By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
RUSH Limbaugh, right-wing, loud-mouthed talk show host in the US, once compared most of American media to drive-by shooters who spray a target with gunfire and move on to the next target.
We have drive-by shootings in Cebu but drive-by media? There are occasional accusations of choosing wrong targets but no one has used the term against the local press.
The original drive-by shooters fired pellets at gays and lesbians on the streets, wounding few and scaring most of them. Later, similar shootings confused police and media, which called the assaults “drive-by” because they came from a moving vehicle, a car or motorcycle, though targets were specific persons they chose to kill.
Why did Limbaugh apply “drive-by” to the sector of US media he hated? He described them as “sensational, scandal-seeking, and agenda-driven” who cover a story “with a barrage of cheap shots, then move on to the next story,” the “flavor of the month”–just like drive-by shooters, he said.
The metaphor is only partly right. The attributes of the media Limbaugh hates can’t be lumped on all media: maybe some newspapers are “sensational and scandal-seeking,” like the tabloids sold at groceries and malls, and some broadcast stations are “agenda-driven” like Fox News or Limbaugh’s own radio program.
There may be similar sectors of media in this country. But stereotyping media in general as “drive-by” would be erroneous and unfair, in the western press, here, or anywhere else.
There are factors though that universally afflict media, in New York, London, Manila, or Cebu:
–Fleeting interest: Few news outfits stay on a story for long. A high-profile crime or a huge government scandal gets more space and more time but not indefinitely.
Audience interest flags, influencing editors’ decision on what to cover and how much of a story to use. Even the Corona impeachment is losing its drawing power; the Ampatuan massacre has been consigned to the inside pages and given less time in the six o’clock news. A story may be important to the community or nation but what dictates the news budget is audience interest.
–Competition for attention: With so many papers and broadcast stations fighting for audience share, as well as the Internet with YouTube and social media sites, video games and other features, and with all the other media platforms, a story has to be so packaged as to be available when and where media consumers need it.
Each media organization has its own strategy to survive and grow in the market, along with its responsibility to its public.
It’s not “drive-by” coverage. Choosing content is not easy as what the public wants may not be what it actually needs. One is not the same as the other although chances are it’s the audience demand that media decision-makers heed: that which sells papers or drives up ratings.
There were occasions when the Cebu press stayed on important subjects and definitely didn’t behave like “drive-by” shooters.
To Sun.Star, three major issues in recent history stand out.
–Campaign against Sugbuak, the plot to cut up the province into at least four sub-provinces;
–Response against vigilante murders, which to this day remain unsolved, indicating condonation by public officials or their complicity in the executions; and
–Support to preparations for the 12th Asean Summit, held Jan. 12-15, 2007 and yet critical of organizers when complaints were raised against alleged lapses and excesses.
When the issue really matters, media can rise to the occasion, surprising their readers and sometimes even themselves.