It was Angela, the nanay, who kept asking me all afternoon Thursday what time Solar News’ Town Hall was going on air. On the night of Ninoy Aquino’s death anniversary, the show was asking the public: What is the Aquino legacy to you?
Entitled Ninoy Cory Noynoy: Three Shades of Yellow, this episode of Town Hall might have had everything going for it, including guests like Rene Saguisag and Christian Monsod. But as the first minutes of the show became about how the panel of guests felt when Ninoy was assassinated, I realized this was like every other shallow discussion we’ve had on Ninoy, EDSA 1986, and the Aquinos for the last thirty years.
Cloaked in the notion of democracy, it failed at pinning down anything at all about the Aquinos and their legacy; it could not even take a clear stand about the current President’s governance. Instead it was a free for all, complete with a cat fight between guests Mae Paner and Leah Navarro. It was also a lot of time wasted talking about what people were saying on social media.
I should have known something was wrong the moment I heard the word “netizens.”
Who are you talking to?
This is the thing with a show that spends an ample amount of time on reading Tweets and encouraging discussions via hashtags and questions. It goes nowhere.
Because who exactly are we talking to when we talk to “social media”?
Mainstream media talks about this online crowd, and insists that there is a way to source ideas and see trends in public opinion via hashtags and online surveys, and looking at Twitter trends. But that presumes that everyone we talk to here are real people. It also imagines that the actual people are saying things that are new and have not been said before.
It’s like social media is the source of some truth that we have heretofore not heard about or discussed. Yet in social media Pilipinas, half the time it’s all just a lot of noise and heckling, the other half it’s a lot of misinformation. One also finds that it doesn’t really matter whether you say the right or wrong things; the ones with the most followers will have the most retweets and favorites anyway. The creation of one agreeable monolith is something that Pinoy social media encourages. Dare disagree and watch that monolith gang up on you.
Anyone who even thinks of making social media an important part of any discussion – especially one as complex as Ninoy’s assassination and EDSA 1986, Cory’s Presidency and Noynoy’s governance—should consider how it works or dysfunctions in this country where popularity is the end-all and be-all.
Because had they considered it, maybe they would’ve handled social media better, and not wasted the time and energy of someone like Jay Salazar, who is far more intelligent than someone who’s put there to read people’s tweets.
And please lang, what is a netizen exactly? Why the f*#!%@ are we calling people that, like we believe in citizens of the Internet?
What are you talking about?
So how does one handle social media better, if one insists that they play a huge part in the discussion?
Don’t ask questions that are bound for nowhere. Wanting to discuss the Aquino legacy, by asking people what that legacy is, tells your audience that the premise of your discussion is but the unstable belief in diversity of opinion.
Alas, this was all that this Town Hall episode was standing on. And as it waited for them netizens (blech!) to say something hosts Mitzi Borromeo and Nicole Curato tried and failed to get an intelligent discussion going.
It is not for lack of intelligence in both these girls, as it was just the seeming lack of a writer who gave them a script, a sequence guide, a set of questions—anything!—that would premise their questions on information that already exists about Ninoy’s assassination and EDSA 1986, Cory and the promise of change, Noynoy and how he came into power.
What it lacked was a sense that these hosts were not merely winging it, that they at least had read up on Ninoy’s politics and ideology, and at least had a grasp of what EDSA 1986 meant, and how it has been discussed since. But these two girls were merely moving from Ninoy, to Cory, to Noynoy and back again, depending on what their guests would say, and given whatever might catch their interest via those social media reports from not one, not two, but three netizens, plus one Solar News reporter. Imagine that.
It didn’t help at all Curato prefaced one of her first questions by saying that she was only so many months old when EDSA happened, which makes me wonder: what does that mean exactly? Is that an apologia for not knowing what actually happened then?
But isn’t that what history books are for? And pray tell what history book on Ninoy and EDSA 1986 did these hosts read, knowing full well they would be talking about it on nationwide television?
Where is Pia Hontiveros when you need her?
How far have we come?
Not very far it seems.
To begin with, the legacy of Ninoy and Cory was the fight for freedom and democracy. We all know that, and we all can agree on that. If we still don’t know that 31 years after Ninoy’s assassination and 28 years after EDSA1986, then there’s obviously something wrong with us.
And there is something wrong with mainstream media, online and otherwise, that imagines questions like this as the more important one to ask. You want to talk to the youth maybe? Find out what they think is the Aquino legacy? But that would bring us back to the question: who are you talking to on social media? It also behooves the question: why?
Why ask the youth, who are just as ill-informed, who repeat the ideologies and political leanings of their parents, and who might be da netizens yes, but are also da netizens who think opinion is as easy as typing 140 characters and clicking on Tweet. Wouldn’t it have been infinitely more productive for Town Hall to take a stand about what this Aquino legacy is—or is not—and ask social media whether or not they agree?
Wouldn’t it have been more interesting to discuss the legacies of freedom and democracy and have Navarro and Paner compare their freedoms 31 years after Ninoy, and given their individual relationships with Noynoy at this point? In fact both Monsod and Saguisag would speak of this freedom and democracy, but neither Curato nor Borromeo knew to run with it and steer the conversation in that direction.
One wonders why Hontiveros was not the one handling this discussion. She would’ve put Navarro in her place, interrupting the way she did Paner and using her time to speak to promote some Monday talk about matuwid na daan (kadirs). Hontiveros would’ve been quick enough to know to give Paner the opportunity to talk about this coming Monday’s Million People March Anniversary Rally at the Luneta, that one that continues the fight against all forms of pork barrel and corruption.
Hontiveros would have also known to end with the question of freedom vis-a-vis the revelation of corrupt practices under Noynoy’s watch. She would know to assert: if the Aquino legacy is freedom, what of the freedom from corruption?
But alas, Hontiveros was nowhere in sight, or spirit, and so in the end this Town Hall was just a grand display of fence sitting at its finest. And lest we still don’t get it, this was the best example of what media has done with our freedoms, the one Ninoy fought and died for, the one that Cory dared struggle for. They pretty much have done nothing.
It’s a shame. I’ve thought highly of Solar News Channel since it started broadcasting, thinking it a level-up from the rest of mainstream media. But August 21’s Town Hall didn’t even come close to a level-up and one was reminded of something Saguisag would always say about Pinoy media.
It is short for mediocre.