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.