Salve’s life, according to the Inquirer

I shall scrupulously report and interpret the news, taking care not to suppress essential facts or to distort the truth by omission or improper emphasis. I recognise the duty to air the other side and the duty to correct substantive errors promptly.

The Journalist’s Code of Ethics, No. 1

THE Inquirer steps up its campaign for the passage of the RH bill — this time, in a  front-page “news” article.

Kristine Felisse Mangunay’s article “Salve’s life:  A strong case for the RH bill” (5/26/11) is an account of the woes of a 37-year-old woman living with her 64-year-old partner: her eight children. Generously sprinkled with vivid descriptions of Salve’s destitution, the article appears as a heart-rending argument against those who oppose the passage of the RH bill. “RH services would have prevented Salve’s poverty,” the article seems to cry.

Okay. I shall not comment on the grand complexity that is the RH bill debate. For the sake of this blog entry, I shall only think aloud about how the Inquirer frames the entire RH bill row in Ms Mangunay’s article.

  • Salve’s poverty seems to be simplistically viewed in light of a supposed absolute need for contraceptives. Why isn’t there any explicit mention about the need for good jobs and proper education for Salve and her partner? All the article says about those two factors of poverty alleviation is the fact that (1) the couple didn’t finish elementary school, (2) Salve is a plastics factory worker, and (3) her partner is a cotton candy vendor. The Inquirer seems to be more concerned about fertility per se rather than unemployment, lack of education, and corruption in government (government could have given relocated families such as Salve’s more decent shelters).
  • Couldn’t the Inquirer — for the sake of inquiring, “balanced news”, and the natural duty of the press to know the other side of any issue —  also feature strong arguments against the RH bill? The angling in Salve’s story is already cliche. And we’ve never seen the Inquirer write in depth about women who’ve had complications due to their use of IUDs, some contraceptive pills, and other commercial contraceptives. And we’ve hardly seen the Inquirer look at a family’s poverty as a consequence of, for example, administrative mismanagement on the part of government.
  • Couldn’t the Inquirer be more accurate and impartial when talking about pro-life advocates? Ms Mangunay, who belongs to Iglesia ni Cristo, says that “President Benigno Aquino III himself has expressed support for the RH bill. But the Catholic Church and a number of lawmakers remain firmly opposed to the measure and have vowed to block its passage” [emphasis mine]. In fact, many individuals and groups from other religions are also opposed to the RH bill — precisely because they claim that many objections to the bill are not solely a “Catholic thing”, but are actually in the realm of universal ethics.

I commend, however, Ms Mangunay’s sincerity in exposing the daily problems of Salve and her family. Pity towards Salve’s family is certainly at the heart of the writer’s article. But it shouldn’t be enough. The feeling of pity should level up to charity, which becomes complete only when accompanied by the complete truth. Certainly there were aspects of reality which Ms Mangunay neglected when writing her apparently well-written work.

GMA News Online wins award and deserves it

GMA NEWS ONLINE recently bagged the “Special Citation for New Media Approaches” in the Rotary Club of Manila Journalism Awards.

It was bound to happen.

GMA News Online is certainly imperfect in different ways (as this blog, for example, pointed out several times). But one has to commend how it is making information more accessible and interesting to satisfy the increasingly tech-savvy, and info-hungry Filipino.

At the top of my mind is how the site used Google applications to aid the search and rescue operations in the aftermath of Typhoon Ondoy in 2009. Arguably one of the finest projects of online public service in the country.

Another is how the site keeps its “face” easy to the eyes. Ample white space and gray gradients are such subtle eyecandies. Overall, the homepage is easy to navigate.

And don’t forget hailing Manix Abrera’s comic strip on the tragedy and comedy that is the life of a reporter.

And the site’s commenting system is friendly, unlike that of ABS-CBN.

To the staff of GMA News Online: keep up the good work, and get rid of the bad ones! 🙂

Looking back at Harapan; anticipating the Grand Debate on RH bill

A FEW THOUGHTS regarding the RH bill debates conducted by the largest TV networks in the country:

  • ABS-CBN’s Harapan did a good job by airing the debate live. The apparently pro-RH GMA News TV doesn’t seem to have the credibility to give the public an irreproachably accurate depiction of what happened during the debate’s taping (May 17). Who knows which part of the taping they’d edit out? GMA’s Grand Debate will be aired on May 22.
  • Harapan is also commendable for creating a webpage exclusively about its RH bill episode. The page has Twitter widgets showing opposing views on the issue, copies of RH-related bills in both houses of Congress, a recording of the May 8 episode, and a news feed regarding the issue. It’s disappointing, however, that they do not seem to have included the results of their May 8 viewers’ poll into the one that’s on the Harapan page now (or at least, an explicit acknowledgment of the results of the May 8 poll). The tally is now showing results that are opposite to those which were on the May 8 episode (60 percent of the total number of votes were pro-life).
  • Karen Davila and Julius Babao’s efforts in moderating the debate was frustrating.  They could hardly direct the debate to the pertinent issues alone. Worse, the program ended with the viewer not having clear ideas on what were resolved and what remained to be known further.
  • Karen Davila, known to be pro-RH, struggled to stage an unbiased moderation of the event. She succeeded somehow, though one would get goosebumps when she questions pro-life panelists with tones that suggest sarcasm.
  • Julius Babao, despite his wife Christine’s very anti-Catholic views, attained an apparently impartial conduct of the debate. He hardly seemed very involved in the discussion; or maybe Davila was speaking too much.

While I appreciate the efforts of the two competing networks in “enlightening” the public through the debates about the issues that surround the RH bill, I’m worried about their falling into merely fomenting more discord among Filipinos: when they classify people as either pro- or anti-RH bill; when the debate is presented merely as something like a boxing match; when a moral issue is reduced to something solved by a game of numbers; when they conduct debates for debate’s sake (because conflict is a factor of newsworthiness, and ultimately profit), and not the truth.