VICE President Jejomar Binay’s surge in presidential-preference polls by three different outfits demonstrates that the yellow attack dogs in media and in Congress have lost their fangs – a very welcome development for our democracy.
The attack against Binay by President BS Aquino’s demolition team – his Senate lapdogs, the yellowish ABS-CBN, and one of the country’s three biggest newspapers – was on a scale that even beat that which was mobilized in 2012 against Chief Justice Renato Corona.
Aquino and his sidekick, Manuel Roxas, probably thought that it was as easy demonizing Binay as they did with Corona, and before that, President Gloria Arroyo.
To be honest, I was shocked that a broadsheet could so openly be against a political figure to throw all media ethics to the waste bin. In the 44 issues from Oct. 8 to Nov. 20, 2014, the Philippine Daily Inquirer had 29 banner stories on the allegations against Binay. I can’t remember any such sustained front-page attack on a political figure.
On four consecutive days starting Oct. 8, PDI even had such screaming headlines that virtually convicted Binay of corruption: ‘Binay farm a 350-ha. estate;’ Binay’s P1.2-B estate behind overpricing; Village folk readily say Binays own hacienda, (with a huge photo of the mansion allegedly owned by the Vice President); and ‘P4B shared by Makati execs.’ Note that the editors didn’t even bother putting the second headline between single quotation marks to indicate “as alleged.” If you’re interested what the headlines in the same period of the other two broadsheets were, The Philippine Star and The Manila Bulletin, google my column “The Inquirer vs Binay,” published January 2015.
The excuse for such ruthless coverage, of course, was the Senate sub-committee hearings, which didn’t even bother to camouflage its investigation as undertaken in aid of legislation. Senator Antonio Trillanes 4th, the most arrogant legislator this country has ever seen, certainly didn’t hide his bile and aim in the hearings: “Pakukulong ko yang si Binay,’ he said not just once. There were a total of 25 Senate hearings that took 11 months purportedly to investigate the accusations of an admitted grafter, and big-time cockfight gambler. How many on Mamasapano, or even on the mega-robbery of the government budget called the Disbursement Allocation Plan? Just seven and four, respectively.
The recent surveys of vice-presidential preferences indicate how few believed Trillanes’ and his partner Alan Peter Cayetano’s accusations. Despite Filipinos’ wrath against the corrupt that they even get angry at those just alleged to have done so, and applaud even fake anti-graft crusaders, only 4 to 6 percent of those surveyed said they’d be voting for those two. And they had so much visibility because of the Senate hearings investigating Binay that most probably had the highest name recall.
Why did it fail?
Why did Aquino’s demolition team fail, in terms of getting Binay out of the presidential race, which was its mission?
The Binay camp, of course, would say, the truth can’t be repressed, and it was sooner rather than later that Trillanes and Cayetano, and Trillanes’ allegations, were proven wrong.
Another explanation is that it was undertaken way too early – last year – with public consciousness shifting to other issues as candidate Grace Poe-Llamanzares’ qualification and to Rodrigo Duterte’s shocking language, forgetting the accusations against Binay.
Still another explanation is that newspapers, even the largest ones, no longer mold public opinion as they did in the past.
The Social Weather Stations (SWS) survey last month, done for the Duterte camp, found that only 5 percent of respondents read the newspapers daily, while 7 percent do either “a few times a week” or weekly. And it is not the three broadsheets they mostly read but the tabloids, with Bulgar being the most read, and with 12 percent of the respondents saying they read it most often. Only about 8 percent read the Philippine Daily Inquirer or The Manila Bulletin, with Philippine Star, 3 percent.
The tabloids’ coverage focus, of course, has always been on crime and celebrity news.
The broadsheets’ reach when it comes to public opinion normally is magnified by radio commentators, who rely on them for their news and analysis. My limited monitoring of radio commentators’ reports on the Senate hearings indicate, though, that very few mouth the Inquirer’s line.
The three broadsheets’ role in molding public opinion has also been weakened – especially those of their opinion writers – by the rise of the internet and social media. World Bank data shows that internet users (defined as those who use it in the last 12 months by any device) in the Philippines have increased phenomenally, from just 2 percent of the population in 2001 to 40 percent in 2014, more than Thailand’S 35 percent, and way above Indonesia’s 17 percent.
Since print newspapers aren’t really cheaper at P600 monthly, more and more Filipinos, especially the youth, have, instead, been reading newspapers’ internet versions. This has been a boon for smaller newspapers like The Manila Times, Manila Standard, and The Daily Tribune, since the old barrier of locked-in subscribers and the cost of print paper don’t matter anymore, with their internet versions having the potential reach of the big three.
A major development in internet-usage dynamics is that increasing numbers of netizens don’t log in anymore to a newspaper’s home page. What has been happening is that somebody posts a newspaper article or opinion on their Facebook pages, and this is reposted on other walls, in some cases becoming viral. You can have an idea on the extent of readership an article or a column generates through its number of “likes” and/or “shares.”
This paper’s own internal statistics, for instance, has shown that several columnists – depending on their topic – have had 50,000 to 100,000 readers, stratospheric levels compared with the few hundreds and even less than a hundred (based on their likes/dislikes) estimated for columnists in the three bigger broadsheets.
Users of Facebook and Twitter, at least from my own monitoring, have become disillusioned with, or even angry, at this Administration, so much so that their posts more often are against Aquino, Roxas and Transportation Secretary Emilio Abaya, deafening the decreasing anti-Binay posts by celebrity has-beens servile to Aquino.
It is a very welcome development for our democracy.
The dominance of a single newspaper and a TV network in terms of its power over public opinion has been – since 2005 often in service of the yellow cult – as damaging to our Republican system as Aquino’s scandalous bribing of the Congress to remove Chief Justice Corona.
How can the people choose their leaders wisely now, indeed, if all they read in the past had been trash?