There are principled mainstream journalists as there are corrupt bloggers

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ANTONIO P. CONTRERAS

THIS opposition between mainstream media journalism and social media blogging, as if the first is evil and the second is a paragon of virtue, is getting to be tiresome.

It is utter nonsense to generalize behavior of people as if they follow the stereotyped labels attached to the organization to which they belong. It is most unfair, as it implies that people are denied their human agency, as if they all become mindless drones.

This is, however, not to discount the fact that indeed mainstream media journalists have committed grave sins against their profession and society. I attribute the structural rootedness of this to the very nature of a capitalist media enterprise, where the logic of profit is now what drives news and public affairs, and not just the obligation for truth-telling.

Thus, media as driven by the capitalist logic has become mainstreamed in the sense that it serves the dominant political and economic interests. As it is, media networks and organizations are mostly owned by elites. In a political economy where the elites straddle both the political and the economic domains, this necessarily led to the entrenchment of media bias in favor of the powerful establishment.

In the Philippine context, a significant section of media had closer affinities with the yellow movement. This is understandable, considering that media was repressed during the Marcos years. Thus, a free and independent media was somewhat perceived to be anti-Marcos and anti-Martial Law.

The close relationship of some in the media with yellow politics was even further solidified during the second Aquino administration, when instead of improving the government communication infrastructure, Noynoy Aquino almost sub-contracted its media work with mainstream media, most notable of which was the Philippine Daily Inquirer, ABS-CBN and Rappler. These three media outfits are perceived as the most partisan and biased in favor of the Aquinos and the Liberal Party.

It is against this perception that people rebelled. It is in the political landscape of biased journalism that social media emerged as an alternative venue for ordinary citizens to become active netizens, offering their own narratives as well as interpretation of events, and making a claim in the production, reproduction and transformation of political discourse.

This rebellion by bloggers in social media, which included micro-bloggers, was seen as a threat by many in the media establishment, not only as a source of a political counter-narrative, but also as a threat to their revenue streams. The Internet engagement of prominent social media bloggers eventually overtook the engagement of the major broadsheets and networks.

It is understandable to see the clash of cultures. Mainstream media has organizational protocols and standards, even as its army of journalists are expected to have the necessary academic degrees, if not the adequate experience. Journalists, both print and broadcast, have to undergo a formal rite of passage before they can earn a name for themselves.

On the other hand, social media blogging is a loose platform, where anyone with a social media account can instantly participate. There are no formal mechanisms, no editorial boards, and no vetting process. Academic degrees are not required. People can even write from the comfort of their anonymity.

Social media bloggers, from the start, already had an adversarial view of mainstream media, the failures and excesses of which were precisely the reason for their existence. It did not help that much of mainstream media was perceived to be too aligned with yellow politics, and critical of President Duterte.

Mainstream media naturally view social media blogging as an inferior, if not illegitimate, form of pseudo-journalism. Believing that it is bereft of accountability, they see social media as easily falling into the trap of purveying fakery and online libel.

And the so-called war between these two media platforms further intensified recently when Presidential Spokesman Harry Roque was seen by social media bloggers as siding with mainstream media. Roque was criticized for offering to school Assistant Secretary Mocha Uson on the virtues of the mainstream. The so-called “diehard Duterte supporters,” or DDS bloggers, erupted in condemnation. Uson retaliated by moving to reclassify Rappler, which is one of the mainstream media outfits most identified as “enemy” by the DDS, from being mainstream to social media.

The DDS social media bloggers believe that mainstream media journalism is totally compromised even as mainstream media looks at DDS social media bloggers as interlopers. And the name-calling and labeling continues.

While one needs to be cognizant of the specific structural pitfalls of mainstream media, one has to also realize that there are good media people that continue to mediate between their own conscience and the political and profit interests of their employers. I know many journalists who are as objectified and disempowered because they need to earn a living.

On the other side of the divide are the social media bloggers who are also not monolithic. While some of them provide valuable and meaningful alternatives to the failures of mainstream, many of them are also as equally flawed. Many are critical of mainstream media bias, and yet are as biased in their idolatry of social media superstars, or even of the President.

Social media bloggers attack the mainstream for being too fixated on ratings, yet some of them are also driven by their number of likes and followers.

They criticize the political ambitions of some in mainstream media that tend to undermine their objectivity, yet some social media bloggers have become political operators engaged in activities that enable not only the interests of their patrons, but also their own.

The best way to move forward is for both mainstream media and social media to respect the virtues and the value of the other side, even as they become conscious of their own failures and excesses, and address to rectify these.

Either this or we continue to witness an endless bickering that is already too tiring and sickening.

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