Inquirer article shows bias, twists truth

by Jean Paul Zialcita

Michael Lim Ubac’s Inquirer article “Clinton: More babies a boon to Filipinos” (13/11/10 p. 1) begins this way:

Former US President Bill Clinton sees more babies as an advantage for the Philippines, whose exploding population is projected to reach 94 million by the end of the year.

What’s the word “exploding” doing in that sentence? The word presents us with the opinion that having more babies is a bad thing. Writer’s bias, clearly. Remove “exploding” and read the sentence again. No more partiality. Replace “exploding” with “growing”, and the sentence becomes a statement of fact rather than an opinion.

I don’t think news writers have the necessary qualifications to judge whether or not our population is “exploding”. Hence, it would be best to confine language such as this to the opinion pages, where biases are presented straightforwardly.

Another case of bias in the same news item can be detected in the following:

As highly industrialized nations grapple with the economic and social costs of an aging population, Clinton noted that “you [Filipinos] have a huge population, which is [something] positive, and you have massive natural resources.”

Golez capitalized on that statement to hit back at his colleagues advocating the passage of the long-pending reproductive health (RH) bill that upholds maternal health and seeks to provide couples an informed choice on various methods of family planning. [Emphasis added]

The bill is described as one that “upholds maternal health”. How can any decent person object to such a bill, right? So, when Golez is said to be “[hitting] back” at colleagues who are pushing for the passage of the bill, he ends up appearing…well…indecent.

I’m sure Golez is all for enhancing maternal health. Everyone knows he’s pro-life. If he’s against the bill, it’s obviously not because it upholds maternal health. But the sentence, as it is constructed, tells us otherwise.

Mr. Zialcita is a professor of political science at UP-Diliman.


Dated data and a bias that shows

RESPECTED media watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility insisted on their pro-choice bias when it endorsed via Twitter the booklet “Understanding Population and Development: A Guide for Media.”

Published by CMFR itself, with funding from the United Nations Population Fund, the booklet presents itself as a guide that equips journalists with deeper insights on the population issue as well as practical tips in reporting about it.

But the book is 11 years old, published in 1999. The statistics cited in it are based on data gathered in 1998 at the latest. Where’s the push for relevant and updated information we have always expected from CMFR, a guardian of the standards of good Philippine journalism?

Of course, it was not a case of misinformation; CMFR is too dignified to descend to the lowest pits of unfair support for the controversial Reproductive Health bill (through one-sided description of the issue, a practice which CMFR somehow seems to advocate). Certainly CMFR wanted to direct its readers who are media practitioners to the publication’s practical how-to’s in population-and-development reporting.

But then, couldn’t they just lift excerpts of the material (the tips part is only two pages long) and publish them separately? Publishing the entire 25-page booklet online (for the apparent purpose of informing journalists about it, no matter how dated its data are) seems superfluous and even misleading.

On the brighter side, though, much of the publication is a thing for background research — that is, learning the history of CMFR’s pro-choice stance and getting some population data circa 1990s.

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.