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.

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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.