.

“Other Comelec-related issues” moved three notches down from being the second leading theme in the first monitoring period. Corruption, poverty and governance were the top issues in reports with the theme “Development/Policy Issue.”

The most frequently reported news subject was the Comelec, followed by NP’s Villar Jr. (32), LP’s standard bearer Aquino (30), and the LP (28), including personalities and candidates speaking on the party’s behalf. This was followed by the NP (25), Lakas-Kampi-CMD’s Gilberto “Gibo” Teodoro (21) and Cebu City mayor Tomas Osmeña (18).

Notably, SuperBalita reported the political intramurals in neighboring Talisay City, featuring re-electionist Vice Mayor Alan Bucao and his challenger Aberdovey Belleza. In the background was Bucao’s ally, Mayor Socrates Fernandez, who has been under attack for allegedly trying to protect his controversial son Joavan. The latter has been accused of illegal drug use and of harassing people.

Background missing

The majority of the election-related reports provided adequate background. Reports that lacked background included some of those on the contest among the candidates, which simply repeated partisan accusations sans context, motherhood statements from politicians on issues, and reports about survey results.

The Bisaya-language dailies remained generally neutral at 76.58 percent of the time for this period. Of the slanted reports,  36 were positively-slanted and 19 negatively-slanted. Three election-related reports from Banat were biased for the anti-communist group ANAD party-list, the same observation in the first monitoring period. Conversely, leftist candidates for senator Liza Maza and Satur Ocampo got one negative report each during the fourth and fifth week of the campaign.

TV news programs focused on four

The CMFR looked at the two major primetime news programs in the country—ABS-CBN 2’s TV Patrol World and GMA 7’s 24 Oras—over the four-week period of Feb. 9 until March 12, excluding Saturdays and Sundays. It also included NBN 4’s Teledyaryo news show in the monitor in order to assess how the government-run network balances the interests of the people who run it with its responsibility to the public which owns it. A total of 72 episodes were covered by the monitor.

In the first three weeks of the monitor, many trends became apparent in the way broadcast news media were reporting the elections. The media focused  most stories  on the four leading presidential candidates—Estrada (Pwersa ng Masang Pilipino), Villar Jr. (Nacionalista Party), Teodoro Jr. (Lakas-Kampi) and Aquino III (Liberal Party)  to the virtual exclusion of the other presidential candidates.

The vice-presidential candidates were hardly covered, and what airtime they received was mostly as part of the presidential candidates’ campaigns.  Not only did the senatorial candidates receive meager airtime, the candidates who received the most coverage were those who already held prominent positions in the Senate and the House of Representatives. Hardly any airtime was devoted to new entrants such as the LP’s Yasmin Lao or the NP’s Susan Ople, not to mention the candidates from Ang Kapatiran. The party-list elections received almost no airtime from the three news shows.  Those that were covered were mostly those associated with the current administration.

In the fourth and fifth weeks of the campaign, three news programs devoted an average of 34 percent of their total airtime to coverage of the elections.Teledyaryo allotted the most airtime to election coverage, with 41 percent of its total news reports, while 24 Oras allotted the least airtime to the elections with 21 percent.

Teledyaryo increased its coverage of the elections for this period, compared to the first three weeks of the campaign.

24 Oras, however, decreased its election coverage, with more stories on election-related issues such as the possible padding of voters’ lists [Padding ng voters’ lists, pinangangambahan (Padding of voters’ lists, feared), March 1 episode], as well as its voter education campaigns [Mga sundalo, sumayaw ng ‘Bilog na Hugis Itlog’ (Soldiers dance to the tune of ‘Egg-shaped Circle’), March 12 episode]. 24 Oras also regularly featured one of the presidential and vice-presidential candidates in its “Ikaw na Ba (Are you the One)?” interview series with Mike Enriquez, which is originally broadcast over its partner-radio stations.  The news show allocated an average of two minutes to feature each candidate’s question and answer session with Enriquez.

