Discourse of peace

By: Jason A. Baguia July 15,2016 - 09:57 PM

Media reports in light of the ruling, based on the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea that upheld the Philippine case against China over territory in the West Philippine or South China Sea constitutes additional data for investigating what communication scholars call “patriotic coverage.”

This phenomenon, described as a nation-biased “tendency in traditional journalism” was analyzed in its online manifestation in the context of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict by researchers Avshalom Ginosar and Igor Konovalov. Their findings, published last year, showed that in a time of war, Israeli newspapers engaged in more coverage of Israeli than of Palestinian casualties “and each injured Israeli had a face while civilian casualties were only numbers.”

Journalists and their publics both in the Philippines and China can learn from studies like this to retain the clarity of conscience to place their utterances at the service of peace. This is necessary if journalism in this part of the world is to avoid being co-opted by governments in the furtherance of politico-military conflict that anonymizes human faces and is heartless in the face of bloodshed.

While there is no full-blown war on the waters surrounding the Spratly Islands, tension has been high as interested states—apart from China and the Philippines, these include the United States, Indonesia and Taiwan—sent in ships of varying destructive capability. Simultaneously, the Philippine-Chinese plane of discussion is rather deficient as an instrument for dissuading the countries from brinkmanship and returning to sane, respectful dialogue.

The Philippine media needs to be wary of using rhetorical tropes like “victory” or “win” in characterizing the maritime Permanent Court of Arbitration’s recognition of the Philippines’ Exclusive Economic Zone. This is not the Olympics. Couching the verdict in the language of competition where there are champions and losers prostitutes the morally weighty language of the court and only fuels such combative responses as one Chinese official’s call for the decision to be trashed.

Filipino journalists must also demonstrate probity and compassion for their Chinese counterparts. Given China’s authoritarianism, it would have been a pipe dream to expect state news agency Xinhua to release, for instance, a story differently titled than the pitiful, predication-loaded “Law-abusing tribunal issues ill-founded award on South China Sea arbitration.”

Causality—whether the media are affecting conversations or vice-versa—remains unverified, but journalistic discourse in the Philippines and China has undeniably gone hand-in-hand with added strain between the neighboring peoples. The British Broadcasting Corp. has reported that some Chinese nationals are encouraging one another to boycott Philippine exports like Cebu mangoes and using our country’s name as a synonym for avarice. Meanwhile, one Facebook post I read exhorts Filipinos to take pains to “buy local,” never mind that nowadays, almost everything is manufactured in China.

While conflict is an element of the news, media practitioners must strive to refrain from allowing the news to be converted into a warmongering tool.

As a media consumer, I would like to see international and large national media outlets exercise leadership in improving the public discourse on the West Philippine or South China Sea. This can begin in more liberal “regulative practice,” a term from critical discourse analysis pioneer Norman Fairclough that refers to the media’s role of ushering people into the mediatized public sphere, depicting these characters and letting them jointly manage the conversation. In liberalized regulative practice, stories can first of all feature the faces of Chinese and Filipino fishers and their wives, sons and daughters with their tales of hunger; of soldiers in the Spratlys with their experiences of being flung far away from home; of Mother Earth, raped and pillaged to the misfortune of each human claimant to the disputed territory. For when the people who suffer amid the clash of titans are made to disappear from public consciousness, conflict is sanitized, and demagogues and careless prattlers commandeer the discourse to titillate those who would go to war.

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TAGS: CHexit, China, convention on the law of the sea, Journalism, Kalayaan Group of Islands, land dispute, Philippines, spratly, Spratly Islands, Spratlys, Spratlys Islands, territorial dispute, traditional journalism, UNCLOS, united nationas convention on the law of the sea

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