smoke

I write better when I smoke. Don’t ask me to reduce it to a science.

A brief history of media

A quick, dirty, and intuitive history of media might run something like this.

In the distant past, people were mostly guided by instinct and the native spark of intelligence that set us apart from animals. Intellectually speaking, humanity grew in fits and starts – as when some individual stumbled upon an innovation and made something of it. This knowledge – for the most part – got handed down through the generations via an oral tradition. And that was good.

But the transfer of wisdom must have remained imperfect, and the survival of knowledge was a constant struggle. Inheritors needed to be born or found, for instance, and clan secrets protected. Because oral tradition was so tenuous, and its transmitters so few, humanity learned to become hoarders of knowledge.

cuneiformThe rise of the written word resulted in the oral traditions becoming better preserved and transmitted. But still, the ability to transfer oral traditions into scratches on a surface remained limited, as was the ability to read those scratches when the original author passed away. Despite the persistence of the intellectual record, therefore, knowledge was still a fragile commodity, easily lost.

As our proficiency at writing improved, so too did the robustness of knowledge. But then a new twist emerged. With the realization that knowledge was, in fact, power, there arose an intellectual aristocracy. Where the landed aristos won their wealth and power through brute strength, the intellectual aristocracy maintained a subtle influence that was no less powerful.

Imagine a landlord, frustrated at the dying of his crops – not knowing why. He would turn to those who knew and those who knew, in helping the landlord, gained a kind of power over him. But that power too was fragile and easily wrested away. Then as now, geeks hardly stood a chance against jocks.

illustrated1But jocks are a cowardly and superstitious lot – as Bruce Wayne intuited. And so, if the geeks could not cow them by might and main, they resorted to superstition and religion. Fear of damnation led kings to brave winter storms just to ask for a priests forgiveness. Eventually, intellectual power became the prized possession of the God-merchants. But don’t gt me wrong. This was, by no means a novelty. Stretching back into pre-history, god-merchants had always exercised this monopoly on esoteric knowledge. The emergence of powerful religion simply modernized the shamanistic tyranny of information.

Fortunately, not all tyrannies last forever, and it was Gutenberg who began to undermine the intellectual despotism of the god-merchants. Prior to his printing press, the wisdom contained in books and codices could only be replicated by a tedious process of copying – most of the time by monks who had no idea what they were doing. Copying stroke by painstaking stroke, whole libraries were shared among the intellectual elite – their monopoly and mastery of the superstition protecting them and their wealth.

Gutenberg changed all that. With his printing press, copying books became a snap. But that wasn’t enough. History needed men like Martin Luther to emerge and maximize the latent power of the press. Independent thinkers who put their thoughts into books and tracts and treatises that were then distributed all over. 

gutenbergThis allowed them to make copies of themselves. The very earliest and crudest clones. There can only be one Martin Luther. And that one man can educate and inflame the minds of only so many people. But print Luther’s words and give them to some other person to read, then that person becomes Luther – speaking his word to more people than the original ever could. 

These men, were, in a very real sense the first media-men. They transmitted knowledge to people who otherwise would not have had access to that knowledge.

But still, despite the spreading power of ideas, despite the crumbling of the intellectual tyranny of the god-merchants, still not enough people could take full advantage of the power of the printed word. For one thing, many could not read. For another, most people do not have the mental skill to build new ideas from old ones; fewer still could junk old ideas entirely and blaze new intellectual frontiers.

Education then, became the last bulwark of the god-merchants. Sure the rabble can listen to Martin Luther – but we can always fire back and confuse them, and in their confusion, a vast majority of them will return to the comfortable security of simply living the life that they are told to live. Prevent, therefore, the emergence of more Luthers. 

The intellectual tyranny evolved to accomodate the challenge men like Luther posed. Knowledge was hoarded more obsessively than ever, and emergent strains were ruthlessly cut down. 

But the gates had been thrown open by Gutenberg, and there was no closing them again. What the god-merchants thought was their last stand, turned out to be nothing more than a rear-action – a desperate move to stave off a rout.

Education spread, intellectuals blossomed, and soon, there were more Luthers than anyone could contain. The people progressively became smarter and smarter, but still, the Luthers were outnumbered by the sheep. And so the media went on over-drive.

oldnewspaperNewspapers sprouted – obviously not the thick catalogues we have today – but sometimes mere scraps of paper that had precious news printed on it. News about an abusive prelate; news about a exciting new discovery; and editorials! Essays extolling one idea or another; rallying people to a cause; or striking down some perceived injustice, if only in angry language.