TV Patrol World allocated a third of its total airtime to coverage of the elections. The news show devoted airtime to such election-related issues as the padding of voters’ lists and election security [AFP, nananatiling loyal sa pangulo, (AFP to remain loyal to the president) March 12 episode], while also allotting regular airtime to its voter education campaigns Halalan(Election) 101 and Boto Mo, i-Patrol MoAko ang Simula (Patrol your vote, I am the Start).

Reports about the presidential race continued to dominate broadcast news, with both TV Patrol World and 24 Oras devoting the lion’s share of election coverage to the presidential candidates.  Only Teledyaryo focused on issues other than the presidential elections, but its reports were mainly Comelec-related. 24 Oras’ coverage of the presidential candidates was 60.66 percent of its total election coverage, while TV Patrol World’s was at 45.45 percent.Teledyaryo allocated 20.42 percent of its total election-related reports to news about the presidential candidates.

No substantial changes occurred in terms of more inclusive coverage of the other candidates, although the standings among the top four contenders have changed.

The airtime devoted to PMP’s Joseph Estrada drastically decreased during the monitoring period, while KBL’s Vetellano Acosta received the most airtime for his short-lived presidential bid when he was disqualified from the presidential race on March 4, 2010.

Teledyaryo covered eight of the ten presidential candidates during the monitor period, compared to only five in the first three weeks of the campaign. However, it still favored administration candidate Teodoro, devoting entire feature stories to his campaign sorties and speeches, in stories such as Gilbert Teodoro, dinumog ng mga taga-Caloocan (Gilbert Teodoro mobbed by people in Caloocan, March 3 episode) and Gibo, iginiit ang partisipasyon ng kabataan (Gibo stresses youth participation, March 10 episode).

News or entertainment?

The blurring of the lines between news and entertainment was most evident during the period covered by the monitor in the case of a feud between celebrities Kris Aquino and Ruffa Gutierrez. This spilled over into the political arena when Gutierrez’s mother, Anabelle Rama, spoke on national television and urged Filipinos not to vote for Kris Aquino’s brother, presidential candidate Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III. “That is why I plead to the public not to vote Noynoy. He hasn’t won the presidency yet, but Kris is already big-headed. It’s as if she owns the whole show business,” Rama said in Filipino.

24 Oras and TV Patrol extensively covered the issue, with the March 8 episode of 24 Oras airing no less than three reports on the subject: Reaksyon ni Noynoy sa away nina Kris-Ruffa; Ruffa, nag-react; Nag-sorry si Kris (Noynoy’s reaction to the Kris-Ruffa  clash; Ruffa reacts; Kris says sorry) with a total airtime of more than five minutes, and almost two minutes for Aquino.

TV Patrol World matched this by airing three news reports about the issue on the same day’s episode: Noynoy, hindi dapat idamay sa isyu ni Kris Aquino; Ruffa, hindi masasabing Team Noynoy hanggang halalan; Kris, nag-sorry kay Ruffa at Annabel Rama (Noynoy should not be involved in the Kris Aquino issue; Ruffa cannot commit to be with Team Noynoy until the elections; Kris says sorry to Ruffa and Annabel Rama) with a total of almost eight minutes, with Noynoy Aquino receiving more than one minute of incidental airtime in these stories.

Villar received substantial airtime during the monitoring period, as the broadcast media feasted on presidential aspirant Richard Gordon’s claim that Villar bribed him to give up his candidacy.

Neglecting the VP campaign

The first three weeks of the election coverage by the broadcast news media, with their overwhelming focus on the leading presidential candidates, virtually neglected to present the vice-presidential aspirants as individuals with their own backgrounds, platforms and agenda. The fourth and fifth weeks did not deviate from this trend; all three shows still under-reporting the vice-presidential race.

