THE Philippine media is going to the dogs. Colonial mentality and stenographic journalism among our media people have become worse, afflicting not just the new generation but even the old.
I borrow that 1960s term “colonial mentality” to refer to many Filipino journalists’ mindset that if a US, European or even Japanese news outlet reports something, then it’s true beyond contention.
Some columnists even revere articles from The New York Times or the Washington Post as if they are scripture; even cutting and pasting them at length in their pieces. Have they forgotten the fact that these two newspapers, and nearly all of Western mainstream media, swallowed hook, line and sinker, and disseminated the biggest lie of this century that Iraq’s Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction and, therefore, deserved to be invaded, which cost the lives of 1 million Iraqis?
A recent example of this colonial mentality was the uncritical embrace of the New York-based Bloomberg’s report several weeks ago that ranked the Philippines second to the last in “resiliency” to the Covid-19 pandemic.
Your usual Yellow papers, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star, of course, reported it with glee, with not a single critical sentence, such as: “This contradicts data that the Philippines has only 13,888 cases per 1 million population and 67 deaths per 1 million compared to the United States’ 24,941 and 1,882, respectively, and that in the Johns Hopkins and Worldometers listing of countries with their Covid statistic, there are 22 other countries much worse than us.
Isn’t it obvious that actual news (in contrast to Bloomberg’s “analysis”) from abroad – that is, if you just watch Fox News, CNN and Al-Jazeera – never reported how bad the pandemic situation was here, and instead reported, with graphic videos even of hospital scenes and funeral pyres, the horror of the pandemic in India, Brazil, United States, European countries and Indonesia?
Yet even a veteran columnist seemed to worship Bloomberg, claiming that its Covid-19 resiliency rankings is the result of “efficient tracking algorithms that measure how nations cope with the pandemic, metric by metric, benchmark by benchmark, with certainty and exactitude.” Why, not even Bloomberg made such a fantastic claim on its methodology, which didn’t involve any algorithm, which that columnist obviously doesn’t really know the meaning of.
Bloomberg’s explanation was based on an “aggregation” of 12 indicators. But here’s the giveaway: “These indicators are scored on a 0-100 scale, indicating the best performance and the worst,” the news agency explained in an article. Of course, in the entire piece, Bloomberg doesn’t mention who makes the “score” – their staff, and from my experience in a foreign news outlet that made rankings, the lowest ranked in the newsroom, most probably the interns, do that tedious chore. “Philippines? That’s the country whose president said Barack Obama was an SOB, right? Here’s to you” and he gives us a bad grade.
It is certainly amazing, but hardly unexpected, that Bloomberg ranked the US as the most pandemic-resilient country with European countries not far behind. The Bloomberg report is probably the wishful thinking of its staff, tired of the lockdowns and the body-bags they see on TV day in and day out.
Such types of rankings have actually been discredited with no legitimate academic institution daring to undertake such projects because the data for each country are qualitatively different and there is no objective “algorithm” to compare one country to another.
How can you compare logically for instance the Covid-19 resilience of the Philippines with its 104 million population with New Zealand, which Bloomberg ranked second to the most resilient, and which has a population of only 5 million?
Such rankings are merely advertising projects as they are quotable and reported by all countries (53 in the Bloomberg ranking) ranked as each newspaper in those countries would want to report how their nation was graded. For the first time, “Bloomberg” landed on the front pages of broadsheets. Furthermore, even if their methodology is perfect, it is garbage in and garbage out. I’ll believe their rankings only if I am shown the actual data they use together with those used for a sample of other countries.
Quite stupidly, the 2021 Bloomberg ranking included as a major plus factor a country’s lifting of its restrictions. I’m sure the Bloomberg editors are scratching their heads now over the fact that countries, such as the United Kingdom and the United States, which lifted their restrictions are now experiencing a third wave of infections.
Worse is the magazine Global Finance’s recent “World’s Safest Rankings” of 128 countries in which, believe it or not, the Philippines was ranked last. C’mon, countries like Yemen, Pakistan, Ethiopia and even the United States are safer than us? One would have to be so steeped in colonial mentality, so gullible or so dumb to believe that report as a Philippine Star reporter did to make the claim that the ranking just shows the Duterte government’s promises of peace and order have been unfulfilled.
Check out Global Finance’s terse explanation for its rankings and you can easily see how flawed it is and how it would rank the Philippines as the most dangerous country to live in on this planet. “The safety score for countries takes into account three fundamental factors… war and peace, personal security and natural disaster,” according to the magazine.
The Philippines has a war (even if it’s now a tiny, dying communist insurgency confined to a few distant areas), has natural disasters (typhoons) and has had extrajudicial killings, according to Human Rights Watch – so, voilà! We are ranked the worst. It is still a mystery though how we could be ranking badly in “personal security,” especially as the crime rate in 2020 had dropped 40 percent from its 2019 level.
Rule of thumb
Here’s a rule of thumb you should adopt, and believe me on this as I worked for a foreign publication for 11 years, studied for a year at the journalism institute at Harvard and served in Greece for five years as our country’s ambassador: Believe a newspaper’s reports only if these are about its own country and that is not even always the case. US and European newspaper reports on other countries are based on just a few “wire service” outfits such as Reuters, the Associated Press, Agence France-Presse and United Press International, which in our case are packed with former leftists and Yellows.
“Stenographic journalism” is an old term in the industry when everyone knew what a stenographer was – somebody whose job is to record mindlessly what people say whether in a court or in an office. It is a job that requires mindlessness. If a stenographer stops to think about the meaning of words he hears, he is slowed down and even makes mistakes.
Stenographic journalism is when a media man merely reports what somebody says without mentioning other things that could even belie what that somebody said. We have examples right in this paper, made worse by the fact these reports were banner stories, i.e., considered the most important news for that day.
“Lacson fears P10-B vaccine overprice,” was this newspaper’s banner on July 21. And what was Lacson’s basis for this? Rough back-of-the-envelope calculations too stupid to waste our space here in debunking. If Lacson says he would win in the 2022 elections, this gullible reporter would report so, and his editors may even make it a headline. No other newspaper ran the story, nor did Lacson repeat the claim. But he had media mileage. He “fears” and the mindless reporter reports his fears? What else would he fear, I wonder.
Another example of stenographic journalism is today’s headline: “Lacson-Sotto may split administration votes.” Who said this? Howard Calleja, a lawyer and self-proclaimed leader of that opposition group whose members won’t fit into a Fortuner. Never mind that he has never been active in electoral politics to give a forecast and that his statement was wishful thinking for his tiny gang waiting for a miracle to happen. Never mind that in the recent June PulseAsia report, Lacson got a measly 4 percent of respondents intending to vote for him as president.
Did Calleja explain why he thought so? No, he had only two other statements, both of which were unintelligible babble. Out of the 727 words in that article, only 37 (5 percent) explained the headline. The rest were quotes from Antonio Carpio on other topics and a report on a meeting of the Nationalist People’s Coalition.
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