There was a time when Philippine media, during its heyday, spoke freely against whatever threatened society. Mainstream – or traditional – media was deemed a catalyst for freedom of speech in the domain of information and communication. It was even instrumental in toppling a tyrannical dictator in the 1980s, back when the newspaper reigned supreme.
It was also the mouthpiece of a generation moving into the threshold of the 21st Century. But then came the internet, the World Wide Web and that ushered in a new communications sphere called “digital media,” which also brought to life another platform called “social media” where people gained constant access to information as long as they were “online.”
Going digital was thought to be a media revolution, where reporters could write freely and more efficiently. The birth of digital devices like desktops, laptops, then smartphones and tablets - which gave a new meaning to a word that most people thought was just used to cure ailments - made life somewhat easier for media practitioners. Writing stories either with the laptop, tablet or phone simply became the norm. Goodbye mighty pen and trusted typewriter.
But then came social media, which introduced communications platforms to every Tom, Dick and Harry who could now express themselves or even comment on what was happening in society the way they saw it and without fear of repercussion. It was a period when personal opinion was forced into the throats of the virtual audience in the form of “rants,”. Eventually “fake news” reared its ugly head where the truth could be twisted to become a lie or untruth, and vice versa.
The most disheartening part was that news became a sort of spectator sport, a battle where the one who spoke the loudest was the one who gained attention and as such, the one deemed telling the truth and should be believed, even if it was a lie. Social media, instead of becoming a form of communication that brought people closer together regardless of geographical boundaries, became somewhat a weapon of mass “distraction,” where the audience was made to believe an “alternate” truth that again, was more like a lie, a harbinger, unfortunately, of mis-(and dis)information.
It was sort of the Dark Ages for Philippine media all over again, where reporting became a hobby and to some, a money-making venture instead of an honorable practice. And the arrival of the SARS-CoV-2 virus did not help at all. The media, with its desire to deliver the truth, unfortunately and inadvertently, even fanned the fire of confusion. Now the public doesn’t know what to believe anymore.
But all is not lost. As one media practitioner said recently, in this time where fact-checking has become the exception rather than the rule in delivering the news and becoming “viral” has become the gold standard, it is best to go back to the basics of what media is all about—fair, honest, truthful—amid all this confusion and era of “fake news.”
Sadly, he said that in this digital age, fact-checking will not work anymore to debunk wrong information that has gone viral already. The public, the man on the street, knows the news. It is time for media—traditional, digital, or social—to just focus on the tried-and-true methods of delivering news to the public, even if they’re already quite a bit old and not that sexy anymore.
Ana Manansala is founder and managing director of AMCS, Manila, Philippines ammcsph.com
Ana is Navigate Response's network partner for The Philippines