When TV journalists carry their press freedom too far

Published by rudy Date posted on May 14, 2011

I KNOW only too well that freedom of speech is a hallmark of a robust democracy, and we are most fortunate that our country’s mass media currently enjoy this freedom to a remarkably high degree. I must say, however, that some of our national TV networks have lately been carrying this freedom of expression too far. A case in point is their recent unbridled use of the online social media facilities of Facebook and Twitter to stream in raw, uninter-mediated opinions onscreen during TV programs or interviews on controversial topics.

Of course there’s value and virtue in getting a quick reading of the public pulse on matters of great importance, but I think it’s clear that whether expressed in English or whatever language, many of the opinions drawn in by those TV programs under these circumstances are highly unsuitable for broadcast. Some of them are grossly uninformed, misleading, irresponsible, systematically manipulative, or downright wacky—and they are oftentimes expressed in uncivil, grammatically fractured, and convoluted language as well. This was particularly true in the case of some vitriolic and inflammatory tweets for and against the Reproductive Health Bill shown in recent televised debates or guest shows. There’s no doubt in my mind that because of the very hostile and uncivil character of many such postings or tweets, by no means could they ever be an accurate and reliable measure of public opinion. (I remember that in the early days of TV broadcasting, a sharp mind in the US media—if I remember right, he was Walter Lippmann—sagely observed that one of the serious drawbacks of broadcast TV is its power to widely disseminate and in the process inadvertently validate uninformed opinion.)

So, in the same way that the print media are able to routinely edit the opinions they print on their pages, couldn’t the TV programs at least find some way of intermediating all that instant Facebook and Twitter feedback to ensure that only clear, sensible, and responsible ones—no matter how contrarian or strongly worded—are streamed onscreen? I think it would greatly raise the quality of public discourse if the broadcast media can do this.

The other matter I’d like to take up here is the lack of basic courtesy and decorum among some TV investigative journalists when they do face-to-face or telephone interviews in the course of their TV programs. These investigative journalists, live and onscreen, have this tendency to needle and browbeat their respondents to admit culpability in a supposed crime or misdeed that they (the investigative journalists) are working to establish within the short time frame of the TV program itself.

But really now, even if guilty or rotten to the core, who in his right mind would admit culpability on TV for all the world to see and hear? And isn’t it axiomatic that in our democratic society, the accused is entitled to due process and is presumed innocent until proven guilty? I’m afraid that these niceties are lost to some of these investigative journalists. In one such TV program I watched recently, in fact, the investigative journalist acted and used language that made it unmistakable that he thought himself the arresting police officer, prosecutor, legal counsel, judge, and executioner all rolled into one.

TV broadcasting being strongly imbued with public interest, I think the national TV networks should reconsider their live streaming of raw, unmitigated feedback from the social media, and their TV news reporters and talk-show hosts should closely watch their behavior and language on camera and not allow their personal biases and political leanings to get the better of them.

They should keep themselves objective, fair, and civil when exercising their press freedom. This way, they can maintain not only their own credibility and integrity as sources of information but also the viability of the mass media as a democratic institution. –JOSE A. CARILLO, Manila Times

Visit Jose Carillo’s English Forum at http://josecarilloforum.com


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