24 Oras devoted the most airtime to the vice-presidential race, with 19.35 percent of its total election-related coverage given to the candidates. TV Patrol World devoted only 15.73 percent of its election-related coverage to the vice-presidential race, while Teledyaryo aired a measly 2.91 percent

The meager airtime for the vice-presidential race did not assure fair coverage of all the aspirants. Three of the eight vice-presidential candidates received a total of less than two minutes of airtime for the two-week period from all three news shows.

The  vice-presidential candidate on whom the networks devoted the most  airtime was Manzano of the administration slate, who received 15 minutes of airtime since the campaign started.

The reports about Manzano during the monitoring period (11.36 minutes) were not on his  programs or advocacies, but on the perceived lack of support from his party, and the rumors about his commitment to continue with the campaign. This was evident in reports such as Edu Manzano, aatras na? (Edu Manzano, about to surrender?, 24 Oras, March 4), Walang atrasan(No surrender, 24 Oras, March 5), Administrasyon, kinuwestiyon tungkol sa halos kawalan ng suporta sa kandidatura ni Edu Manzano (Administration questioned about the lack of support for Edu Manzano’s candidacy, TV Patrol World, March 3), Edu, tiniyak na hindi uurong sa pagtakbo bilang VP(Edu vows not to surrender his VP bid, TV Patrol World, March 5).

Teledyaryo still has yet to report about vice-presidential candidates Perfecto “Kidlat” Rivas Yasay, Binay, Jose “Jay Sonza” Yumang Sonza or Dominador Jr. “Jun” Fuentecilla Chipeco. The two other news shows covered all the vice-presidential candidates, although the bottom two candidates were given less than one minute total by all three networks.

Incumbent and prominent

The list of the most-covered senatorial candidates over the five-week period of the monitor was dominated by prominent names and faces from the Senate and the House of Representatives who are running for re-election. In the survey-driven coverage by the media, Senator and actor Revilla was the clear frontrunner in reports such as Revilla, nanguna sa 3 surveys (Revilla leads in 3 surveys, TV Patrol World, March 9) and Mga re-elesyonista, nangunguna sa surveys (Re-electionists lead in surveys, 24 Oras, March 9). Reelectionist senator and actor Jinggoy Estrada also profited from the reports about the election surveys, which propelled him into second place in terms of airtime.

Ignoring the party list elections

The intent of the Party List Act (Republic Act 7941) was to broaden representation in the House of Representatives to include “marginalized and underrepresented” groups.  But a recent Pulse Asia survey conducted from January 22-26 found that only one out of three Filipinos are aware of the party-list system. Amidst claims that the party-list system is being subverted to serve the interests of “unwinnable” opportunists who desire Congressional seats, media coverage of the party list system and the issues surrounding it have become even more urgent this election season.

Yet, the results of the broadcast monitor reveal that the coverage of the party-list elections continued to be very minimal. Of the 187 party-list organizations accredited by the Commission on Elections, the three news programs covered only 10 during the monitoring period. Only three groups out of the 10 received more than one minute of combined airtime from all three programs.

The trend in the coverage of the party-list elections in the monitoring week showed that popular issues can serve as springboards for party-list groups to get airtime coverage.

For instance, the spate of brownouts that hit Luzon and Mindanao in the early weeks of March became the media platform for transport party-list 1-UTAK and its nominee, Angelo Reyes, who also heads the Department of Energy. Reyes, the cabinet official to hold the most number of Cabinet portfolios, was also previously the AFP Chief of Staff, and became the secretary of the Departments of National Defense, Interior and Local Government, and Environment and Natural Resources.

Stories on the energy crisis and the implementation of rotating brownouts prominently featured Reyes in reports such as “Problema sa kuryente(Electricity problem, 24 Oras, March 1)”, “Nangyayaring brownout sa bansa, sinasadya ng pamahalaan para sa darating na halalan (Brownouts intended by government for the coming elections, TV Patrol World, March 2)” and “Rotating brownout sa Mindanao, maaaring umabot hanggang sa halalan (Rotating brownouts in Mindanao may last until the elections, TV Patrol World, March 10)”.

