IN the Age of Information, being informed is the challenge.
A man goes home and finds his wife bleeding from a gunshot wound in the head. He brings his wife to the hospital but she dies without regaining consciousness.
What is the story?
If the police investigate, if the evidence points to foul play in the woman’s shooting, if there is a probability of the commission of a crime THEN the police identify the suspect, arrest and file charges against this person, and prosecute the perpetrator in court.
Such a tidy, clear procedure is nowhere to be seen in the primetime TV spectacular that the Ted Failon and Trinidad Etong story has become. Failon, Mario Teodoro Failon Etong in real life, is recognized in households as an ABS-CBN news anchor.
Few news stories have mutated so rapidly. While most stories have news angles that “develop,” the Etong shooting twists and leaps, making reporting seem to be the latest pseudoscience and closest rival of crystal-gazing: from being a domestic tragedy to suicide-speculated-as-crime-of-passion, to attempted cover-up and obstruction of justice, to police conspiracy, retaliation and brutality, and, as of this writing, the War on Human Rights (with sideshows of “The Wake,” “The Love Story” and “The Public’s Exoneration of Ted”.)
Over this towering Babel of layer-upon-layer of news angles is one force: Media.
Am I blind? Many will insist that the issue has shifted from Etong’s possible suicide and Failon’s possible involvement to Police Brutality, the lawlessness of the Law.
I confess I sat through countless replaying of the TV footages catching the men in uniform inviting for questioning the members of the Failon/Etong household using strongarm tactics, as if the shocked and unresisting persons were already culprits, savage and desperate enough to try to break for it.
But would we have seen this use of excessive force by some members of the Quezon City Police District (QCPD) if there were no press cameras recording the acts, if journalists had not witnessed the harassment?
As Failon himself speculated, the QCPD’s 360-degree departure from standard procedures of investigation may be settling an old score: the Feb. 17, 2009 alleged rubout of carnappers in Quezon City by members of the QCPD, which was aired nationally by Failon’s station, ABS-CBN.
If, officially, the QCPD is now looking into possible violations of police operational procedures during the Quezon City police encounter, and if Filipinos are now denouncing the Quezon City rubout last February, as well as the harassment of the Failon/Etong members, it wasn’t because the police had an attack of conscience and suddenly took to wearing their heart on their sleeves for the human rights of suspects.
It was because the media was there. By doing their work, the media elevated what happened beyond “deniability,” placed Truth a bit within the people’s reach.
And yet I am certain that some members of the audience will, at the same time, seize on this latest demonstration of media’s omnipresence as another case of “gilding the lily.”
If you did a lot of channel-switching these past days, you may have noted two distinct reporting patterns: one station interviews authorities for information and interpretation, and another puts before the camera any person ready with a sound bite or two—the deceased woman’s girl friends, business partners, showbiz acquaintances and medical specialist—on the questions hogging everyone’s mind: the deceased woman’s suicidal intentions/goodness/innocence and her beleaguered spouse’s husbandly perfections/goodness/innocence.
As a nation of TV diehards weaned on the Network Wars, we may shrug these reporting differences as media branding again: one station shows what professionalism and technology can achieve in approximating the truth, and what journalism can’t do as it will always be outside the event, reporting and not participating; the other station has no qualms in demonstrating that a line divides news reporting and news making BUT such a division is porous to market demands.
Not that any of these moves audiences hopped up on infotainment.
William Shakespeare, who had no inkling of TV, wrote “King John” in 1595: “Therefore, to be possess'd with double pomp,/ To guard a title that was rich before,/ To gild refined gold, to paint the lily,/ To throw a perfume on the violet,/ To smooth the ice, or add another hue/ Unto the rainbow, or with taper-light/ To seek the beauteous eye of heaven to garnish,/ Is wasteful and ridiculous excess.”
And so we tune in and wait for our boon and bane, witness and joker, truth-seeker, ass.
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* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Apr. 19, 2009 “Matamata” column