SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: When images kill the news

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/15 December) – Facebook users may have noticed that a number of Filipinos in the social networking site have expressed disgust at how President Benigno S. Aquino III has been handling his tiff with Supreme Court Chief Justice Renato Corona. I, too, am surprised that despite the President’s consistently high approval ratings in surveys, it seems that his adversary has somehow managed to gain a good amount of public sympathy apart from the expected support coming from the judges and court employees.

It cannot be said that the Palace’s media handlers have been sleeping on their job. Even Aquino himself has rolled up his sleeves and seized every opportunity to hit at Corona. In fact, he could have overdone it at times, in particular when he minced no words in attacking the Chief Justice during the First National Criminal Justice Summit on Monday, December 5. Corona, who was seated near Aquino, simply took the whole thing in stride with a casual laugh when reporters pressed him for comment.

Perhaps Aquino, by chastising Corona pointblank, wanted to send across the message that he’s dead serious in making his predecessor, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, account for her past misdeeds. The in-your-face rebuke was apparently meant to embarrass the Chief Justice, an Arroyo appointee whom he has accused of protecting the former president.

Unfortunately for Aquino, incidents like this one, shown on TV and given ample airtime, register well in the viewers’ psyche. In that incident during the summit, many viewers, especially those who think they have no real stake in the cases filed against Arroyo, no longer gave much thought to what the President said. All they knew was that he said (maybe) the right words but in the wrong place and at the wrong time.

In contrast, Corona’s passive stance – feigning calm and composure while he was being harangued on TV – seemed to have worked well with the Filipino’s tendency to sympathize with the perceived underdog. Sometimes silence is the best expression of eloquence.

It wasn’t the first time that TV unwittingly aided the cause of Arroyo’s camp. Reports said that the scene at the Ninoy Aquino International Airport where immigration authorities barred Arroyo from leaving the country on orders of Justice Secretary Leila de Lima also swayed public sympathy, particularly among Filipinos abroad, in her favor.

Indeed, who among us would not feel compassion for a supposedly gravely ill compatriot who wished to seek treatment abroad but was barred from doing so even if the Supreme Court had said she may do so? For the naturally forgiving Filipinos, it doesn’t matter that Arroyo’s actual medical condition may have been exaggerated – some said by her lawyers – to justify her aborted flight abroad. For them, the image of a “little girl” on a wheelchair and with a brace to prop up her head and being treated ignominiously was just too much.

All of this points to the danger of TV’s general tendency to sacrifice in-depth reporting in favor of images and incoherent sound bites. This has been the case in the way the cases against Arroyo and related issues have been reported. Reporters and anchors are interested mainly in feeding to their viewers the latest developments without bothering to present the context.

It’s a pity that while TV networks can allot more time to police stories and to the indiscretions of entertainers, they scrimp on issues that truly affect our lives. If only for this, the impending impeachment trial of Corona is a welcome development. Once the real issues are clarified, the people can finally have the chance to see if they had been right or wrong in their sympathy for Arroyo and Corona. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at [email protected])

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