‘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]

When journalists don’t know what they’re writing about

RECENTLY, in a forum at the university where I work, Parañaque Rep. Roilo Golez revealed something about journalists reporting on the reproductive health (RH) bill debate.

“[Some reporters] haven’t read the bill,” he said.

He recalled his disappointment in finding out that only some of the reporters interviewing him have actually read the entire HB 96, touted as the foremost RH bill today.

After Golez’s lecture, the lone journalist who attended the event interviewed the congressman privately in a nearby room. The young reporter was supposedly writing an in-depth story of the issue. And being part of the event’s facilitators, this writer overheard the lawmaker ask the other gentleman: “Have you read the bill?”

Three-second silence.

“I’m still reading it, sir” was the  reply.

“So you haven’t read it.”

But the statesman was gracious enough to let go of the awkward situation and gestured to start the interview.

Now that kept me thinking. If the reporters on whom we rely for truthful information haven’t read the most basic material of the issue they are writing about, what credibility can they hope to have?

But then, readers often don’t get to know about such journalistic mediocrity.

The more apt question, therefore, is: what hope can we have in having responsible journalists?

Perhaps it begins with us, protesting.