‘Bias and misinformation’ by GMANews.tv’s Wilma Vinas

by Mark Ching

ON DECEMBER 27, GMANews.tv published a story that wanted to sum up the RH Bill vs Catholic Church feud that happened in the past year. Unlike typical summing-up stories, however, the article, written by a certain Wilma Vinas, reeks of bias and misinformation.

Consider these statements:

PARAGRAPH 1: The year 2010 was stressful for the Catholic church in the Philippines. For the first time in years, public figures were challenging the authority of bishops, especially on the controversial issue of sex and birth control.

COMMENT: Remember 2009, when the RH Bill was first filed in Congress? That year, the Church faced defiance from the legislators who filed the bill. Remember 2008, when the sex abuse scandals proliferated in the media? The Church faced defiance that year, too. What “first time” is Ms. Vinas talking about here? The Church has always been and will always face defiance.

PARAGRAPH 2: But although the bishops suffered some embarrassing setbacks, it is too early to count them out in the increasingly heated battle over contraceptives and family planning.

COMMENT: The article puts this up early: embarrassing setbacks. Later on, the article can’t mention any legitimate setback.

PARAGRAPH 5: The church, however, did not find it funny. And in typical fashion, the bishops over-reacted dramatically, demanding the sacking of Health Secretary Esperanza Cabral and seeking a ban on all advertisements for condoms.

COMMENT: This statement typecasts the Church. Typically, it says, the Church is a dramatic over-reactor.

The Catholic Church in 2010

The Church as villain. A wicked-looking bishop in solemn vestments burns at stake a scroll of paper symbolizing the RH bill. This image accompanies Wilma Vinas's biased article on the Catholic Church's plight in 2010.

PARAGRAPH 5: As a result, a minor one-day publicity stunt turned into a heated debate that raged for months. The bishops ended up getting the short-end of the stick as they came off looking strident, narrow-minded and ignorant.

COMMENT: Ms. Vinas clearly shows her bias here. Who is she to state as fact that the bishops looked “strident, narrow-minded and ignorant?”

PARAGRAPH 12: Like they did with Arroyo, the church over-reacted with Aquino. Some priests threatened mass street protests and even suggested that the new president — the one with sky-high approval ratings and massive popular support, be excommunicated.

COMMENT: Ms. Vinas cannot stop herself from using a twisted piece of truth that the media has produced. The Church has never threatened Aquino with excommunication. Not ever, and probably never will.

PARAGRAPH 13: The various controversies churned up over sex and birth control in 2010 hurt the church’s image considerably. By serving up un-scientific arguments and picking fights at every occasion, the clergy made many people challenge their credibility.Suddenly, more and more people were questioning whether Father really knows best.

COMMENT: What “un-scientific arguments”? That the the Malthusian view of population — that which is shared by RH Bill proponents — had been denounced by modern economists? Who’s unscientific then? Ms. Vinas must also be a very fidgety person because every time the Church says its opinion, she views it as “picking fights at every occasion.”

PARAGRAPH 14: It went beyond birth control, as some legislators declared their willingness to seek legalization of divorce, to businessmen asking why bishops should be allowed to dictate policy on economics, land use and agriculture — issues they know little about.

COMMENT: Fast fact: Priests have other fields of expertise than just the priesthood. Fr. Joaquin Bernas, for instance, is a lawyer. Ms. Vinas must be surprised that some priests are experts in the fields of  “economics, land use and agriculture” too.

***

The article tries to get away with misleading information by using a lot of weasel words: “some bishops,” “more people,” “many clergymen.” These words seemingly mask the lack of research made to write the article.

Finally, a quick Google search of the author’s name also revealed no other relevant result besides the GMANews.tv article itself — a likely indication that the writer used a pen name to publish the article. This ensures that the writer gets away from the accountability of producing a poorly-written article.

[UPDATED 14/01/11 9:27 am]

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“Did the Inquirer lie in its editor’s reply?” Let’s hope it didn’t.

Coolness. I sincerely thank the Inquirer for publishing the letter I submitted to them a month ago.

Originally titled “The Inquirer’s agenda?” and posted on this blog, the letter was published yesterday with the title “Did the Inquirer lie in its editor’s reply?” You may read the entire article here.

I am further grateful that the paper even replied to the letter — and how! The venerable editors said:

It is a point of pride for the Inquirer that its Opinion pages are independent of the News division. The paper’s news reporting does not in fact promote any agenda; but its editorials, naturally, take a stand. It’s a pity that someone affiliated with the UP CMC does not understand this basic, and liberating, distinction.—Eds.

I wish to say, first of all, that there was some misunderstanding. And I apologize because it was partly my fault.

Misunderstood

The Inquirer’s full reply to a disgruntled reader in their November 27 issue was this:

Our headline was based on the remarks of the Pope as reported by international news organizations with solid reputations. It is our duty to report the news as it is. On this matter of the Pope’s remarks, the Inquirer does not promote any agenda.—Ed.

[emphasis added]

When the Inquirer said “[o]n this matter of the Pope’s remarks”, I mistakenly took it to mean that the Inquirer was speaking as an opinion maker, as an entity talking about an issue, a matter of public debate. It was as if the Inquirer said: “On the issue of the Pope’s remarks regarding condoms, the Inquirer — as a thinking and opining body — does not take any stand” — which, taken per se, could be deemed untrue, given the paper’s editorial. That’s why I reacted. If only the paper had said “in this report regarding the Pope’s remarks, the Inquirer does not promote any agenda”, I — and perhaps other readers as well — could have taken it in the way the Inquirer wanted it to mean.

Now allow me to dissect the Inquirer’s brief reply to my letter yesterday.

Anatomy of the Inquirer’s reply

“It is a point of pride for the Inquirer that its Opinion pages are independent of the News division. The paper’s news reporting does not in fact promote any agenda; but its editorials, naturally, take a stand.” Well, the Inquirer probably wouldn’t point out this obvious fact if there were no misunderstanding in the first place, as I mentioned above. But let’s consider their assertion nevertheless.

I happen to understand the (ideal) independence between the Inquirer’s News and Opinion sections. But as to the Inquirer’s claim that “[t]he paper’s news reporting does not in fact promote any agenda”, I may be justified to say that this is at least debatable. Even an amateur content analysis of the Inquirer’s photos and news pieces might be able to prove that the broadsheet is biased towards the RH advocates in its reportage. Indeed, when newspapers choose which stories to publish and with how much prominence and with what slant, they already somehow promote a particular agenda on their news pages. It’s inescapable.

As for the Inquirer’s personal attack against me — it’s a pity. What can I do? I’m just an ordinary reader. They’re juvenile demigods.

I’m just disappointed the Inquirer didn’t really address my letter’s arguments; they focused too much on journalism technicalities.

I have high hopes, however, that the Inquirer will again side with reason soon.

[Updated 12/01/11 12:14 pm]

‘Breath of fresh air’

Making a difference

THE DECEMBER 27 editorial titled “Surprises” came as a real surprise to me! Never have I read in any editorial of a widely circulated paper such a statement as “More Catholics will be better off if they read Benedict in his own words.”

What a breath of fresh air! I have been so used to negative attitudes toward and attacks on the Pope from world-known publications like The Economist and The New York Times that reading your editorial is like seeing a bright light shining in the dark and gloom of the world’s press.

Yes, you are making a difference, and one that really counts. Keep it up!

FR. CECILIO MAGSINO,
assistant chaplain,
Lauan Study Center,
Loyola Heights, Quezon City

Reposted from Inquirer.net.

We need more optimists like Fr. Magsino.