Thursday, May 18, 2006

Blind spots or blinders?

For someone whose views I personally regard as rather conservative in the ideological spectrum, the recent raves by Dean Jorge Bocobo (DJB) against Philippine mainstream media is uncharacteristically radical, if not extremist (to the Left). DJB posted the following obiter (to the main commentary on the “pigging out” incident in Canada involving the seven-year old Luc Cagadoc) on Newsstand, John Nery’s blog, after John had pointed out some supposed “blind spots” on DJB’s part:
You guys [DJB addressing John, a Philippine Daily Inquirer editorialist] aren’t REALLY free to do journalism as it can be done . . .wouldn’t touch some of the juiciest stories relating to Globe and Smart just because Mon Isberto, Gerry Ablaza . . . are more powerful than Isagani Yambot at PDI . . . . I have come to one conclusion: the MSM is incapable of MORAL CONSISTENCY because it is not so free as it pretends to be. Too many in the Main Stream Media in the Philippines are mercenaries, ripoff artists, opportunists, extortionists, or just plain ad-fillers . . . except within a very constrained and narrow range, you guys are actually gagged and compromised . . . .

I know the individual journalists may not want it like that, but they are part of an establishment -- the Media -- that is, in my humble opinion, a permanent, unelected part of NATIONAL GOVERNANCE in the Philippines, more so than most govt agencies and depts, and the equal of any of its political, judicial and legislative branches. Kinda like pravda and izvestia used to be, but even more influential in many ways. Like the old soviet press, the Philippines press is the only effective channel for communication between the govt and the people. In fact sometimes it seems govt doesn’t ever do anything but react to the media.

I know you folks laugh about this a lot -- that you actually set the nation’s agenda. But it’s Vanity. Blind, tragic vanity, John.
Regor Aguilar, also a blogger, thus thought a “real argument” was in the offing and appeared ready himself to jump in to spice it up. But John could only promise “to respond to [DJB’s] ‘larger’ point . . . perhaps later in the day” and seemed for now to have chosen to sit out the dare.

The rather equally uncharacteristically dismissive stance of John was noticeably in sharp contrast to the way he has weighed in with alacrity, in another entry subsequent to the one at bar, scoffing at the government’s “purging itself” theory to explain the assassination of over a hundred leftists in the Philippines. One act could either be a gentlemanly flight (and I do regard John as a thinker and a gentleman) or a strategic stalling; the other perhaps just another intuitive attempt to keep legitimating media’s so-called watchdog role.

As a matter of full disclosure first, at least here, here and here, I’ve have been as critical as DJB of the media in general and the Philippine media in particular and the consequent insult and assault to free speech.

If I may take the liberty to restate DJB’s position, when media ministers to private power, it loses its true office – basically that of telling as truthfully and ethically as possible what the emperor is wearing or not wearing. Not blind spots but self-imposed “blinders” have “gagged and compromised” the media in such a way as to render it as “not so free as it pretends to be,” to appropriate once again another no-holds-barred raps from DJB.

I would assume that media practitioners who out of practical convenience choose to sidetrack issues that really matter (i.e., those that pry on the very core of the dominant system) are likely to produce muddled exchanges in the public square. It could get even worse when the same people, arrogating their agenda-setting power, ultimately drown the disparate voices of the multitude which are deemed necessary for a healthy democracy to thrive. Wouldn’t journalism in the traditional sense suffer in the process the way the truthful recording of history get “compromised” through the self-serving selection of historical accounts by the victor in war as part of the spoils?

Political correctness on the part of individual journalists may actually amount to sheer submissiveness to the private power of the people running the media business who are for the most part into it for the money. In this respect, concentrated media power as anathema to the “free market of ideas” parallels the chimera of oligopolies as dregs of the free market society.

It then becomes easier for me to appreciate DJB’s motivation leaving the mainstream channel (DJB used to be an op-ed contributor to PDI) to experience the liberation in the blogosphere.

But here’s the rub. Can there be a mainstream media if no voices are marginalized? If DJB (he claims he’s just “a human being with a blog”) is able to engage John Nery (a professional journalist, also with a blog) in an open debate for instnace on the very issue of proper discourse in the public square, DJB’s position becomes, in effect, contradictory; after all, he has effortlessly helped himself to a public and free-for-all discussion with someone who is a mainstream media practitioner, for a major Philippine newspaper to boot.

Still, the saving grace for DJB’s position is probably the realization that, at least in the Philippine setting, blogging as a medium of exchange remains marginalized as yet. If we believe however the claim that blogging is also elitist in many ways, doesn’t the contradiction return?

Now take note: In John’s blog, voices from the powers that be come astray sometimes (I recall at this juncture the highly discursive calls in Newsstand of presidential men like Bobi Tiglao and Ricardo Saludo in the run-up to President Arroyo’s impeachment proceedings) and anyone can join in retort anytime (as I’ve done a number of times even while I’ve been in pajamas). Indeed, the process, as we bloggers know, could be very empowering.

Apparently in the vast ocean of public discourse through blogging, the divide between mainstream and the side stream could be blurred where every one willing to dare can just test the waters, swim to his heart’s content among the fishes and all the sea monsters or drown upon his own weight (unless someone like Sassy sets up enclosures, of course).

I myself find blogging to be therapeutic. Thanks John for daring to keep your blog.

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