CAMPAIGN sorties, jingles, slogans, and personalities dominated media’s coverage of the senatorial elections in the first three weeks of the campaign.
This was one of the key findings of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) in its initial report on the 2007 elections coverage. From February 13 to March 2, CMFR monitored the coverage of the three major dailies — Philippine Daily Inquirer, Philippine Star, and Manila Bulletin — and six television news programs on ABS-CBN 2, GMA 7, ABC 5, and NBN 4.
CMFR said readers and viewers were “treated to a daily log of the candidates’ campaign sorties, complete with the usual ‘color’ pieces on who was the most-cheered candidate in an area, or how Team Unity senatorial candidate Juan Miguel Zubiri beat the other candidates in getting a franchise on that insanely infectious ditty, Boom Tarat Tarat.”
CMFR also revealed that television devoted a mere 5.54 percent of its airtime to development and policy issues, while the broadsheets had so far not allotted much space to these issues.
CMFR said these were the very same concerns raised in the coverage of the 2004 presidential elections.
See related post, “Why elections are covered as sport.”
“The first three weeks is the most crucial period of coverage because it will set the tone for the rest of the campaign,” said CMFR deputy director and journalism professor Luis Teodoro. According to Teodoro, media should raise the level of discourse by reporting on more substantive issues.
But the lack of reports on key issues is not entirely the fault of the media, Teodoro said, as the candidates and political parties themselves “are working on the old assumption that the electorate is not interested on issues.”
In CMFR’s initial findings, only 11 out of some 101 newspaper reports on the Senate and party-list elections touched on crucial issues. And most of these reports barely explained how the candidates intended to address issues like poverty, education, global warming, and charter change.
“Most of the articles reported on a candidate’s position on an issue, but did not explain how the candidate planned to translate his views into action. Was it perhaps because the candidates had no idea themselves?” CMFR said. “It would have helped if the reports indicated if this was indeed the case — if, for example, the reporter pressed the candidate to explain how, say, this motherhood statements on ending poverty could be translated into policy through legislation.”
In television, there were more personality-oriented reports — how certain candidates spent their Valentine’s Day with their spouses or how the celebrities were campaigning — than stories on development or policy issues.
“Worse, the TV reports were content to mention that these were the platforms of a certain candidate or his or her stand on a certain issue, with no full-length discussion as to the issues, platforms, or advocacies of the candidates,” CMFR added.
Teodoro also said media should strive to do an in-depth analysis of what’s really at stake in this elections.
“The country is at a crossroads — it can follow the path of restoration or of authoritarian rule. And the outcome of the 2007 elections could lead to the resolution of the legitimacy issue. But I don’t see that kind of analysis anywhere,” he said.
But Teodoro admitted that stories like these do not really sell, despite indications that the electorate is “gaining some wisdom,” as shown in recent surveys where celebrities barely made it to the top senatorial list.
A recent survey also shows that voters are now more aware of party-list groups, Teodoro said, but sadly, the media cover the party-list groups only when there’s controversy involved, as in the case of the gay-lesbian group Ang Ladlad.
Ang Ladlad was the party-list group most covered by all six TV programs, with a total airtime of only 4.28 minutes. It was followed by Bayan Muna, Gabriela Women’s Party, AnakPawis, and Kabataan Party.
And of the 419 front-page articles published in the broadsheets from February 14 to March 2, only one article was about the party-list elections, CMFR said.
CMFR further reported that the most covered candidates in both print and broadcast came from the administration’s Team Unity. For television, TU’s Cesar Montano had the most combined airtime coverage, followed by partymate Ralph Recto.
In the three newspapers, most reports were on former oppositionists and now administration candidates Vicente Sotto, Tessie Aquino Oerta, and Edgardo Angara. Other reports included the feud between couple Vilma Santos and Ralph Recto with brother Batangas vice governor Ricky Recto, over the gubernatorial contest in Batangas.
Only the Inquirer wrote about the Ang Kapatiran Party, CMFR said, but the reports failed to include the party’s program of action.
Teodoro said CMFR hopes that media organizations will study the results of the study and make adjustments on their coverage.
He said that in 2004, CMFR noticed that newspapers exercised “more restraint” in their reporting than TV news programs, which was evident in their refusal to sensationalize certain issues.
There was also a conscious effort to cover all the 2004 candidates equally, but at the same time, media still tended to focus on political controversies and gave undue prominence to public opinion polls.
“Media exposure and coverage are critical to successful campaigns,” CMFR wrote in its 2004 report. “The performance of the press, the accuracy, fairness and balance of reporting and commentary are significant issues in the projection of a candidate. Media reporting that covers the elections as a circus or just another ‘horse race’ will not help voters weigh their options and their choices seriously.”
Read the entire report of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility.