If journalists write the first draft of history, I shudder at the thought of how it would turn out if the accounts of some members of the Negros press, especially those in radio, would be the basis for it.
It is inconceivable and unbelievable in this Information Age to have broadcasters who cannot do diligent research and check or cross-check sources, especially when doing commentaries or simply presenting reports that are oftentimes based on those presented by Manila-based journalists or news organizations.
When I started out as a cub reporter for a small radio station in Bacolod City in the 1990s, I was awed by the research department of a local station affiliated with a big radio network. It had five full-time researchers with a library stocked with Time, Newsweek and other magazines and volumes of encyclopedias. The anchorpersons simply had to wait for the researches.
That research department had long been dissolved. But even without it, all that an anchorman slash commentator slash analyst (as these people would like themselves to be called) has to do now is to spend a few minutes on the Internet and surf through the smorgasbord of background and information.
The airwaves are saturated with the reports about the bravery of the soldiers, the sacrifices and the horrors that they went through in that operation in Al-Barka, Basilan. The general blustering descriptions of the Muslims are “heartless, cruel, godless and brutal” while some shrilly proclaim with certainty that the only way to attain peace in Mindanao is to “destroy the MILF” because it is the only obstacle to “peace and progress” in Mindanao.
No amount of translation, however, can accurately capture the flavor of this argument “dapat wasakon na gid ang MILF kay sila gid lang ang nagasablag sa pag-angkon sang pis (sic) kag debelopment (sic) sa Mindanao.”
Or take this example on an in-depth analysis that elevated the issue to a complex case of good manners and right conduct: “Kon pabay-an mo lang ni nga batasan sang MILF, masagsag lang ini kon indi mo sila pag-giyerahon” (if you just allow this behavior of the MILF to continue, they would continue to do so unless you declare war on them).
And how about this one?
“Ti paano na lang ang mga turista makakadto sa mga tahum nga beach kag mga tourist attractions sa Mindanao kon sige ang inaway, kon sige man pamatay sang MILF” (how can the tourists go to the beautiful beaches and other tourist attractions in Mindanao when the fighting continues and when the MILF continues to kill people), as if this is all about tourism.
Some have also interpreted the conflict to be like a boundary dispute: “Ang Al-Barka teritoryo sang Pilipinas, ti kundi may kinamatarung ang mga soldado nga magkadto didto kay indi man ina iya teritoryo sang MILF kundi teritoryo sang Pilipinas (Al-Barka is part of Philippine territory and the soldiers have the right to go there because it is not the territory of the MILF but of the Philippines).”
But the most analytical comment I have heard thus far is this one: “Angay ni sa mga Muslim pang-injectionan tambok sang baboy (The best thing to do with the Muslims is to inject them with lard).”
Everyone, it seems, wants to go to war if you listen to the commentaries. It does not help, of course, to talk about these issues in clubs and organizations because these are the type of issues that no one wants to discuss. Even self-regulatory organizations do not bother to discuss this within the context of “…doing what is what is good, proper and in accord with the highest standards of broadcast professionalism…” as set forth in the Code of broadcasters.
I have always defended broadcasters who I think have always been treated like second-class journalists. Radio remains to be the medium with the widest reach and the most influence. yet practitioners don’t have sufficient training.
And this is why radio broadcasters should always strive to present truthful, accurate and balanced reports while commentaries should be of the informed kind and not of the gunslinger type.
I am being frank, even blunt or simply being truthful about the failure of some broadcasters to provide a platform for the sane and sober discussion of issues that would allow people to come up with their own informed views about the conflict in Mindanao.
This is where the problem basically lies because in this particular issue, reports are generally not fair and do not present both sides. Even if an anchorman says that he or she does not have direct access to the MILF and cannot interview any of their officials, it is helpful to know that the MILF issues statements at http://www.luwaran.com that can be used for a more balanced presentation.
It is also crucial to inform people that there are mechanisms that could have avoided the killing of soldiers and not merely harp on the calls for an all-out war such as that made by former President Estrada whose war in Mindanao earned him macho points but brought horror and destruction to the people of Mindanao.
Who committed the mistake? While most anchormen are harping on the brutality of the murders, presenting it from the point of view of the military, there appears to be under-reporting when it comes to reports like that of Dana Batnag or Maria Ressa.
I have committed my own mistakes in understanding the conflict in Mindanao. One embarrassing example is my impression that it has not been conquered only to be told in a media forum by Tito Rolly Espina, one of the veteran journalists in the province, that it was only made up by government during the time of Marcos to mollify the Muslims.
It reminded me that journalists should strive to know more every day. Radio broadcasters must be more meticulous in studying their issues because the language barrier alone – from understanding information written in English and processing it to be reported and explained in the local dialect requires a lot of skill.
I can only hope that station owners and managers can be more conscientious in arming broadcasters with the necessary tools and skills for them to competently report and dissect issues such as this that are of great national importance.
Failing to do so would only lead to the dumbing down of an audience and justify an all-out war that will be disastrous to the people of Mindanao.
But the most tragic part is the fact that some broadcast journalists who, consciously or unconsciously, support an all-out war in Mindanao have conveniently forgotten the sufferings wrought on the civilian populace in Negros island by the Total War Policy of former President Corazon Aquino.
Thousands of civilians evacuated to Bacolod City when the military launched Oplan Thunderbolt and Oplan Rolling Thunder to clear the countryside of guerrillas of the New People’s Army.
Children got sick and died in evacuation centers. Communities were displaced and lives were destroyed.
I was just a wide-eyed elementary pupil then but some of these anchormen slash commentator slash analyst were already reporters covering these events.
To simply forget what happened in Negros and, in effect, failing to use it as a context for the declaration of total war in Mindanao is a fatal mistake for any broadcasters who think that they are political pundits.
Any self-respecting anchorman slash commentator slash analyst should ask this question: Have things changed since that war?
I have not lost my love for radio but I cling to a fragile thread of hope when it comes to the practitioners.
When the time comes when we would be asked what we have done, I can only hope that we would not – to borrow the phrase from the poet Otto Rene Castillo – be mute in our shame.