The Trade Union Congress Party (TUCP) party-list group also received substantial broadcast coverage when it called for wage hikes for labor. Media aired stories prominently featuring  TUCP, such as “Walang dagdag-sahod(No wage hike, 24 Oras, March 9)”, “TUCP humirit ng dagdag sweldo pero mga negosyante, tumutol (TUCP asks for wage increase but businessmen balk, TV Patrol World, March 11)” and “Pormal nang naghain ang TUCP ng wage hike petition (TUCP formally files wage hike petition, Teledyaryo, March 1)”. The TUCP has been publicly endorsed by President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo.

Questions about the intent and eligibility of presidential son and Pampanga congressman Juan Miguel “Mikey” Arroyo to represent the security guard party-list group Ang Galing Pinoy hogged media coverage of the party list elections during the monitor period.

Teledyaryo covered only two party-list groups during the entire period, while 24 Oras covered four. TV Patrol World provided airtime for seven party-list groups.

Focused on the elections, but…

From March 1 to 5 and 8 to 12 showed that about three out of every 10 of the news reports in TV Patrol World (ABS-CBN), 24 Oras (GMA-7), andTeledyaryo (NBN-4) were about the elections. But the programs were focused on the presidential campaign and gave little coverage to the vice-presidential, senatorial and party-list campaigns. So fixated on the presidential campaign were all three news programs that there were even instances when the candidates for lower national positions were interviewed in connection with issues in the presidential elections.

24 Oras had the least number of election reports even if it had the most number of news reports in its 24 episodes reviewed. The news program of GMA-7 allotted only 21.91 percent of its telecast to the elections, compared to TV Patrol World’s 31.13 percent and Teledyaryo’s 35.12 percent.

The party-list campaign was the least covered, with the three news programs having a combined total of 44 reports about it out of 1,759 total number of reports. While Teledyaryo had 37 reports about senatorial candidates, TV Patrol World and 24 Oras had a combined 53 reports, making the senatorial campaign the second least covered.

More than half of the election-related reports were aired by 24 Oras (35 out of 60, or 58.3 percent) and Teledyaryo (35 out of 63, or 55.6 percent) during the first half of the program. TV Patrol World, on the other hand, aired only 30 out of 77 election-related reports (39.0 percent). The three news programs had only six election-related reports as banner or lead story, accounting for a mere 3.0 percent.

Most covered candidates and party-list groups

TV Patrol World and 24 Oras covered presidential candidate Sen. Benigno “Noynoy” Aquino III (Liberal Party)  most, followed by  Teodoro with 108 reports and Sen. Aquino with 100 reports.

Teledyaryo gave the most coverage to Teodoro, Villar and Aquino came in second and third, respectively.

The other seven presidential candidates were not given substantial coverage by the three news programs. Teledyaryo, in fact, did not cover contenders John Carlos de los Reyes (Ang Kapatiran) and Vetellano Acosta (KBL).

Among the vice-presidential candidates, TV Patrol World covered Manzano and Roxas the most, with the rest getting equal though scant coverage. Roxas and Legarda (Nationalist People’s Coalition) were the most covered on 24 Oras. Legarda  was also the most covered vice-presidential candidate on Teledyaryo.

Manzano, Legarda and Roxas got more substantial coverage than the other five vice-presidential candidates from the three news programs. In the case of Teledyaryo, only five vice presidential candidates became news subjects.

Given that there was little coverage of the senatorial elections, only 33 candidates were used as news subjects by the three news programs. Most of these news subjects were the most well-known. Comelec lists 61 senatorial candidates vying for the 12 slots in the senatorial elections.

Reelectionists Jinggoy Estrada and Enrile were the most covered candidates for senator. However, the coverage of even these two personalities was mainly on the controversies or issues surrounding their respective presidential candidates (e.g., PMP presidential candidate Joseph Estrada’s being heckled during a campaign rally).

TV Patrol World had the least coverage of senatorial candidates. Some were mentioned only 16 times in the 10 episodes monitored. Teledyaryo did so 68 times. 24 Oras had the most coverage at 111.