These vehicles of news became precious to a populace that the establishment – the unholy alliance of the god-merchants (out to protect their intellectual monopoly) and the aristos (concerned mostly with their temporal wealth and power) – struggled to keep mired in ignorance.

Media performed an indispensable, if life threatening service to the people.

But the wheel turns. Inexorably. In time, media slipped into the shoes of its old competitor – the god-merchants. As religion slowly lost its influence, the aristos were on the look-out for new partners. Who better to co-opt than the ones who had whittled away the church’s influence?

Venerating new gods – gods like liberty, equality, and brotherhood – the media became the new god-merchants. And the people, owing much to the pioneering efforts of media, allowed the transition to happen; allowed themselves to slip into the folds of media new and benevolent tyranny of knowledge.

Where people once accepted the cleric’s word as gospel truth, so too has modern man come to be comfortable with the idea that newspapers cannot lie; and by extension – that other news merchants must be telling the truth.

But like in the days of the old god-merchants, this intellectual tyranny was supported mainly by the common people’s inability to control content. Where copying books was the sole province of clerics, the media (as we now use that word) controlled what was printed and disseminated, and so controlled our perception of the world around us.

Think about that. And think about how sometimes you find yourself thinking that there never so many wars or so many earthquakes as there are now. But you would be wrong. Wars have been fought with astonishing regularity throughout millenia, and earthquakes have been rocking our world daily since time immemorial. We just didn’t know about it. Media generally didn’t have the ability to report on goings on around the world, and so we lived in relative isolation. 

And then came CNN. 

cnnCNN – and its enablers, industrialization and mass production – made it possible for us to eavesdrop on events happening half-away across the world, suddenly opening our eyes to the reality that our lazy Sunday was some other country’s Bloody Monday. Our perception of the world changed, and we had the media to thank for it.

As far as tyrants go, CNN didn’t have long to reign. A new kid came swaggering into town: the internet.

All of a sudden, the internet allowed ordinary people to contribute to the river of information that flowed round and round the world. Perceptions were no longer shaped exclusively by the news-merchants but by ordinary people who, in many cases, no longer needed the media for anything but the “official” story. And who wanted the official story anyway?

It is far more interesting to read a man’s account of how he fought off a vicious fish intent on tearing him to shreds while he half-drowned off the coast of Patagonia, than to read “Man survives attack by killer shark.”

The dominance created by the god-merchants, that they grudgingly handed-off to the news-merchants, had finally evaporated. Billions of people – bloggers – their faces lit by the synth-glow of flatscreen monitors were now in control. And in the process, the character and nature of information changed as well.

The god-merchants trafficked in esoterica, charging exorbitant fees for sharing their knowledge; fees paid in gold and power. The news-merchants sold fact and, while they started out charging only enough to cover costs, they eventually learned how to make big money from their captive audience, and even bigger money by charging other merchants for the privilege of riding on the hotline to the people.

Bloggers, on the other hand peddle not just esoterica, not just fact, but also personal opinion. Information is no longer just useful, it is now also immensely personal and entertaining. Most importantly, it is now also FREE.

bloggers

But this is not Utopia. And though this is where we find ourselves in the story of media, the story does not end here

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Filed under: blogging, media

Gordon’s bullshit

I remember complaining how, everytime the Supreme Court rules against someone, the media always plays it up as a slap-on-the-face. That, of course, has roots in the idea that being slapped on the face is one of the gravest forms of insult possible, implying that the person doing the slapping has tons of disapproval and contempt for the person being slapped.

I mention this now because i find it curious that ever since the SC’s decision to grant JocJoc Bolante’s petition for habeas corpus over the Senate’s objections has not been characterized by media anywhere as a slap on the Senate’s face.

And now, Gordon – the same moron who gave insult to Thais and later on tried to weasel out of it – is trying to salvage things

Speaking to reporters yesterday, Gordon said the Blue Ribbon committee decided to release Bolante in the spirit of Christmas.

“We want to do this out of justice, out of humanitarian interest because of Christmas,” he said.

HAH! Whatta load of bullshit. Gordon secured the release of Bolante to moot the habeas corpus petition because he knows that the Senate’s actions would not pass muster. 

And so, from ordering Bolante’s arrest to force him into ‘telling the truth,’ Gordon ordered

 … Rodolfo Noel Quimbo, Blue Ribbon committee Oversight Office Management director general, charged Bolante with the crimes of disobeying summons issued by Congress, and false testimony yesterday.

