Government setting the agenda for the media, a major threat to democracy

Posted by watchmen
October 2, 2017
Posted in OPINION

“Most authoritarian regimes today do not seek total domination of all means of mass communication… Instead, they want ‘effective media control’ – enough for them to convey their strength and puff up claims to legitimacy while undermining potential alternatives.” –Robert Orttung and Christopher Walker

With endless stories regarding local criminality and gridlock traffic featured across major newspapers in the Bacolod City metropolitan area, along with corroborating posts on various social media platforms, one would imagine it would serve as a wake-up call to implement necessity of reforms on how law enforcement is utilized in the province.
A resolution recently passed the Bacolod City Sangguniang Panlungsod (SP) seeks to convene both city government and law enforcement officials to discuss the said issue; despite Bacolod City Police Office (BCPO) acting director, Police Senior Superintendent Jack Wanky dismissing the said reports, declaring, “Bacolod is safe;” adding, “If there is an agency which can declare a security threat, whether an area is safe or not, it is the PNP (Philippine National Police)” – inferring reports by those victimized by crime are irrelevant since they are, apparently, not capable of determining their own level of safety.
Moreover, Negros Occidental Governor Alfredo Marañon, Jr. also formulated his own solution to the reports of criminal incidents by requesting media outlets to “scale down the reporting of these incidents.”
The governor elaborated his point by noting an administration priority of “bringing in tourists and investors.”
With the annual MassKara Festival underway, earlier statements by Bacolod City Councilor Caesar Distrito echoed the same priorities of the governor when he appealed for the public to stop tagging the city as “unsafe,” considering the said festivities, such posts could scare away potential visitors.
All levels of government appear to be united in their priority: the potential for tourism and investment is of such importance, personal security is put on the back burner.
Given their statements, the strategy by government officials seems to be, instead of working on modifications to the current security situation in the province, just stop reporting on it and pretend it does not exist.
Perhaps the plan will keep the investment and tourism money coming in, but for how long? If one of these sought after visitors is affected by a criminal incident, then what? Will they be asked not to tell anybody about it when they return home?
Much like the case of the Davao City professor who was recently robbed at gunpoint in Barangay Villamonte; before leaving, he was already warned by close acquaintances about the dangers of hold-up incidents in Bacolod City. However, instead of working on improving the reputation that has, clearly, already made its way to other parts of the country, the governor says such reports are akin to “being bitten by an ant.”
Apparently, the job of the media is to ensure those in elected office are not inconvenienced and merely gloss over the situation.
Last week, penned a column about Ilocos Norte first district Rep. Rodolfo Fariñas, who claims elected officials are not subject to basic traffic rules and even deserve their own police force. The haughtiness espoused by those elected into office seems to know no bounds, from wanting special treatment from law enforcement to the belief the media should act as an extension of their press office.
It is surprising the way many will lament about suppression of the press during the administration of former President Ferdinand Marcos, but hearing current politicians telling the media what they should and should not report goes ignored.
Robert Orttung and Christopher Walker put together a study for the Journal of Democracy, a publication by the Johns Hopkins University Press, about media control and its prevalence in authoritarian regimes. They note, outside of countries like Cuba and North Korea, authoritarian leaders do not intend on a complete takeover of media, but work towards, what they call, “effective media control.”
“Such state dominance enables regimes to put pro-government narratives front and center,” the article explained. “[In order to] puff up claims to legitimacy while undermining potential alternatives.”
It has been often said, given the heavy centralization of government and the massive tax burden across all sectors, the Philippine is much more of a socialist state than anyone in government would like to admit (along with officials like Senator Risa Hontiveros who would like to see the country move further left – even heralding the way Cuba is governed).
Many previous columns have discussed the scourge of political dynasties – which have flourished across the country for decades. The Orttung-Walker study also discusses media control as a way of holding on to power.
“To stay in power, an authoritarian regime must keep vast numbers of people out of politics,” they wrote, as political dynasties work their hardest to ensure the bloodline remains in office for eternity.
“Authoritarian governments willfully deprive hundreds of millions of people of authentically plural and independent information and analysis,” the column explained. “Through their dogged control of traditional media, and increasing ability to impede the political content of new media, authoritarian regimes are shaping an entirely different understanding of ‘breaking the news.’”
Their analysis of how dictatorial rulers treat the media is an absolutely parallel to the events of the past week.
With crime seemingly on the rise and traffic remaining a nightmare, these signal some form of mismanagement; however, the go-to solution from these “leaders” seems to be: Tell the media to stop talking about it.
A 2008 study by Scott Gehlbach and Konstantin Sonin for the W. Allen Wallis Institute of Political Economy at the University of Rochester also looked at the topic of government control in media and offered an explanation as to why elected officials take such a stance.
“Citizens may update their belief about the state of the world by watching the news,” they wrote. “The government structures the news operation to attain the desired level of bias, with the message determined probabilistically by the structure after the state of the world has been realized.”
Specifically, to the case of Bacolod City and Negros Occidental, the study also looked at how governments can also indirectly control the media, explaining, “The relationship between government and private owner [of a media outlet] is analogous to a lobbying problem; though here the government plays the role of lobby and private owner the role of policy maker” – it all falls on the media entity whether they choose to deliver the truth or merely serve as a mouthpiece for the government.
A study by Stefaan Walgrave and Peter Van Aelst for the Oxford Research Encyclopedia of Politics looked at the way media shapes how politicians act; in the local case, their clear understanding of how influential the media can be and how they feel compelled to manipulate the content.
“Media coverage is used in politics because it is suitable for political elites,” they explained. “It is relevant to furthering their goals” – i.e., tourism, investment, etc.
They also cited a study that examined the tone of media coverage and its effect on the political landscape.
Taking a look at how news impacted the Danish Parliament, University of Stavanger political science professor Gunnar Thesen found, “News with a negative tone and news that attributes responsibility for the bad situation to the government, leads to more questioning behavior of opposition than of government MPs (members of parliament).”
“It is downright damaging for the government,” he asserted.
For the sake of local residents, one can hope the aforementioned meeting of city officials will bring some positive restructuring and improvements to the way in which local law enforcement is utilized – especially if the only alternative is having bureaucrats and politicians look the other way, while having the media merely play up aesthetics./WDJ

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *