IT’S NOT true that all that Filipinos talk about at the dining table is diet; now they talk about the elections, and how it’s an impending boom or gloom.
While Facebook/Twitter has become rather toxic—given the heated arguments that prod some users to say that they’re getting off it and will be back only after the elections—lunches, we find, can be just as engaging as FB, if not more, and definitely thought-provoking.
“Too close to call,” said one lunch mate. But then this lunch was two weeks ago.
“Listening to what he says, you’d think this man is trying his best to lose voters,” said a pundit at lunch last Sunday. “Given his rise in the polls, he must have realized that the presidency could be for real now. Napasubo.”
“You think so? On the contrary, his one-liners worked obviously, lapped up by media. His campaign has been the triumph of one-liners, of sound bites, of smart spins,” said another.
The matron at the end of the table blurted out: “And the failure of media, especially the traditional media, to go beyond these one-liners. There’s no probity in the reports, as in, parang they’re not asking the right questions that will really enlighten us on issues. It’s all he says-she says.”
Uh-oh, and this was a woman who, until now, we thought was interested only in tennis and designer bags.
Trash in, trash out
“Yes, trash in-trash out,” piped up another. “They get trash talk and they run trash talk, no critical thinking in between. So we get more confused, instead of being enlightened.”
The victory of spin masters spells the weakness of media?
That opinion brought to mind what Barack Obama himself said about media in the US elections—how media was merely fueling speculation, instead of raising the bar of discourse.
In a recent speech at Syracuse University, he said, “A job well done is about more than just handing someone a microphone. It’s to probe and to question and to dig deeper and to demand more.”
He called for “serious accountability, especially when politicians issue unworkable plans or make promises they cannot keep.”
Of course, he was referring to Trump, who has hogged the news month after month, given a wantonly free media ride.
“When our elected officials and our political campaigns become entirely untethered to reason and facts and analysis, when it doesn’t matter what’s true and what’s not, that makes it all but impossible for us to make good decisions on behalf of future generations”—that’s the gist of Obama’s speech.
President Aquino said as much when he stated that the campaign coverage added to the confusion, instead of enlightenment.
Traditional media is at a crossroads, with social media being lapped up by consumers. Consumers are turning to social media as a convenient and immediate source of information—and that forces reporters/writers/editors to be “Tweeters,” not necessarily journalists whose copy has gone through the rigor of reporting, in every sense of the word. Never has the traditional newsroom—its discipline, its skills and ethics— been more tested than it is now.
And if traditional media compete with social media, in social media’s terms, it cannot win. You cannot beat ambulance chasers with more ambulance-chasing. In the newsroom I grew up in, ambulance-chasing was used to describe mindless reporting, where reporters dashed to wherever the sound of the ambulance led them, like headless chickens. That was not to be mistaken for having the nose for news or story.
Raise the level
Traditional media, if it is to survive and thrive, must prove that it can dictate and raise the level of talk, to strengthen its credibility and mandate of authority when it comes to the news. It can be viable while still being the indispensable source of information—that it still is the go-to habit for readers and information consumers.
Did I say that to the ladies who lunch who were already pretty riled up, and wondering why the other candidates couldn’t seem to dictate the talk?
No. It was wise not to do a media striptease at the lunch table that was already practically in panic.
These women and one man have been doing town hall meetings, discussing the elections with communities. And based on their experience, people from all walks of life have been really wanting to know the candidates and the issues.
“From Wack-Wack to Taguig,” one said, who described how their town hall meetings have cut across classes. “They asked very good questions, even the masa.”
We agree. The presidential debates have proven that. The Comelec debates somehow are the one good thing to happen in this electoral exercise. While candidates can still resort to demagoguery in these debates, still, somehow, the debates have tried
to steer attention to issues and platforms, from the economy to human rights, even divorce. They give you a glimpse of what’s between the ears and in the heart of the candidates—without prodding of spin masters (at least on the spot).
That we can even witness debates shows that somehow, there’s an attempt to raise the bar, so to speak. Likewise, at the start of the campaign, Inquirer ran infographics on the candidates’ positions on a wide range of issues.
“We would ask the town hall—‘Nangu-ngursunada ba kayo o namimili ng kandidato? ’Pag sinabi niyong basta type ko siya, eh kursunada lang ’yon, hindi talaga pili,’” the only man at our table described how he would talk to the communities.
“If someone promises that he can do things in six months, shortcut ’yan. No different from a pyramid scam,” added the man, on what he tells the town hall.
And the people understood, he said. One shouldn’t underestimate the masa’s capacity to understand and their desire to be informed.
It’s all in how you deliver the message, the lunch table agreed. Messaging or communication is crucial in this campaign.
“And you can’t leave communication only to lawyers,” said the man at our table. The ladies agreed.
After that lunch, in our club’s hair salon, as the parlorista worked on my hair, I asked him if he was taken in by one candidate’s one-liners. He said, “Hindi ko pinapansin. Ano ako, tanga?”