WORM’S EYEVIEW: Great influence demands great responsibility

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CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews/01 August) — Network owners, station managers, and media practitioners who are aware of the great influence broadcast media has on individuals and the community ought to moderate their performance of their tasks.

It ought to make them extra careful, considerate, and focused about programming, content, and manner of execution by their front-line anchors and interviewers.

Obviously one must be accurate, well-informed, use appropriate language, be fastidious in pronunciation, and apt to modulate one’s voice to avoid agitating listeners (who may include youngsters).

As a relatively young society—not quite oriental, not quite western, but uniquely Filipino as a blend of both—our social values and institutions are still tenuous and evolving and shouldn’t be taken liberties with.

Instead of testing or stretching the limits of the powerful media, broadcast professionals should only try to nudge society forward, not manipulate it, or subject it to stresses beyond normal standards of social discourse.

Certainly they should respect society’s norms of decency or propriety and not be unduly intrusive, mindful of the importance of social acceptability as a determinant of economic viability. Credibility is certainly imperative and accuracy is its linchpin.

But not everyone seems conscious of his social responsibility as a broadcaster. Quite a few of them overdo sensationalism. And some employ vulgar gimmicks to draw audience attention.

It seems that hardly a day passes than a kind of on-air trial by a kangaroo court is in session targeting some personality, official, or institution. Accusations, denunciations, and condemnations fly thick and fast, regardless of whether they undermine authority.

Such noisy goings-on are heard on programs with such undignified, pugnacious, or confrontational titles as Kuskos Batikos!, Lavatiba!, Zona Libre!, Kombate Mindanao!, Bombardyohan sa Udto!, Paka`!, Banat!, Ang Babaeng Bagol (which seems to presume its listeners to be homosexual)!

Taking advantage of their permissive industry association—that doesn’t bother to enforce its own code of ethics—they fill the airwaves with vexatious, aggressive, provocative commentaries.

Programs by openly gay commentators indulge in clownish vulgarities and banter in language replete with lewd undertones; in a word, bastos! It is unseemly behavior in a society striving to be civilized.

Against this verbal assault on a fragile public’s sensibility, what chance is there for propriety, ethics, or morality to ennoble people’s attitudes, values, or institutions?

Daily harangues, reckless blather, and table-thumping by opinionated radio barkers invade breakfast, lunch, and dinner tables as well as the public domain in sari-sari stores, market places, transport terminals, and the like.

No adult, child, male or female, is free from hearing impropriety, even expletives. Everyone is unwittingly victimized.

Some students may not be listening or hearing these, being out to school, but the rest of the family or neighborhood, young and old, can’t help hearing and listening—at home, in the workplace, in street corners, even in taxis, jeepneys, or buses.

Why would a network owner or broadcaster use the airwaves as a free-for-all zone for verbal combat unless he is irresponsible and reckless? Gutter language or profanity should have no place in the home.

Commentators ought to always mind that a word, especially a slanderous one, can be just as hurtful as physical assault, that it invites retaliation just as surely as an unprovoked punch on the nose, and that this accounts for many cases of media killings.

No one can justify media killings, but in the context of our imperfect system of justice, it is understandable that hotheads resort to vigilantism rather than await the uncertain resolution of a personal wrong perpetrated on-the-air for all to hear.

Such on-air assaults often occur when anchormen or commentators assume the role of investigator-accuser-prosecutor-judge all at once. They browbeat a crime suspect or witness as if conducting an inquest or trial. Some even indulge their prurient interest by intimidating a rape victim or relative into revealing sordid details of the incident.

This insensitivity is aggravated when, in-between a news report or interview, they promote questionable merchandize or food supplement that they endorse as medicine.

They actually think they can justify the fakery by merely saying it has “no approved therapeutic claims.” Of course by then, as they very well know, it’s the false medicinal claim that sticks in the listener’s mind.

These broadcast rip-offs are conducted in the name of Press Freedom—freedom without propriety or responsibility; freedom to make a quick buck out of fakery! And it is happening practically every hour of the day in practically every corner of our archipelago, exposing impressionable members of the citizenry to wrong perspectives.

That this widespread charlatanism is perpetrated by network executives and putative pundits and arbiters of public opinion, is bad, to say the least. Worse still that in doing so, they mock their own industry’s so-called Code of Ethics, of which they are supposed to be the guardians and promoters.

Manny is former UNESCO regional director for Asia-Pacific; secretary-general, Southeast Asia Publishers Association; director, development academy of Philippines; member, Philippine Mission to the UN; vice chair, Local Government Academy; member, Cory Govt’s Peace Panel; awardee, PPI-UNICEF outstanding columnist. He is president/national convenor, Gising Barangay Movement Inc. valdehuesa@gmail.com

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