By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
A lot have been said about President Noynoy Aquino’s insult to ABS-CBN during the 25th anniversary celebration of “Balita Patrol,” its primetime news program, when he criticized news anchor Noli de Castro before officials and workers of the network.
Talk about s..t hitting the fan right in ABS-CBN’s home. De Castro wasn’t there but it didn’t make the attack less scathing or misplaced.
Every President is known to have a bully pulpit from which he can talk on anything and be listened to: a privilege reserved for the really powerful persons like PNoy.
From that pulpit the president can set agenda, raise an issue, open a debate, or, lately, criticize his enemy:
–right in the face, as he did to then Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona at the First National Criminal Justice Summit last last Dec. 5,
–or right in their backyard, as he did at Philippine Press Institute last April 23 and in ABS-CBN last July 27, while both news organizations were celebrating important milestones in their work.
It has been said, in the president’s defense, that if PNoy’s critics don’t observe “parameters,” he may also junk common decency and insult them even in their home where he is an honored guest.
To help decide whether PNoy’s response was justified, what did Noli de Castro, news anchor turned vice president turned news anchor again, do wrong?
PNoy deplored Noli’s “off the cuff and unprofessional” comments, citing two news stories on which “Kabayan” expressed his opinion: (1) the increase in passenger traffic at NAIA 3, and (2), the rescue of a kidnapped child by the NBI.
On (1), Noli remarked that “it’s worse” in NAIA 1 than where the reporter was; on (2) he said that maybe it was a setup and they paid ransom for the child’s release.
Opinion in news
It used to be that anchor persons would merely read the news with no remarks that PNoy found “unprofessional” from Noli. As mere readers, they were limited to the news and had no chance to air their opinion.
That changed a long time ago, not just locally but in other countries as well. Those who watch CNN or BBC must have noticed that newscasters have been more chatty, with “ad-libs” thrown in, as means to connect with the audience and not make him “go away.”
Unlike in print, where opinion is set apart from news, with sections clearly labeled, in broadcast, opinion and news mix, rub elbows with each other, and at times collide.
That can confuse the listener who can’t segregate comment from news. It’s a double filter that can do worse damage, as the newscaster’s interpretation may not jibe with the facts.
Thus the complaint of PNoy who thought Noli had no basis for his speculations or, if he had, he didn’t mention them and misled the audience.
‘Shake, Rattle, Roll’
The president’s gripe about the content of the news should’ve been directed at the news editors who picked the stories that PNoy said were scarier than the horror movie, “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”
Newscasters have nothing to do at all with content of the news. The standard defense is that the news merely reflect what happens in real life. Which isn’t always true as the balance between good news and bad news is often lopsided in favor of negative stories.
You tell news managers that and privately they’ll explain that business managers demand high ratings which they can get only if they give audiences what they want.
It’s no longer debated in the industry, which dangerously comes close to accepting it as gospel truth, even among journalists who believe they can do better.
Kabayan though is more vulnerable elsewhere than in making those “asides” on the news: his past as a politician.
PNoy thinks it’s unfair for Noli to be harping on government ills that he, as VP for six years failed to fix with Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo (whom the president wants to lock away in jail).
That’s a millstone on his neck, which critics like PNoy can use to drag Noli down.
But must the president use his bully pulpit in a festivity where he’s supposed to cheer up the revelers and not throw dirt at them?
Timing cannot be worse off, for those who get the flak–but it’s perfect for the bully, who enjoys more if his victim is publicly humiliated right when he’s supposed to be celebrating.
Not everyone is happy with what they report, said the network’s news and current affairs chief, Ging Reyes. Whether presidential critique might bring changes in its flagship program, she didn’t say.