By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
At each major stop in his travel abroad last week, in London and Washington D.C., President Aquino trumpeted his success in removing Renato Corona from Supreme Court.
No longer reluctant, he owned up his role of instigating, pushing, and cheering the process, and apparently allowing use of state resources to dig up dirt against Corona. Where before he wasn’t as open about an “off-with-Corona’s-head” campaign, he now brandishes the guilty verdict as plum prize in his campaign against corruption.
No independent journalist or news organization is known to have gloated, as PNoy does, over how they helped oust Corona. We haven’t heard or read suggestions that media had a lot to do with the prosecutors’ triumph.
The fact though is that media reporting and commentary shaped public opinion that in turn influenced the senator-judges’ vote.
The other court
While the senators in judges’ robes made a show of saying and acting as if the court of public opinion didn’t matter and only evidence at the trial did, media provided that tribunal outside the Senate what it needed to decide. And the senator-judges, ever populists, kept listening to public sentiment until the hour to vote.
It wasn’t easy to be thoroughly impartial in selecting media content, but not for live coverage on TV. Broadcast networks brought the trial to their audiences as it happened. But how many had time and patience to follow the trial ala “telenovela”? Soon, trial scenes dragged and bored watchers who then had to rely on filtered news reports–where media at times fumbled in filtering.
For example, on alleged fake or illegally obtained evidence that prosecutors slipped into the trial, information that still had to be offered and verified spilled into the news and were talked about in talk shows and coffee shops.
Defense lawyers complained that Corona was taking a beating from raw evidence unwrapped at the trial and unverified data leaked by mysterious sources outside the Senate.
Open to both sides
What Corona’s camp didn’t gripe about was that most media, including those identified as controlled by PNoy allies, were open to whatever stuff Coronistas dished out, including repetitive charges of oppression and attack on the judiciary that Corona pelted at the president.
How objective should media be in covering an impeachment trial and how did it fare in the recent exercise?
It helped that media opened news pages and supplied news time to both sides, talk shows featured p.r. spinners from the two camps, opinionating was left to their columnists and commentators (who balanced, if not cancelled, one another’s clashing views), and most everyone tried to be fair.
What couldn’t be ascertained was whether, in the few news breaks when some newspapers and broadcast stations “went overboard” against Corona, they were directed by unseen controllers. And whether editors, with advocacies of the organization or individual biases of its news managers, made fair calls.
Easy to accuse but hard to prove that media was “in the grip” of PNoy, which Corona bewailed on judgment day. Easy to say the public was duped into thinking Corona was guilty but images and sounds from the trial showed the former chief justice hanged himself with his admissions.
Media would’ve felt guilty–yes, they also do, sometimes–had Corona been convicted on less stronger evidence.
Had he made no confession and evidence rested only on suspicions, media would be asking now if they hadn’t misled the public and the senator-judges.
Media committed lapses, as they did on other past events and issues, and media could learn to correct them in future coverage, but overall, I think, media did rather well reporting and commenting on the impeachment.