The party-list groups also suffered from scant coverage. During the fourth and fifth week of the campaign, 24 Oras, in fact, cited only once a party-list group during the period under review. Teledyaryo, on the other other hand, used as news subject two party-list groups three times. TV Patrol Worldcovered eight party-list groups 12 times.

The three news programs only had as news subjects 19 party-list groups. Comelec has accredited 187 party-list groups.

What coverage of the party list groups there was did not focus on their programs. That 1-Utak was the most covered party-list group had nothing to do with its platform or even its advocacy. The coverage focused on the controversy surrounding its first nominee, Reyes. The same was true of AG, whose first nominee was said to be presidential son and Rep. Mikey Arroyo.

Personalities plus

In terms of election themes, the three programs focused on “Campaigning Conduct”.  Both 24 Oras and TV Patrol World had a total of 56 reports while Teledyarto had 47 reports on campaigns, to a total of 159 reports.

“Development/Policy” issues were the second most covered election-related theme if the numbers of the three news programs were combined with 66 reports. The candidates’ statements or promises as regards solutions to the current power crisis were the most reported development/policy issue, followed by their probable response to issues on peace and order, on the economy and agriculture.

Another emerging theme in the reports were “Other Issues”. Among the top issues in this category were celebrity endorsements, power crisis, citizen journalism, and media efforts on voter education.

Most cited among presidential candidates

Among the presidential candidates, the three news programs’ top news sources were Villar, Teodoro, Aquino and Estrada. The other candidates were seldom used in the election-related reports during the period in review.

Villar was the top news source during the first three weeks of the campaign while Teodoro became the top news source during the fourth and fifth week.TV Patrol World had Aquino as the top news source. On the other hand, 24 Oras had as top news sources Aquino and Villar; while Teledyaryo had Villar.

While there was a minimal use of the vice-presidential candidates as news sources was apparent, Legarda was the top news source among vice-presidential candidates, followed by Manzano and Roxas. Teledyaryo had Legarda as the top news source while TV Patrol World had Roxas as the top news source among vice presidential candidates. Aside from Roxas, 24 Oras also had as top news source Yasay (Bangon Pilipinas).

As regards party-list groups, 1-Utak was used as a news source but mainly on the choice of Reyes as its first nominee. AG was also mentioned in the context of Rep. Mikey Arroyo’s being its first nominee.

Backgrounding and slant of election-related reports

Almost six out of every 10 election-related reports in the three news programs provided background information. This means that the broadcast journalists of TV Patrol24 Oras and Teledyaryo exerted enough effort to make their reports understandable to viewers.

The slant of such reports was, for the most part, neutral. Only 18.03 percent of election-related reports were positive and 8.82 percent were negative.However, it should be noted that reports must have more than one slant.

Only Madrigal did not receive a positive slant in the election-related reports of the three news programs, though Teledyaryo provided the most positive slant in two of them, Teodoro and Villar. 24 Oras gave substantial positive slant to Aquino and Villar. On the other hand, TV Patrol World had very minimal positive slant to Aquino and Teodoro.

The vice-presidential and senatorial candidates received little positive slant given the scant coverage they got from the three news programs. The same applied to the party-list groups, of which only two received a positive slant.

24 Oras had the most negative slant on presidential candidates Villar, Gordon and Madrigal. Teledyaryo had minimal negative slant in its reports on Aquino and Gordon. Teledyaryo had minimal negative slant in its reports on Aquino and Gordon.

While 24 Oras did not have a negative slant on any vice-presidential candidate and party-list group, TV Patrol World and Teledyaryo had minimal negative slant on two vice presidential candidates (Manzano, Binay and Roxas) and two party-list groups (1-UTAK and Kabataan Party-list).

No senatorial candidate suffered from any negative slant, but it had nothing to do with objective reporting but was the result of the scant coverage the senatorial campaign received during the period under review.

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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