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The Manila Times : Partisan journalism

News & Interviews
11 December 2021

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

THERE is a reason I don't call myself a journalist.

Journalism is defined as the act of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. Not all types of communication are news, and therefore fall under journalism. While the universe of mass media includes entertainment, opinion, assertion, propaganda and advertising, it is technically incorrect to claim that every mass media practitioner is a journalist.

I am a media practitioner, but I am hardly a journalist.

One of the tragic consequences of a digitized media is the increasingly porous boundaries that divide news and journalism from other types of media practice. What used to be hard boundaries between news and information on one side and opinion and propaganda on the other have now practically disappeared. And this is particularly evident in broadcast media, where we have news anchors and reporters who now also host their own opinion talk shows. Worse is radio, where we have the blatant breaching of the divide between news and commentary, when those who anchor, read and deliver the news are also acting as commentators.

Worst is in internet-based media, where we have organizations like Rappler that come out with articles which acquire the characteristics of both news and commentary. Every journalism student is being told that these two should not be mixed, and that every news article should as much as possible contain both sides, or that if this is not possible, that the other side should be given equal space and attention in succeeding articles. This kind of neutrality and balance is important to fulfill the ethical standards of proper journalism.

But Rappler, and even other news organizations like ABS-CBN, Inquirer, GMA-7 and others, which unlike Rappler have both print or broadcast and online news platforms, seem to acquire a social media mentality in their online presence. This mentality is manifested in the ease by which news, now expressed almost in real time as Facebook posts or tweets, succumb to the urge of news platforms to attract likes and shares, instead of simply informing. Click-baiting becomes normalized, even as grammatical lapses and factual inaccuracies become more prevalent.

Furthermore, because individual journalists have their own social media accounts in Facebook and Twitter, they are now freer to become journalists and commentators rolled into one, with them tweeting or posting what appears as news reports in their individual accounts, and then later express their own views and opinions using the same accounts. Thus, we see the spectacle of people who are supposed to be bearers of news and information that are free of bias, now also making their own personal commentaries. This leads us to a situation that is practically an affront to the ethos of classical journalism, when we have journalists who are supposed to be bearers of objective facts now making political statements, from what they say in their posts to the color and symbols they bear, that are sympathetic or hostile to particular political personalities.

Recently, CNN fired one of its star news anchors Chris Cuomo for his unethical conduct of being partial to his brother, former New York governor Andrew Cuomo. CNN may not be totally clean in its own practice of journalism, though not as worse as Fox News perhaps, but in this single act it became true to the tenets of the profession Chris Cuomo is a part of. In fact, journalists are not just serving the companies that hire them, but they should all serve the interests of the people, and not their relatives, or any preferred political personality or ideology.

In the Philippines, it seems we have yet to see the day that whips would be cracked on erring journalists from among their own ranks. If at all, it seems that malpractice by journalists is being allowed, even enabled, by their news organizations, simply because probably their editors may have their own political biases too.

The litany of crimes against objective journalism is simply too palpable to ignore. One can only be so naïve not to know the prevailing anti-Marcos and anti-Duterte bias from several news organizations, most prominent of which are Rappler, the Inquirer and ABS-CBN.

A content analysis of their news coverage reveals more negative coverage of the candidacy of former senator Ferdinand Marcos Jr. They fact-check every claim detrimental to Vice President Maria Leonor Robredo to show it is false, even as they spend a disproportionate amount of time checking every claim made favorable to Marcos and show that it is a lie. They even incessantly feature what appears to be old news and post this online for no reason at all, except to simply put the Marcoses in a bad light. They do not interrogate the claims made by those who have made allegations against Marcos in the disqualification cases filed against him, and actively search for contrary evidence which journalists are supposed to do, such as on the allegation that he failed to pay the fine imposed by the court on his tax case.

Journalism expects that people should not patronize fake news. Journalists should not be persecuted and harassed by people in power. We have to safeguard freedom of the press and should condemn the abuse of power to inflict vengeance on critical journalism. We should not countenance any government or party that uses other means, such as the denial of a franchise, or a tax or libel case, or even assassination, to get back at perceived enemies in the media. However, and having said these, we cannot also let partisanship in media off the hook. It is particularly in this season of political division when objective and unbiased journalism is urgently needed.

It is hard enough to ask for sympathy for Maria Ressa, or for ABS-CBN from people who perceive them as being unfair to their preferred political personalities. It is even harder to urge them not to fall for fake news when bearers of news are themselves engaged in partisan, and therefore biased, journalism.