Is the media ‘biased?’ Journalism in the time of Duterte

By: Ryan Macasero January 07,2017 - 10:04 PM
MACASERO

MACASERO

Late last year, during a question and answer portion of a journalism workshop I was speaking at in a local university, a student had asked me bluntly if journalists today were “biased.”

I answered just as bluntly, “I can’t speak for other journalists, but I can speak for myself. Yes, I’m biased.” The students in the room were shocked.

I was talking about me, though, and not my stories. I certainly hope that my stories have been nothing but honest and objective, I told the student. (By the way, this incident is also what inspired the name for my column)

In “The Elements of Journalism,” standard reading for any journalism student, its authors Bill Kovach and Tom Rosentiel rightly call truth journalism’s “first and most confusing principle.”

It isn’t any less confusing today. Journalists today live in a world where ‘biased’, is used as a quick and easy way to discredit news reports that go against their personal beliefs.

Many supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte have made it clear they are no fans of press coverage of the administration and the nation’s current events. Prominent social media personality and Duterte supporter Mocha Uson tagged mainstream media outlets including the Inquirer as ‘presstitutes’ or reporters who sell their coverage.

Another popular blogger Sass Rogando Sasot accused local and global media of being in cahoots in conspiring to ‘destabilise’ the country.

It is undeniable that the Philippines has never had a president like Duterte, whether you see that as a good or bad thing. That is, a president who – despite whatever good intentions he may have – is unapologetically foul-mouthed; has encouraged killing drug dealers and addicts on several occasions; and one that has not – and will not – think twice about lashing back against critics of his policies coming from the United States, United Nations, or any international human rights bodies.

Add to this, a communications office that tells the media “not to take the president’s word literally” and to use its “creative imagination” in understanding the president’s statements. And a president who tells the media directly, ““Nilalaro ko kayo. Mahilig talaga ako sa ganoon. Alam ng team ninyo. Mahilig talaga ako magbitaw ng kalokohan.” (I am playing with you. I enjoy doing that. Your team knows that. I enjoy joking around.)

This is a daily ordeal that journalists, especially those who cover the palace, have to face in their daily pursuit of the truth.

How, then, in a world where the truth is becoming tougher to get to – and the audience, tougher to satisfy, does one remain ‘objective’ or ‘unbiased’?

To uncomplicated this complicated world, one must go back to the basics of journalism.

In an article written for the Nieman Journalism Lab, Bill Kovach said, the one reason the term ‘truth’ has become “so misunderstood” is that it was never the journalist who was supposed to be objective, but “the method.”

“Today, however, in part because journalists have failed to articulate what they are doing, our contemporary understanding of this idea is mostly a muddle,” Kovach said. He adds, “the truth here, in other words, is a complicated and sometimes contradictory phenomenon, but seen as a process over time, journalism can get at it.”

According to Kovach, “to get to the truth in a confused world one must strip information of any attached misinformation, disinformation, or self-promoting information and then letting the community react, and the sorting-out process ensues.” Doing so, Kovach said, allows the search for truth become a “conversation.”

The keys, he said, are “synthesis and verification.”

While truth may be an esoteric concept, journalists think of it, and pursue it, in its most practical and realistic form. Journalistic methods and processes are developed over time. While it is acceptable to synthesize and analyze a story, it is not okay to insert opinion and editorialize it.

Journalists – admittedly –are not perfect. Neither is media as an infallible institution. But what is important is that journalists remain focused in their objectives and confident in their methods.

To sum this up, yes, journalists are biased, as all human beings are –but their stories should not be. No, bias is not the most important characteristic of journalism. Accuracy, fairness, and yes, truth are — and readers must understand this.

And finally, instead of dismissing critics as uninformed, journalists should take the time to engage them and explain what they do, and listen to their concerns about media coverage.

Only then maybe will Mocha and Sass understand that, outside of work, most journalists in this country are more concerned with how to get by until next payday, and are likely incapable of being involved in a global conspiracy to ‘destabilise’ this country –a country they also call home.

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TAGS: bias, Duterte, journalis, Journalism, journalist, reporter, Rodrigo Duterte, writer

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