Monday, January 19, 2004

.:Media Law And Ethics:.

Read : The Fair Election Act [ R.A. No. 9006 ] and the cases of Gonzales vs. Comelec, National Press Club vs. Comelec and Osmena vs. Comelec in the light of the guide questions furnished to you.

Based on the foregoing, write a short paper, at least 3 pages in length, double-space, defining what you think should be the extent of media involvement in political campaigns considering the issues raised by the readings, e,g equality between rich and poor candidates, the democratization of public service, the unfair advantage of media personalities who are politicians, right of speech of candidates, the right to information of voters, the debasement of the electoral process and the duty to have the right candidate elected. (Like in Quiz #1,avoid the words “fair, responsible, objective etc “ . These do not score points.)

It would appear that there has been much said for and against the use of media for political campaigns, and both sides have their respective convincing arguments. The Fair Election Act, which is a fairly recent law that was not in effect during the time of the three cases, reversed the prohibition of employing media for political campaigns, although some measure of restrictions were still in place to prevent abuse. Media, without a doubt, is a force to be reckoned with when it comes to forming a society’s political awareness and agenda, and as such, we are hard-pressed to scrutinize the extent to which politicians should be allowed to harness this potent cog in their political machinery.

The status quo provides for Comelec-sponsored media access as well as restricted media access by the candidate himself or herself. This appears to be adequate as far as giving ample ground for any candidate to air out his or her side. Media, being considered as a “marketplace of ideas”, should eschew from allowing a cornering of such a marketplace, and this is exactly what the restrictions in the Fair Election Act address. As far as media allocation for a candidate’s campaigning, there is no more need to grant them more than what they already have.

However, this is not to say that the media should not participate in anything outside of granting candidates a sufficient venue for their side. Media likewise has a role in discussing pertinent issues about the future leaders of this country, and I am inclined to say that in the status quo, media is doing enough in this respect. A clear manifestation of this is the “Bio Data” miniseries by the GMA News and Public Affairs team, which amply introduces the presidential and vice-presidential candidates for this year’s elections. In this respect, the media is certainly manning an educative role in its attempt to introduce the candidates to its audience. We cannot expect pure objectivity from the media, but we can at the very least expect equitable coverage of these candidates, which is a double-edged sword as it does give them ample media coverage yet also does not spare them of being questioned on the controversies they may be mired with.

I believe that media should simply steer clear of personality-oriented politics for the most part and instead be more conscious of being issues-based since while this approach is still political, the people themselves would be better able to discern for themselves which personalities are addressing which issues, instead of having media bombard them with personalities who tend to rely on their mass appeal instead of their ability to address the issues integral to the well-being of the nation. Opinionated statements for or against a candidate are tolerable, but must appropriately be disclaimed as mere opinion and not a particular stand by the network per se. A disclaimer such as this will avoid the confusion between a media practitioner’s opinion and the audience’s ability to formulate his or her own opinion.

It’s unfortunate but this country is clearly easily misled by media practitioners who use their advantageous position to push for their own agenda, resulting in a hegemonizing of the mentality of the audience. This is exactly the reason why in the three cases reviewed, the Supreme Court ruled against declaring the so-called “ad ban” as unconstitutional, if only for the potential for abuse by the richer candidates in availing of media if the ban is lifted. Even then, the “ban” was moot. The “ban”, even if it were still in place to this year, would not have prevented someone like Ping Lacson from endorsing Emperador Brandy and launching political advertisements on his own behalf that did not really cover any campaigning on his part. This exposure he garnered for himself was simply a flagrant display of the disparity between the rich and poor candidate, and as such proves that an ad ban does not address it as well as the current Fair Election Act does, albeit still imperfectly.

An alarming pattern as of late has resulted in having media practitioners, who themselves are regarded by most as opinion leaders, running for public office themselves. The sheer advantage of their being in media reflects the need for them to resign from their positions or at least take a leave of absence for the duration of the campaign period. In spite of that, it is still alarming because they have already established themselves well enough prior to the campaign period, as is reflected by the sheer dominance of Noli de Castro in the 2001 Senatorial elections.

If this be the case, I cannot help but believe that media is already doing more than its fair share of political involvement, and there should be some form of restriction in that respect. In the status quo alone, this can already be viewed as “media intervention”, as one of them is now working within the system, and we clearly see that the paranoia surrounding this development is far from unfounded. Any candidate who does not have access to media is easily shortchanged in the electorate because they cannot build up their credibility or debunk any assaults to their character. If only for this fact, I believe that it is time we re-evaluated the extent of media participation in politics, and perhaps acknowledge that they have gone beyond their fair limit.

Much as it may seem beneficial to all to allow media such great involvement in politics, it becomes clear that there is a need to keep them in check because of the immense potency their field holds for them, especially if they themselves wanted to enter politics. As such, media should still be involved but be more particular about dealing with issues at hand than personalities, especially since the personalities will come into play in that respect, anyway, although by being more issues-oriented, the final say is left in the hands of the voter, as it is up to them to discern which of the candidates available to them can address the issues that are pertinent to them.

This is clearly a better alternative to us than to insist on a framework of intervention from media than is what is already available to them, and that which should actually be closely watched because politicizing media makes it representative of its own agenda and not that of its audience. Electing the right candidate will simply follow by making media focus on positively contributing to the illumination of the different issues this country faces, rather than to let politics keep on saying over and over again how they will resolve the basic necessities of their potential constituents, which is nothing more than a quick fix as it offers no long-term solutions to the development of the country.

If media were to fulfill the role of a moderator, initiator, and perhaps even an advocate of issues-oriented politics, then maybe we can find actual solutions to the problems this country faces, instead of just more popular actors or basketball players running for public office without a clue as to what they should do once they’re in power other than to enrich themselves. As such, I believe I have aptly framed the extent of media’s involvement in politics. While personalities are admittedly integral to the system, they must still take a backseat in favor of issues, and any favorable or dissenting opinions regarding them from media practitioners should be clearly regarded as opinion to prevent media from directly setting the political agenda of its audience.

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