Which begs the question, if they could file charges after all, why didn’t they do that in the first place? The answer ought to be obvious. It was much easier, more convenient, and more telegenic to just trample on the guy’s basic right to due process, which – as some smart guy once said – was designed to protect the presumption of innocence accorded to even the most hated person.

Gordon, for all his bullshit and bluster – not to mention spit spraying – seems to have forgotten that, and so (hehe) he got a slap on the face from the SC.

Filed under: judiciary, media, politics, , , , ,

On tantrums

I once had the opportunity to see a diva throw a tantrum.

Story telling time …

The taping was set for a certain hour. 30 minutes before the appointed time, everyone involved is present and ready … ‘cept the star of the show. The Diva everyone calls Madame.

The hours comes and goes, and still no Madame.

Half past the hour, she comes. She strides in through the door with a frown on her face, berating everyone for standing around. “We’re behind schedule, come on, come on!” Everyone is bewildered. Wasn’t she the one who came in late?

She takes her seat and brushes a stray hair from her face. “Where’s my camera?” she asks in an irritating nasal whine. Then she turns her attention to the floor director. “Why didn’t you fix the lighting?” she demands. You could see the director start to answer – how can we fix the way the light hits you when you’re not there to be hit by the light? But apparently being a veteran, he wisely decides to just shut up and fix her light.

She gestures wildly at the teleprompter. “That’s wrong! I’ve edited that!” She is near hysterics. The director mumbles into his mouthpiece and waits for a reply. “Madame, they don’t have an edited version.” For a split second, Madame looks flabbergasted. Then she realizes she has the edited copy in her hands. “Here, here! Why didn’t anyone take this from me earlier?” She rounds on her gofer. “You, Ruel! You really have to be on your toes.” Poor Ruel looks stricken. He obviously does not know what he’s done. “You know, this isn’t working. Maybe I should replace you. Direk! If this happens again, I’m walking out and never coming back.”

Ruel is rooted in place, unable to do do much more than crack a weak smile. “Well,” Madame asks. “What are you still doing here? We’re late! Roll tape now!!!”

Of course, you’d never see this episode on the news. Jove Francisco would certainly never report on it, even if the Diva – a presumptive first wife – is a much bigger public figure than the President. The difference, I suppose, is that the Diva aint the President, and the Diva isn’t as much the subject of public criticism as the President is. We all have have the tendency to kick people when they’re down, don’t you notice? And a President already unpopular is such an easy target for petty criticism.

Jove defends:

And I must say, our decision to use the footage of the angry president is justifiable, because it is news. Debatable? No. As a story it has in fact lots of layers in it. An unpopular and less than trustworthy president, waging a battle for her political survival, who by the way got sick before the weekend, was incognito during most of last week, was hit by criticisms regarding charter change and was shaken by the twin “pambabara” or non support from the leadership of the El Shaddai group and the Catholic church on her aim to amend the constitution. Plus the fact that she’s not feeling well until now, because as PDI reported, she visited 32 hospitals before being active again.

It is news that a head of state experienced a moment – however prolonged – of pique at finding things to be not ready for her scheduled taping? Or is it a story simply because she’s a woman? I imagine that if the President were a man, her “angry quest” (as Jove puts it) for a teleprompter would have been just another display of assertiveness and the determination to get things done right and on time. But let a woman do it, and suddenly, she’s whining.

Whining, contrary to popular opinion, has less to do with the tone of voice one uses as it has to do with the reasonableness of the anger being exhibited and the demands being made. Was it unreasonable for the President to expect everything to be ready for her the minute she got there? Were her demands for rectification unreasonable under the circumstances?

And Jove says the story had layers. What layers? The layers Jove mentions are an obvious attempt to frame the story as “President breaks down under strain of unpopularity and constant battle for political survival!” Puh-leeze. How about “Pissed-off President?”

Jove goes on to say:

Lastly, we are not being arrogant and we are not saying we have all the right to cover everything and anything under the sun, but what happened inside the halls of the NEB, happened right before our eyes and we can’t just close our eyes and pretend it didn’t happen.

Well, there’s really no debating that. Of course it happened, and it’s stupid to even consider pretending it didn’t happen. But that isn’t the point, is it? The point is that broadcasting this information and pretending it’s news is nuts. It wasn’t news – it was gossip. It was a juicy tidbit of what the pressure of the presidency does to a person, salaciously played out to an audience hungry for every least reason to heap criticism on an already reviled figure, meant first and foremost not to deliver news (I mean, what news? that the president is a bitch? everyone knows that already) but to rake in the viewership.

