JOURNALISTS are better reminded that the coverage of elections in this poll-happy country is really a coverage of the search by the public for good and effective leaders, rather than a story of ambitions, candidates and political parties.
In briefing participants of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism’s seminar-workshop for reporters, editors, and producers titled “Covering the 2013 Elections: Uncovering Campaign Finance, Local Power, and Governance,” PCIJ Executive Director Malou Mangahas discussed what media might also need to cover in the elections.
“The affected parties, we forget, are about the voters, the economy, the civil service. Akala natin it’s about the candidates,” Mangahas said.
Mangahas listed down four points of attention for journalists in covering elections:
- Language – Words can fan conflict and sow confusion, or generate a “them” against “us” thinking, or hype an event, make familiar jargon, repeat and amplify spins, or spread propaganda.
- Process – The election and campaign process, the voting and the vote, the counting and the counters, the results, elections as a process for better governance.
- Sources – Those we talk to who know, versus those who can only say “I think;” the partisans versus the independents, and the experts versus the consultants.
- The affected parties – Whom the elections are really about: the voters, the economy, the civil servants.
“Ang problema, tumitigil na tayo sa coverage ng vote,” Mangahas said. “Iintayin na lang natin ang mga announcements ng Comelec.”
Part of the problem is that some in media have lost sight of their real mission – that of assisting the voters so they can make an informed choice.
“Instead of making a compelling story, kelangan lang ba nating makapasok sa Gap 1?” Mangahas asked, referring to the first segment in the primetime television newscasts where the biggest stories are played out.
“So we have event stories instead of insight stories, and talk as the staple or the backbone of our stories,” she said. “There is little context, little consequence, no continuity, timeline, or sense of history.”
This can be gleaned from the failure of the media to make former leaders accountable. “We think of elections as replacing, walang paniningil sa papalitan.”
Mangahas also cautioned reporters against putting too much emphasis on good form at the expense of good content. “The medium requires that we do well form-wise,” she said. Pero minsan nauuna ang porma sa laman.”
Form refers to the structure, language, style, and organization, and final presentation of the story.
On the other hand, content is often allowed to suffer because content tends to be more difficult to develop. This would include the document or paper trail, the interviews with sources, the online trail, and the values of accuracy and fairness.
In the end, Mangahas said investigative reporting is basically good reporting; it is reporting that every journalist should do from day to day.
“Investigative reporting is what we should be doing every day. At core we should be researchers and reporters,” she said. “I think we can raise the bar on our level of performance. It is about method, attitude, and discipline, which no journalism school can teach us. It is embracing the right work ethic on top of talent.”