Saturday, October 06, 2007

Mirror, mirror

THE PRICE of freedom is steep. Few can be more familiar with that burden than media workers.

Recently, two events pushed again to the forefront the conundrum faced by media: how responsible are we in using our vast resources for information and persuasion?

Last Friday, ABC Studios and producers of “Desperate Housewives” apologized for the anti-Filipino remarks made by the Teri Hatcher character in the show.

Certain demands though—such as banning the series from Philippine free and cable TV, editing the controversial scene of Hatcher to correct online viewing, and requiring a future episode to air a retraction or correction of the offending sentiments—seem melodramatic and excessive.

More encouraging is the realization that, contrary to the popular bias that the Boob Tube caters only to the shallow and the apathetic, today’s media audience can be critical, vigilant and assertive.

In particular, the Oct. 5, 2007 report of the Philippine Daily Inquirer singled out the “political muscle” of overseas Filipino workers (OFWs) in protesting derogatory articles. OFWs blogged to condemn columnist Malu Fernandez for mocking overseas Filipinos in her People Asia article. Fernandez later apologized and resigned.

Lest we get swept away in American-bashing and self-righteous finger-pointing, the “Desperate Housewives” faux pas should make us reflect on our own cultural sensitivity and awareness of and respect for diversity.

Local sitcoms also pick on minorities’ quirks and other stereotypes for a few laughs. We are quick to bristle when other nationalities stereotype Pinoys as domestic helpers or sex workers. However, we ride along when local actors exaggerate the Bisaya’s “hard” pronunciation, the Tagalog’s imperialistic posture, the Chinese-Filipino’s dishonesty, the Indian’s usury, as well as countless jokes at the expense of physical disfigurement (the short, the fat, the dark-skinned, the dwarf).

The public’s deafening silence to these local lapses should be cause for worry. Either few of us are watching these shows and patronizing local entertainment or many of us agree with the stereotypes and enjoy the minority-bashing.

Closer home, ABS-CBN’s termination of a reporter, camera man and driver involved in the airing of tampered news footage has set off reverberations. Many viewers and media colleagues are taking up the cudgels for the axed workers, arguing that the network’s punishment was “too harsh” and that another chance should be given, considering their years of service with the network, deprivation of livelihood, and consequences to their families.

A dismissed media worker truly faces extreme odds to find again employment within the same industry. “Reinvention” may force one to seek work with former competitors or rivals, go freelance, or do public relations work for clients—if the axed media worker can get such jobs.

For the reputation of members of the media is just as fragile as those of the public figures and private citizens they cover. Sometimes, one thinks that a media worker’s credibility is even more tenuous. The knowledge, skills, news instinct and reputation for credibility acquired painstakingly in the field or at the desk over the years can all be lost with one human lapse in judgment.

That is the cross of those who take on the task of holding up a mirror to society. We in the media must be able to look at our own faces without flinching, as well as accept the reality that some errors don’t go away after we run a simple erratum. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Oct. 7, 2007 issue

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