Bottom line: So, her iron mask of determination and steely control obviously slipped; so the fuck what? Happens to the best of us. We should all be thankful that we, at least, don’t have to see our private anger plastered all over the news and the ‘net for everyone to use for ridicule and criticism.

Still, if a public figure losing control behind the scenes is as newsworthy as he says, I challenge Jove Francisco – or any other journalist – to do a story on the DIva and her legendary tantrums.

Filed under: media, television, , ,

Kidnap

And so abs-cbn starts to reap the fruits of the kidnapping.

ABS-CBN aired the videos late Sunday in a documentary titled “Kidnap,” partly to help police on Jolo island identify the kidnappers of news anchor Ces Drilon and two cameramen, who were released last month after ransom amounting to millions of pesos was paid.

Excuse me? They aired the videos to help the police? What the hell kind of bullshit is that? They aired the video because it helps their bottom line to do so. Please. How could airing the video help the cops? Were they supposed to tape the airing – complete with commercial breaks – so they could have something to go on in their hunt for the kidnappers? I’m willing to give abs-cbn the benefit of the doubt and assume that they showed this footage to the cops as soon as possible. And they should’ve stopped there. But in their arrogance, the abs-cbn bosses just had to claim noble motives to mask the mercenary underpinnings of this airing, didn’t they? What a load of crock.

Filed under: media, , ,

Still hypocritical

The media have been quick to defend their decision to embargo the news about Ces Drilon’s kidnapping. Their argument goes:

“If that story came out, it might have angered the abductors and the captors could have been harmed.”

That from the NUJP President. From the Maria Ressa, on the other hand:

Her argument was that things on the grounds were so confused at that point, and that ABS-CBN had to be quite fearful for the lives of its people.

To which the PDI responded:

We believe that the concern about the situation turning more volatile—possibly fatally—because of premature reporting was valid.

That’s a neat little circle of protection they have there, ain’t it? But it is the very validity of Maria Ressa’s argument that calls into question the subsequent acts of media. If the concern about premature reporting was valid for this kidnapping by the ASG and thus prompted restraint, it begs the question why didn’t the media exercise the same restraint in other cases of kidnappings by the ASG? If media was now so quick to accept the validity of those concerns, where was it’s collective head at during all those ASG kidnappings that went before?

And why stop at ASG kidnappings? Any kidnapping carries that risk of turning fatal when kidnappers – of whatever stripe – see their efforts bannered all over the news before they had consolidated their plans.

The PDI makes a half-hearted apology of sorts –

Which is not to say the media haven’t been taken to task for what one respected voice in Philippine journalism bluntly called an attempt by ABS-CBN to “manage the news.” Vergel Santos said “People there [in Sulu] can be lulled into a false sense of security,” and for that reason, “the complete story had to be given to cover all possibilities and lessen speculation.”

– which it ruined with a quick and rather churlish retort –

But people in the area most certainly knew what had transpired, as the fairly regular updates coming from concerned members of the Mindanao People’s Caucus will attest.

– that entirely missed the point. The sense of security of people in Sulu is a rather secondary point, the main objection being against the ‘management’ of the news.

Also, didja notice how the abrupt retort saved the PDI from actually responding to Santos’ criticism? Seriously. As a member of the public who is subjected daily to only one half of the news – the half that harangues people – while the other half that contains the explanations and the clarifications are often deliberately denied the light of day, I find this brazen exercise of the power to determine the extent of access to news disgusting. Its a question of trust, y’know? How can I trust the news now that I know for a fact that they they actually do filter the news so that all the public sees is what they want the public to see?

Didn’t the PDI even feel the need to apologize to the public for blatantly selecting what news to print? Of course they always do that, but being caught in flagrante delicto, one would think that they’d have the graciousness to at least blush and mumble a quick ‘sorry.’

HELL NO!. Instead, let’s deflect the criticism even further by making the government appear to be the bad guy.

It was the government propaganda machine that made an embargo moot and academic—in direct contrast to the usual official line that the media are reckless in their quest for a scoop. When state-owned television channel NBN-4 broke the story in its Monday evening news broadcast, the authorities quite consciously got the ball rolling, which made Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye’s subsequent appeal (“Likewise, we appeal for caution and restraint in media reportage as not to unduly hamper efforts to rescue them”) the height of official hypocrisy.

