Watching the watchdog: CMFR’s analysis of media coverage of RH bill debate

IT aimed to be fair and rational in its analysis of media coverage of the Reproductive Health bill debate. But media watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility fell short of its noble objective.

Indeed, CMFR’s article “RH Discussion: Derailed by ‘Damaso’ episode” (October 19, 2010), written by Rupert Francis Mangilit and Ruby Shaira Panela, is a welcome insight into the hullaballoo surrounding the RH bill.

The most salient observation raised in the article is media’s lack of focus on the essential: the RH bill discussion, not the person of protester Carlos Celdran.

The article points out that the media has not even explained that there are actually several RH bills with their own worthy histories (some of them “quietly” filed in Congress away from media glare). It also highlights the lack of correction among some publications regarding the misreported CBCP “threat” to excommunicate President Noynoy Aquino. CMFR says:

Only the Inquirer reported the error; the other reports focused on the CBCP’s ”backtracking,” but not on the omission of the word “not” in the transcript. As a result, the reports were out of context, with some of the media still soliciting reactions to the excommunication that apparently never was.

What is disappointing, however, is that the 1,520-word CMFR article (that is, not counting its title and two-page matrix of RH bills filed in Congress) does not hint at any injustice done by media to the pro-life block and to the good-willed undecided citizen who wants to know the two sides of the issue.

CMFR cries for elaboration of the RH bills, their contexts, and arguments; I cry for elaboration of the pro-life stance as well. For an article that advocates access to information, it is uncanny that it does not advocate clarifying the other side of the RH bill issue. Throughout the long article, the focus is only on the shortcomings of media to delve deeper into the pro-choice stand (cf. paragraphs 1 to 10).

CMFR also cites a few of the many editorials and columns which favor the RH bill, but not the pro-life ones. It’s as if the only write-ups worthy of consideration are those that are pro-choice, even if they are merely “focused on making a hero out of Celdran.”

What CMFR missed

A letter to the editor by a UP political science student published by the Inquirer yesterday could perhaps help CMFR  learn what else the media missed. Below is a summary of Mark Robert Baldo’s commentary, which I interpret to pertain mostly to media’s faulty coverage of the RH bill issue:

  1. “[The RH bill debate] has been framed as a sordid battle between the Church and the State,” which is a mistake for two reasons: “(1) the Church is not the sole opponent of the bill and (2) the State obviously has no [definitive] position on the issue yet.”
  2. “Such a framing,” according to Baldo, “has led many scholars and excellent writers to attack not the arguments against the RH bill but against one of its opponents: the Church….This is a mistake because no longer do we hear mention of arguments by both parties.” He asks: “[D]oes anyone really know the doctrine of the Church regarding contraception?”
  3. Baldo also remarks that “[w]e have been led to assume that the only reason keeping the bill from enactment into law is anchored on religious arguments that have no meaning in the practical, daily realities. There are many perfectly legal, scientific, economic, political and demographic arguments presented against the bill. Thus, I am puzzled why none of this reaches the media….Media inevitably shape the public debate.”

While I am optimistic that CMFR will shape up its criteria and become fairer in its analyses, I also hope more people could have thinking as incisive as Baldo’s.