Our Kabayan problem and the nature of media

Is a former politician practicing journalism, journalism?

John Nery wrote this over at Philippine Daily Inquirer:

Noli de Castro was vice president for six years and a senator for three. Last November 8, some four months after leaving government service, he reassumed his role as principal anchor of the flagship ABS-CBN newscast, “TV Patrol.”

I have no objection to the so-called revolving door in journalism, the practice where journalists join government service for a time and then return to the profession. Done right, done with circumspection and utmost professionalism, both sides of the door can profit. I think, for example, of Salvador P. Lopez, journalist-turned-diplomat-turned-journalist. Government service benefited from his insight and erudition, his facility with words and his capacity for work. When he returned to newspapering (he wrote regularly for the Inquirer in its early years), his writing was deepened by his experience in government and diplomacy.

But De Castro, simply “Kabayan” (Countryman) to millions of Filipinos, reminds me that there are dangers to the revolving door; for one thing, it can give media’s audience an attack of vertigo.

Last week, I heard De Castro (on the dzMM simulcast of “TV Patrol”) introduce a news report by Jorge Cariño on former Gov. Jose Leviste’s evasion-of-sentence case. Cariño, a savvy reporter with good sources and an excellent manner of delivery, was reporting live from the New Bilibid Prison, after the first hearing on Leviste’s forays had been concluded. De Castro began by asking Cariño about the remarkable statements the former Batangas governor said during the hearing, and then immediately focused on Leviste’s claim about housing.

Apparently, Leviste had cast his net of blame wide, and implied that the government housing project constructed near the national prison had contributed to the current culture in the NBP, which allowed him to move in and out of prison with great ease.
But De Castro was, of course, housing czar during the last two-thirds of the Arroyo years, and his question was meant to prove that Leviste did not know what he was talking about. Perhaps Leviste really didn’t, but it struck me, while listening to De Castro, that he was using Cariño’s report to kill Leviste’s aspersions. In other words, he acted, and sounded, like a partisan.

I do not believe in journalistic objectivity; or, to be more precise, I subscribe to the view, defined by Kovach and Rosenstiel in “The Elements of Journalism,” that objectivity applies to the method that journalists use, not to the journalists themselves. (The analogy, I think first made in the 1920s, during the consequential debates between journalist Walter Lippmann and the philosopher John Dewey, was to the scientific method.) I did not therefore expect De Castro to feel unmoved by Leviste’s particular insinuation; at the same time, I did not expect him to use a news report as an opportunity to defend himself. In short, I expected him to act as a professional journalist, not as a former politician with a record to protect.

Is this an impossible ideal? I hope not, for all our sakes. Whether De Castro likes it or not, he was part of the Arroyo administration. (The ordering of events to persuade him to run for vice president in 2004 was a masterstroke of Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s, and helped her win the election.) He will find himself fielding more and more adverse news reports, either on “TV Patrol” or on his radio program. If he continues to conduct himself as an ex-politician, should he still call himself a journalist?

John Nery has a valid argument.

So when is a journalist not a journalist? When is a politician a journalist? When is a journalist a politician? When is a media practitioner not media?

We have newspapers carrying politician-columnists. Fidel Ramos for instance has written a number of times for the Manila Bulletin. Mrs. Arroyo during her term hosted a television program. We have politicians who use media to convey their message. They have twitter accounts. Senator TG Guingona is one of the more revolutionary ones with a YouTube channel.

If you think this is a Filipino “problem”, or a Filipino issue, consider that Barack Obama has written a book. He has written for the Huffington Post, and he has Youtube broadcasts. Downing Street too use YouTube.

If Social media is media, does it make these people journalists just as We the People are often called, “Citizen Journalists?”

Where then do we draw the line? Is there a line that needs to be drawn?

It doesn’t begin or end with Noli de Castro because he is hardly the only former politician who is working in media or working as a journalist. Neither will he be the last. The man too needs to make his bread and cheese, and being a “journalist” is probably the only thing he is most comfortable with. So is de Castro a journalist or commentator?

Is there a difference between an opinion maker or one who simply conveys the news?

What happens when one is partisan, by the sheer nature of being a former politician?

What then is media? What then is journalism?

Hat tip: @felicitytan for the link.

Cocoy Dayao

Cocoy is the Chief Technology Officer of Lab Rats Technica, a Digital Consulting company that specialises in DevOps, iOS, and Web Apps, E-Commerce sites, Cybersecurity and Social Media consulting. He is a technology enthusiast, political junkie and social observer who enjoys a good cup of coffee, comic books, and tweets as @cocoy on twitter.

Cocoy is also the Managing Director and Editor-in-Chief of the ProPinoy Project.

Cocoy considers himself to be Liberal.

  • manuelbuencamino

    Wasn’t Noli the housing czar when GA of Delfin Lee scammed the government of billions in fake housing loans?

    • Cocoy

      Yes, he was Housing Czar