COMMENT: Intriguing Media Stories

GENERAL SANTOS CITY (MindaNews / 18 February 2016) – Two media articles, a news report and an opinion article – both published online February 15 – intrigue. In the first, appearing in MindaNews and Rappler.com, Cagayan de Oro Press Club (COPPI) denounces Manila media for discrimination; the second, in The Manila Times, asks: Why does Poe refuse to take a DNA test with Marcos Jr.?”

Manila Media Discriminating

While, as it is, the news report is a controversy, the discrimination complained of is not incidental. The “condescension” (meaning, “assumed air of superiority”) the COPPI condemned in its “Statement of Indignation” (published in full by MindaNews, February 16) is a feeling of offense on the part of local media (Read: Mindanao) due to what they see from experience as superior attitude of Manila-based media. The intriguing part is why this feeling continues to fester rather than heal.

In a guideline branded as “A clear case of discrimination towards the province-based media”, the Manila-based organizers limited the participation of the local press in the coverage of the first Presidential Debate in Cagayan de Oro City on February 21 which is organized by GMA-7 and the Philippine Daily Inquirer with the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) as debate coordinator.

The Presidential Debate is a joint endeavor of the Commission on Elections and media companies covered by a memorandum of agreement (MOA). Other MOA signatories that will take turn organizing the next debates are ABS-CBN and Manila Bulletin as partners; CNN Philippines, Business Mirror and Rappler; and TV5 and the Philippine Star.

The local media are limited to ten participants: “Only five slots will be allotted for Cagayan de Oro-based media – five for editors / publishers as audience in the venue that can accommodate only 500; and only five newspaper reporters will be allowed access to the event’s media center – a separate 5,000-seat venue – where a video monitor will broadcast feeds of the debate.”

Meaning, minus the number of non-media persons, the local media will most probably be outnumbered at least 400-to-5 by visiting media participants. We don’t know the format of the debate and how the audience can participate. If the audience of 500 can propose issues, the chances of COPPI representatives to present issues of local and Mindanao concern will be limited to that ratio. The chances can increase depending on how many from media in other parts of Mindanao will be allowed.

What could have been an affront – adding more insult to injury COPPI is not allowed to choose the participating editors/publishers and reporters. The organizers through KBP asked the Philippine Press Institute “to choose who to shortlist so as to ensure that ‘only legit local press’ [members] are allowed to cover the event.” COPPI rebutted: “But who would know better than the press community of the host city?(Bold text ours).

The above and the following quotes from its Statement of Indignation reflect the COPPI mood:

“There have been many instances in the past when Manila-based media organizations have condescended on the provincial press. The Presidential Debate in the city is no (exception).”

“Manila-based media entities should realize that they do not have the monopoly of serving public interest. The people’s right to know must weigh far heavier that any media entity’s exclusive rights to an event that is clearly of national interest. We are talking about the next possible President of the Republic. We are all stakeholders.”

“Stop this discriminatory and condescending attitude towards the local press community.”

The COPCI threatened to boycott the event if Manila-based organizers would not lift the “exclusive clause” and allow the full coverage for the local media.

In a report from a national paper, presidential candidate Rodrigo Duterte also threatened to boycott the debate should the organizers not reconsider.

A History of Resentment

Condescension, the mirror of discrimination, has long been seen and felt by local or Mindanao media with suppressed resentment. We believe Mindanao media people know their handicaps; what hurts is their being rubbed in.

The “condescension” and “discrimination” COPPI has complained of remind us of the 1960s and the decades after. The air of superiority showed especially in the demeanor of Manila-based journalists in the party of visiting high Manila officials. They monopolized the press interviews giving local newsmen little chance to shoot questions.

Discrimination was most apparent in how Mindanao events were seen and treated by Manila editors. Mindanao events were usually inside-page stuff. Local correspondents of Manila papers would celebrate whenever their news reports hit Page One. It seemed to be the rule that Mindanao events had to be sensational to merit Page One, especially the Moro-related violence, disasters and kidnappings. Development news were rarely billed Page One. Mindanao was seen as land of troubles, not land of promise being fulfilled.

What hogged Page One of Manila newspapers not just for days but sometimes for weeks and months? Let’s recall randomly – rat infestation of the mid-1950s; the Ilaga-Blackshirt atrocities of 1969 to 1971; the military-Moro rebel battles; the all-out wars against the MILF – by President Joseph Estrada in 2000 and during the Arroyo administration in 2003 and 2008-09; the kidnappings, especially of foreign tourists and priests; and most recently, the Mamasapano debacle. There were many more.

The Manila media are biased against the Moros. They bannered in their front pages and featured in their opinion columns and editorials the cry for justice for the slaying of the 44 SAF commandoes in Mamasapano and the prosecution of MILF rebels and other Moros who participated in the battle against the 55th PNP-SAF Company. The 44 were killed in a legitimate battle they started wherein 17 MILF fighters were killed. Yet, their killing was considered a crime. The Manila media have joined the condemnation.

How many Moro civilians have been killed unjustly by the military? For instance, in Datu Piang, Maguindanao in 2008 or 2009, a military helicopter killed an entire family fleeing in a motorized banca from their village being bombed. The tragic incident was published; but there was no cry from the Manila media for justice and prosecution of the helicopter crew.

Discrimination most unfair showed in how Manila editors edited Mindanao stories to jibe with the say-so of Manila sources, like the military, suppressing and modifying facts or revising direct quotes. The local reporters or correspondents could only grumble or get red-faced when their sources confronted them about inaccuracies and misquotations.

Last month, MILF peace panel chair Mohagher Iqbal complained that in a news report by-lined by a staff member of the Inquirer Mindanao Bureau he was quoted as saying what he had not said. And worst, he had not been interviewed for that report. We could only ask: Did the staff member, a Moro well known to Iqbal, make the report? Or did the Manila desk write the story rehashing earlier interviews with Iqbal to suit the government position in the stalled Mindanao peace process?

The Organizers Reconsider

COPPI was right and justified. The organizers heeded its indignation statement.

According to a MindaNews report yesterday, GMA 7, lead organizer with Philippine Daily Inquirer, increased to 25 instead of five the number of local and Mindanao newspapers that will be in the 500-seat venue as part of the live audience of the debate. The COPPI will also do the accreditation.

Thirteen slots will be given to the COPPI newspaper members, two slots for two major blogging groups in Cagayan de Oro, and the rest for newspapers from Davao City in the organizers’ list.

“All’s well that ends well”, so the immortal Shakespearean quote goes. Can this be the beginning of the end of the history of Manila media’s discrimination against Mindanao media?

(Next: Poe a Marcos?)

(“Comment” is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz’ column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his “commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate. You may e-mail your comments to [email protected])