Media Nation seeks out those ‘left hanging in the air’

Media Nation seeks out those ‘left hanging in the air’

/ 06:18 AM December 09, 2023

Media Nation seeks out those ‘left hanging in the air’

LISTENING SESSION The Media Nation 19 session saw a candid exchange about the press
coverage of urban poor communities, especially in relation to the bloody war on drugs during the
Duterte administration. Among the facilitators of the Oct. 27 program are Bart Guingona (upper
photo, fifth from left) of the Pagbabago@Pilipinas movement and John Nery (extreme right),
former Inquirer editor and columnist. —RUSSEL LORETO

Through the double doors on the fourth floor of the Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros, the chatter can be heard building up to the day’s forum. Amid the journalists in attendance were four leaders of groups representing Metro Manila’s poorest communities. They initially looked quiet, even timid, but their faces say one thing—they want to be heard.

The Oct. 27 “listening session” organized by Media Nation can be considered a rarity of sorts, a chance for the urban poor to talk about their plight—as the subject of news. Though they have developed some resentment and distrust of the media, they still see it as a platform and an institution on which they can stand to shed light on what’s happening in their communities and move government agencies into action.


“The majority of people, not only in the Philippines but around the world, have problems distinguishing now between what is real and what is not real. And so, Media Nation 19 (forum) is really a venue for our media partners to listen to the audience and to understand how that the audience is picking up news, processing news, using it,” Vince Lazatin, one of the conveners, told the Inquirer.


(The names of the urban poor community leaders are being withheld in this report in observance of the Chatham House rule adopted by the forum, where recorded statements or information may be shared externally but without identifying their sources.)

From the exchanges, it immediately emerged that most of the urban poor consume news and information from social media on their phones, mostly through Facebook. None of the representatives considered newspapers, television or radio as their primary options. But when asked if they valued information differently if it came from a news organization or a vlogger, no one gave a straight answer.

Instead, they said they looked at the number of social media followers or “likes” that a media personality or organization has. One of them remarked that “[this journalist] only has 4,500 Facebook friends, Vera Files has 84,000 likes on Facebook but let’s compare this to Banat By (a known pro-Duterte vlogger) who has 650,000 subscribers on YouTube.”

They preferred vloggers for being more entertaining and relatable. “We have other issues that we face, like putting food on the table … [so] how can we care when we are hungry,” one said.

SLUMS AS ‘WAR’ ZONE A police officer covers the body ofa man shot dead in an antidrug operation at Barangay 650 in Manila’s Port Area, one of the thousands killed in the drug war waged by the Duterte administration.

SLUMS AS ‘WAR’ ZONE A police officer covers the body of a man shot dead in an antidrug operation at Barangay 650 in Manila’s Port Area, one of the thousands killed in the drug war
waged by the Duterte administration. —INQUIRER FILE PHOTO

‘Blotter’ reporting

They also tend to distrust or be ambivalent toward the media because they felt underrepresented in the news, especially during the early months of Rodrigo Duterte’s presidency and its brutal war on drugs that was mostly carried out in the slums.

Yes, there were news reports of “Oplan Tokhang” and almost daily killings based on police report—or so-called “blotter” stories, in local media parlance—but they thought journalists in general at the time were still too afraid themselves to cover the drug war more extensively.


Those spot reports were not enough, they recalled, especially when the people directly affected—and who usually live not far from the police station concerned—were not interviewed for their side of the story.

One of the urban poor representatives also pointed out that the use of “nanlaban” (fighting back or resisting) as justification for using deadly force by the police should’ve been questioned much earlier by journalists, especially when police reports cited this excuse over and over for the killing of alleged drug suspects.

Citing an example of underreporting, one of the urban poor leaders said “about a hundred people died” in her community alone but this appalling scale was hardly captured in the media at the time.

It came to a point where she was so scared that she persuaded her own nephew to surrender and pleaded with the police to just detain him instead of killing him. And yet, a few months later, her nephew was gunned down in a police “encounter.”

That’s just one of the many missed stories.

Come-and-go coverage

Under the Marcos administration, the urban poor representatives feel like they remain invisible and unheard as the media tend to focus on big-picture economic issues like the Maharlika fund and international concerns like the West Philippine Sea.

They admitted still feeling intimidated or embarrassed whenever reporters or entire news crews show up chasing a story in their area, then pack up and leave once they got what they wanted—even though the locals wish they could stay longer or perhaps come back to delve into their other longtime problems.

It thus came as no surprise that they gravitated toward vloggers instead, also because of their accessibility and ubiquity online. The result was the buildup of resentment and distrust toward mainstream media, creating separate realities.

The good news is that the same urban poor representatives at the forum reported about their own initiatives to filter and disseminate information only from credible sources and trusted news organizations.

For now, such efforts are reaching tightly knit and organized circles—still far from the critical mass needed to really push back against the tide of disinformation.


“We want to build a partnership with the media, not the kind where you just leave us hanging in the air,” one of them said, summing up their sentiments.

During the second-half of the session, with the urban poor leaders no longer in the room, the journalists tried to make sense of what had been shared; a kind of soul-searching, so to speak, ensued.

“What has happened is that the people (in power) who are not in favor of traditional media, who want to destroy it, their goal is to confuse. To muddy the waters so that the [public’s trust] in the traditional mainstream media starts to wane,” said Lazatin.

“Now, [the public] will believe almost anyone depending on who comes up on their (social media) feed—we heard that—or who has the most followers, who has the most eyeballs of followers or has the most interesting [and] entertaining way of telling a story. And because of all of this, the public credibility of traditional media has declined. And now it’s just a cesspool of information,” he added.

For fellow Media Nation convener Bart Guingona, no thanks to big tech companies, mainstream journalism has been put to a disadvantage by what he called the “3 A’s” of digital media—accessibility, attention and algorithm.

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Organized by the Pagbabago@Pilipinas movement, Media Nation is an annual gathering of journalists that started in 2004, with the Inquirer among its earliest supporters. For its 19th edition, more listening sessions are scheduled in the coming months to hear from various sectors about their views on Philippine journalism.

TAGS: forum, Media

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