IT is not President Rodrigo Duterte nor his social media supporters that pose a great threat to Philippine media but the condition that allowed them to exist: democratization. Let me explain.
Democratization is the process of opening up, of breaking the walls that separates those who have access to power and those who don’t. As a process, it’s a never-ending series of unfolding from exclusion to inclusion. As Buddhists would put it, behind a wall is another wall.
To give you a concrete example, there was a time when women weren’t allowed to vote and run for office. When they were able to succeed in demanding change, politics underwent democratization. Technology also facilitates democratization. The printing press democratized knowledge in Europe. It would be impossible to imagine the Industrial Revolution happening without the invention of the printing press. The Industrial Revolution in Europe depended on the Scientific Revolution, which wasn’t possible without the emergence of a community of scientists, exchanging ideas. The printing press sped up the process of producing and disseminating scientific knowledge to a wider audience, thus facilitating the flourishing of scientific communities.
In the Philippines, technology-facilitated democratization is interrupting traditional media’s monopoly on producing narratives about current events. However, it’s not the preponderance of authors writing about them that is most disruptive to these folks.
With the advent of live streaming, access to the source itself is undergoing democratization. Before, we all relied on Big Media to tell us what happened. They were the only ones that had the resources to be at the event when it happened. Now, a Senate hearing could be live- streamed and watched anywhere in the world. The President’s speech could be heard in real time. Almost any activity could be watched as it happens. Even before anyone wrote about them, a lot of people have already heard and seen what transpired in those events.
With the end of their monopoly on access to events comes the erosion of Big Media’s monopoly on the interpretation of those events. Anyone who has watched any speech of the President, for example, no longer needs to rely on Big Media’s narrative of that speech. Slanting bits of that speech to make it sound more menacing than it was originally spoken could now be easily rebutted by an interpretation more faithful to the content and, more importantly, meaning of the speech. For example, on May 26, 2017, during the time he was talking to soldiers in Iligan City, Duterte told them “Kapag naka-rape ka ng tatlo, aminin ko na akin ‘yun.” Big Media reported it as Duterte’s condonation of rape during war time, while the context and meaning of that speech clearly indicates that it was simply telling them that, as Commander in Chief, he would be held accountable for it.
During his embarrassing interview with BBC HARDtalk, Sen. Antonio Trillanes said that the propaganda machine of Duterte is so effective in preventing the “truth” to be known by everyday Filipinos; hence, Duterte’s trust rating remains high. What’s actually going on is far from Trillanes’ sinister version of events. Filipinos now actually live in a world preponderant with various interpretation of events.
Previously, this world was dominated by the “oligarchs of information,” who have held that dominant position unassailed for a long time. They are now being challenged by various folks, whose perspectives can now be easily circulated through various social media platforms. The oligarchs of information are now being dismantled by the process of democratization.
To people like Trillanes, this is a menacing process as it prevents people like him from controlling the narrative. But for the rest of us, this should be a welcome development as a free market of ideas, enabled by social media, is now breaking up Big Media’s monopoly.