Recently, there have been a spate of televised exposés and senate hearings regarding the misuse of Philhealth and COVID-19 funds. Media journalists add fuel to these exposés, through tidbits of information that steer us in certain directions — and away from others. The old values of fairness and truth, which they often parrot, usually end up as the casualties in their desire to increase readership or TV ratings.
How many televised Senate hearings in the past have arrived at definitive results? Those who initiated these hearings seldom followed up on what they had previously revealed. When public interest fizzled out, they would stop the investigation. If culprits were named, these were usually scapegoats or fall guys. Very few high officials have been punished. They simply resigned or transferred to other juicy government posts. The real string-pullers were rarely mentioned, as though justice can be served by handing a few smallheads on a big platter.
When there are trials or hearings of national concern, broadcast journalists who cover the proceedings are also on trial. Their manner of reporting, reveals the kind of journalists that they are. Do they separate the chaff from the wheat? Do they help viewers sort out courtroom theatrics from relevant evidence?
In our country, as perhaps everywhere else, television is regarded as an entertainment medium. Unless a trial takes on the semblance of a grand epic or detective movie, viewers will lose interest in watching it after a few episodes. Lawyers know this, so they trot out a series of witnesses, subject them to convoluted cross-examinations, to keep the audience interested. For their part, TV and newspaper reporters provide outrageous side-stories that are aimed to distract us or entertain us.
It is about time that legislators, especially those championing truth and decency in the media, enacted laws regulating disclosure practices by politicians in order to change a system of investigation and hearings deeply entrenched in sensationalism and rumor-mongering.
Come to think of it, many of these exposés are red herrings. They distract us from the real problems that beset us. They direct our attention to something many of us can do nothing about. They only heighten our feeling of helplessness. Worse, these exposés are free publicity for politicians who instigate the investigation, or those who are being grilled by them. They are in the limelight for days and weeks. They get free publicity, which is a good investment for the next election.
In one SWS survey of the electorate, only a small percentage of respondents believed the scandals of politicians, which are reported by the media. Our elections are mostly based on instant name recall. So, it is not surprising that many of those branded by the media as criminals, extortionists, rapists, or plunderers end up on top of election surveys.
Moral or legal disputes were once within the purview of conscience. Sadly, we have transferred the responsibility of settling moral disputes from our consciences to the court rooms. We made lawyers the final arbiters of right and wrong. Now, we have transferred this again to another forum: The television or, the social media.
One wonders whether this is a sign of progress.