smoke

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

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.

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Filed under: media, , ,

Frenzy

After the release of Ces Drilon, it seems that a frenzy of accusations and recriminations has been unleashed. First, it was made to appear that the kidnappers released Ces out of the goodness of their hearts; then it was for livelihood projects; then it was ‘revealed’ that ransom had actually been paid. Then, Loren Legarda came  charging in, all ready to claim credit for the release alongside that Isnaji character. Then, with Loren’s smug face still on the headlines looking about ready to french that seedy mayor for giving her another fifteen minutes in the limelight, Isnaji gets implicated and, in short order, arrested. Loren, meanwhile, seems to have shut up – a little too late: now she has her Lucida endorsements and this embarrassment hanging over her head. If there is any intelligence in this world, then she’s already lost her bid for presidency even before she files her certificate of candidacy. 

But at least she can take comfort in the fact that there is very little brains in this world – especially come election time when there are only stomachs – AND the fact that the elections are more than a year away. Knowing the Filipino penchant for moving on (and no, I’m not choking on the irony), she’ll prolly still have a good fighting chance come 2010. 

Which brings me to this idea I had: Someone should start a memory blog that does nothing but list everything that every potential presidential candidate has done since 2007 and right up to the filing of candidacies in 2010. That way, no one forgets.

Filed under: 2010 watch, politics, , , ,

Cinematic

Over on Filipino Voices this morning, I wrote:

It’s funny how after initially not wanting to talk about it, media now can’t stop hyping up the abduction of Ces Drilon. Here in Voices, most especially, Ding Gagelonia’s constant updates are nothing short of cinematic. Reading through his posts, one can feel a palpable build-up of tension and fear – bordering on hysteria even – worthy of M. Night Shyamalan or even Cloverfield.

It is now the lull…”

Come on. If the situation weren’t so friggin serious, I’d be on the floor laughing from the hamminess of it all. Next thing you know, they’ll be eulogizing Ces. Oh wait. RG already did that.

Then, a coupla hours later:

With the deadline come and gone, the kidnappers are now said to be contemplating scaling down their demand. From cash to livelihood projects. That’s good, of course. It just calls into question how much we needed the ‘ticking clock’ drama.

Every line of text devoted to these jokers gives them incentive to up the ante; every drama sequence increases pressure on people to cave to their demands; every sentence trailing off to silence extends this caper a few more hours. When you realize this, you hopefully understand that this is not just a matter of taste.

There is more at stake here than just criticism of style.

You have to forgive me, folks. I don’t normally quote myself, but I don’t want to be misunderstood. Lord knows I get enough of that from my Mom.

I do not think that the abduction is a trivial matter. I am merely commenting on how the abduction is so easy to plunder for ‘heart-felt’ pieces masquerading as journalism. Worse, the pieces I’m reacting too – mosey on over to Voices and read almost everything by Gagelonia –  don’t really inform so much as craft atmosphere. They pummel the reader with dark gooey sentiments until the whole body of work reads like a fucking death-watch.

Too much, man. And it too closely resembles the kind of mindset that gave birth to that embargo: the mindset that insinuates that the subject this time is more important, more of a loss to humanity, than the other kidnap victims who never get this kind of morose coverage. Ces is a wonderful person, I’m sure. And she deserves all the accolades. But save it, fellas.

As I said, this kind of writing only makes it harder for everyone to approach this thing objectively (as it is, I imagine there will be those who will think me heartless for speaking out now). Imagine how her family must feel when they read these almost-eulogies to their daughter … now imagine how that will affect their decisions in dealing with the terrorists. On the other hand, imagine the kind of mindset being created in the reading public … after reading Gagelonia, I have heard more than one person loudly proclaim that Ces had to be ransomed, that government should put up the ransom money, that the person who allowed her to go unescorted should be court martialed (incidentally, this last one was the same person who, after the Penn,  argued that the government has no right to tell journalists what to do, regardless of the security concerns). Instead of fostering clarity, purple  and unnecessarily melodramatic prose only muddies the waters.

Oh, and Nick? Hammy means ‘affectedly dramatic.’ And “It is now the lull …” fits the bill perfectly.

And I don’t think it’s an excuse either to say that this writer or that has a personal connection to Ces. Writers – especially professional journalists – are expected to maintain objectivity especially when the topic touches them personally.

Be that as it may, it’s Gagelonia’s right to to act out his apparent distress in whatever manner he chooses; i’m just saying that I don’t like it, I think it has negative consequences (perhaps unintended), and that everyone would prolly benefit from being more objective about this whole sorry scenario.

Filed under: musings, , ,

Spoiled Brats

Over at Filipino Voices, butch insightfully discusses the kind of pressure journalists are under to provide ‘compelling content.’

‘Compelling’ of course, especially in the context of Philippine media in general, I pronounce as ‘sen-say-sho-na-listic.’ In less charitable moments, I might be given to pronouncing it as ‘pro-pa-gan-dis-tic.’

Leaving that aside, butch also pulls this quote:

“The rest of the world knows how to get attention,” Scherer says. “Targeting a journalist will get attention because journalists give attention to each other.”

And that’s what really got my attention. Shenanigans like the kidnapping Ces Drilon are quite obviously about getting attention. Like spoiled brats will sometimes break a vase for no reason other than to get noticed, various groups will often do something outrageous when they feel they’re being ignored by the limelight – or when someone else is hogging center stage. We all know this and understand this to be a fair conclusion.

Which makes me wonder why serious journalists even bother.

I get how most journalists have a kind of messianic complex when it comes to “the search for truth.” You can ennoble that complex by simply ignoring the fact that maintaining it requires a certain level of egotism to imagine that the whole ‘truth’ infrastructure will collapse without your contributions; in fact, we often do. It is practically blasphemy to say that some journalists are just glory hounds; they all have to be knights errant in pursuit of an obfuscated truth.

But even if we were to take for granted that ‘truth’ is the holy grail, one cannot help but wonder what sort of ‘truth’ do we need from fringe terrorists like those that nabbed Ces? Other armed groups at least still maintain the separatist line – and work along parallel and non-violent tracks for the accomplishment of that goal. But the terrorists? What redeeming social value does their reign of terror represent? More to the point, what could they have possibly told Ces that would have justified her risking her life like that?

Journalists should learn to distinguish between the pursuit of truth and plain reportage of facts. The truth is indispensable, and should be sought out with fervor and all that. But mere facts are less noble. Some facts we the public can even can do without, especially if they do not materially contribute to our understanding of things (I mean, what more do we need to know about the Abu Sayyaf anyway?) and most especially when they come at too high a cost – not just to ourselves but to our family, our industry, and even our nation. Take Ces’ abduction, f’rinstance. It doesn’t just endanger her. It makes her entire family suffer; it has put her industry in an unflattering light because of that news blackout, and – by emboldening and giving her abductor’s renewed bragging rights – it has empowered enemies of the state.

At the end of the day, that’s the worst consequence of this entire sorry episode. Once again, the abductors have proven that they can do these things with near impunity. Word will already have reached the ears of their international sympathizers and donations must be on the uptick. Hell, even if they didn’t get any more board and lodging fees, they will probably come out of this awash in cash once again.

What will have Ces Drilon’s sacrifice gained then? Everything for those blaggards, and nothing but heartache for the rest of us. Like pacifying a spoiled brat, it just isn’t worth it.

Filed under: journalism, ,

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, , , , ,