Saturday, August 18, 2007

Fellow beasties

MEDIA is a “feral beast” that “hunts in packs.”

The parting words of the British ex-prime minister Tony Blair got a boxed commentary in the June 16 issue of “The Economist.”

The weekly news magazine paid him the back-handed compliment of being an excellent communicator—“with an unerring knack for finding the right words to provoke the coverage he wanted” and “whose administration will always be synonymous with spin.”

The man who knew media too well argued that the press was fragmented by too much competition for the attention span of an audience hungry only for “scandal, gossip and disgust.”

In one of his last speeches before handing over power to Gordon Brown last June 27, Blair cited media’s blind spots: “the mingling of fact and opinion; a failure to reflect ambiguity and to provide balanced criticism; and the elevation of sensation and controversy above straight reporting.”

Such negativism, he argued, sapped the “country’s confidence and self-belief.”

The parting of ways between pillow companions is often marked by a lot of acrimony. Blair is neither the first nor will he be the last public official to be indiscreet about a relationship that once served him well when he was in power, and needed the media to stay in power.

If he chose to come clean on his way out of office, it may be that he wants to redeem his years of manipulating the public through the press. Especially as he no longer needs this press to woo public opinion or water down criticism.

That is a train of reasoning that can make any beast grin wolfishly.

Like many prominent news sources, Blair is conveniently blind to his role in media excesses. What The Economist concedes about media’s relationship with its audience—“They feed them accordingly, often ignominiously”—can very well apply for the unholy alliance between some media and some news sources.

Oversensitivity to criticism and primordial political survival are the chief reasons why these news sources select which reporter or news outlet to give their side to or to leave out in the cold. Thick-skinned journalists are understandably unmoved by an official outcry railing against “news distortion” and “lack of balance” because they suspect the undiluted crocodile tears being shed for the people’s right to know may just be politicalese for “your criticism is hurting us” or “just slant it to our side.”

Blair’s metaphor of the press as a “feral beast” also leaves out, conveniently for him and other spin masters, their attempts to turn or domesticate this wild thing. What you can’t silence, you can corrupt. What you can’t buy, you can feed pap or scraps or dancing footage.

If one pauses to read, listen or view carefully the media, one only has to be alert to the publicity-seeking posturing, lack of transparency in public deals, self-interested crusades, and telltale inaction and silence on crucial public concerns to be wary about the wild packs circling the public and just bidding its time.

And, yes, the media might be running with the pack. But it never hunts alone. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Aug. 5 issue

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