Again, the objection is against the embargo – and so what NBN 4 did was actually the right thing to do. As for Bunye’s appeal, I fail to see the hypocrisy in it since, defining hypocrisy as doing what you warn others against doing, I hardly think that the NBN report could be considered unrestrained, especially when compared to the bells and whistles the major private networks are overly fond of attaching to even the most pedestrian news. I mean, it’s not NBN newsreaders that scream the headlines at you, or bombard you with endless loops of the most graphic images possible.

And besides, who watches NBN anymore anyway? You can hardly get that channel in the ARMM, for crying out loud! The fact that people were finding out waaaay too late is testimony to the paltry reach of NBN. Let’s face it: 9 out of 10 people prolly didn’t get their first taste of that news from NBN. So, calling Bunye out for hypocrisy is just a stupid canard; an attempt to find someone more guilty of wrongdoing to mask the error of setting up a hypocritical embargo anyway.

Ah, but what’s the use, right? All this is so much water under the bridge. Or at least, that’s what the PDI wants people to think by this barely concealed attempt to say “discussion OVER.”

We are, however, duty-bound to do unto others as we would do unto ourselves. Torres says the consideration given ABS-CBN should now be extended to the families of all kidnap victims. In this sense, the decision among rival media outfits to respect ABS-CBN’s request for an embargo means that a policy shift has taken place. An embargo should now be standard operating procedure for all the media in the initial hours of a kidnapping.

Have we even discussed yet whether or not an embargo is the right way to go? PDI’s closing statement takes for granted that an embargo is the right course of action in the initial hours of a kidnapping. That’s yet another sly excuse for what they did. “Oooh, it was the right thing to do anyway – and we’ve been told off already anyway – and so now we’re gonna do it for everybody.”

Didn’t Vergel Santos just say that an embargo was wrong? Who died and made the NUJP the final arbiter of what news the public should or should not have access to? And “all the media?” since when has the PDI been the voice for “all the media?” Come ON. Isn’t arrogating unto itelf the role of rule maker just a tad … well, arrogant?

Instead, what the PDI should be saying is that they now admit that the people’s right to information (which they are always quick to slap in everyone’s faces) isn’t as super-trump as they’ve always ALWAYS made it out to be. But good luck trying to get them to say that. Despite the fact that the existence of one exception to the rule implies the possibility of other exceptions existing, this last statement by the PDI effectively tells the public that the media is willing to accept only this specific limitation on their right to exercise journalism as they see fit. Which is incredibly hypocritical still since everyone knows that mega media always limits public access to complete information by giving preferential exposure to news that falls in line with their editorial biases; and which is doubly hypocritical since the only reason they’re acknowledging this now is because they got caught red-handed.

Now, more than ever, should the reader beware.

Filed under: journalism, media, , ,

Ransom

The next question of course is “Will abs-cbn ransom Ces Drilon?”

The negative answer to that makes my blood run cold; the threat of KFR is, after all, something I am familiar with. But one can’t help wondering if giving in to a kidnapper’s demands doesn’t just embolden them more.

I can understand the logic behind not giving in to the demands of kidnappers and terrorists, but I can’t completely divorce myself from the innate wrongness of letting someone die just to prove a point. This isn’t Sparta, after all.

Filed under: journalism, media, , , , ,

Blackout

I guess benign0 beat me to it. Reacting to abs-cbn’s news blackout of the Ces Drilon abduction, I mean. Myself, the gist of my reaction was this: Oh? So it’s okay for abs-cbn to suppress news, and howl bloody murder when others – for security reasons not terribly unlike those invoked by abs-cbn – ask for a similar embargo?

Don’t get me wrong. I understand why abs-cbn felt it necessary to ask for an embargo – and of course I hope Ces is okay (I’m optimistic, in fact, that she will be ok); I am merely commenting on the apparent double standard in effect. The safety of one of their own justifies denying the public access to a newsworthy event; but the safety of others doesn’t?

On a related note, I was also struck by this unintended but no less blatant exercise of power to control what the public knows. It reminds me of a quote from Sid Meier’s Alpha Centauri, a game I used to play:

As the Americans learned so painfully in Earth’s final century, free flow of information is the only safeguard against tyranny. The once-chained people whose leaders at last lose their grip on information flow will soon burst with freedom and vitality, but the free nation gradually constricting its grip on public discourse has begun its rapid slide into despotism. Beware of he who would deny you access to information, for in his heart he dreams himself your master.

Commissioner Pravin Lal
“U.N. Declaration of Rights”

Filed under: journalism, media, , , , ,