By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
“It is a sad political reality that sometimes what the majority believes to have happened is not according to what really occurred. Especially when one man or group has a grip on the entire machinery of the government, and even the media as well, and to use these to create fake documents and publish misleading information and news to destroy adversaries.”
– From Renato Corona’s statement on the day he was convicted by the Senate impeachment court
That was a serious accusation of the Supreme Court chief justice against media during the four-month impeachment trial: a media being controlled by the President.
Earlier, Corona, by himself or through defense lawyers, complained of premature publication of evidence not yet offered in court, stories about Corona real properties whose number turned out to be bloated, and “sensationalized” display of reports that hurt the chief justice’s defense.
They may be blamed on overzealousness and carelessness driven by competition over ratings and newspaper circulation. But deliberate and systematic effort to assault Corona during the trial still has to be shown by specific data on how the press performed.
Did the Aquino administration, which made no secret of its designs to remove Corona and allegedly used vast resources of government to wage an anti-Corona campaign, hold that “grip on media”?
Over government media (comprising TV channels and radio stations owned by the government), yes. Over private media, most likely no.
Even private media owned or controlled by those allied with President Aquino couldn’t show such support as to repeatedly shut out pro-Corona stories. Credibility is crucial to the media market.
Media slogans trumpet mantras like “walang kinikilingan” and championing the truth.
Partisanship is expressed mostly in editorials and opinion columns and, occasionally, in focus or “angling” of the story or choice of photos.
A notable example: three photos that seemed to ridicule a Corona witness during his testimony were quickly pulled out by apologetic editors, responding to a public that thought it was in bad taste and made fun of him as if to discredit his testimony.
Despite the amount of media space and time and journalists’ energy poured into the impeachment coverage, faults and deficiencies of media were just like those carped about in other news events.
President Noynoy Aquino in April faulted media for highlighting failures and obscuring achievements and, misapplying the metaphor about crabs, for not wanting him to succeed by pulling him down with a bad, hostile press.
Managing the news
How could Corona think media was controlled by PNoy during the trial? It could be dominance of anti-Corona coverage, more hard news against his case. But that was how things unraveled at the trial, which could mean the prosecutors, with the help of government bright persons and resources, did better in managing the news by orchestrating events and leaks.
But the defense also got support from stories that bashed the prosecutors. Pro-Coronas cheered media reports of bungling, ill-preparedness, and “sheer stupidity,” as a senator-judge said, of House lawyers.
Opinion pieces helped shape public opinion but anti-Corona and pro-Corona articles balanced one another. What strongly molded public sentiment was live TV coverage, with less filter of what transpired at the trial, and media explanation of the complex legal process.
What destroyed Corona wasn’t PNoy’s propaganda devices. The chief justice also had his own arsenal.
Corona miscalculated: he thought that hyping up PNoy’s “scorched-earth” campaign tactics would earn sympathy for the CJ. They almost did, against the background of a compelling argument for an independent judiciary, until they saw the money he was accused of hoarding was too large a fortune he couldn’t have amassed in his lifetime.