Sat. May 28th, 2022

THERE was a time when politics was performed from a distance by elected representatives who descended on the people only during elections. It did not help that these elected representatives came from the political elites whose lives were rarely born from the belly of the ordinary experiences of people.

Thus, politicians wanted to present themselves as genuine natives to their bailiwicks in order to highlight their affinity and authenticity even if contrived.

As dynasties extended their political rule, later generations who are more detached work harder to learn the language and practices of the older generations as they campaign by singing and dancing on stage to humor an electorate with whom they want to connect.

This has become the trademark of elite politics. The more detached the politician during ordinary times, the more they would like to appear genuine and close to their constituents during election campaigns.

These were the times when political narratives were delivered not in real time but by word of mouth, through the radio, and in informal gatherings in stores or in other ordinary places while people perform their daily chores or engage in leisure.

These were the times when name recall carried a lot of weight, when people voted for a surname and not a record, and when political endorsements from local opinion leaders bore a lot of power and influence.

Developments in mass media technology have radically altered the way politics is performed. The arrival of television (TV) displaced radio and print media as the main source of political information for people.

A Pulse Asia survey conducted last September revealed that 91 percent of Filipinos now rely on TV as their main source of news, with radio coming in a far second with 49 percent. The same pattern for TV was revealed by a DigiVoice survey around the same time, with 92.1 percent, while a much higher 70 percent relied on radio.

Television, because of its visual element, has increased the performativity of politics, and has effectively translated the political stage in traditional campaigning into a canned political advertisement that can be broadcast repeatedly and with a wider reach. The image of a singing and dancing politician has now been nationalized, thereby driving further the transformation of politics into a spectacle.

But nothing could match the disruption and radical transformation which the internet, particularly social media, has brought to the way politics is performed.

The internet has thrown wide open access to the production, reproduction and transformation of political discourse. The internet has not only increased accessibility but also heightened the intimacy and immediacy of the encounter of people with political actors.

Whereas before the production and dissemination of political discourse were curated and managed by media professionals and companies, the internet has not only delivered politics to the physical living spaces of people, but intimately and virtually into the palm of their hands.

The most radical transformation, however, is that citizens are now no longer just passive recipients of content and audience to political performance. They have become virtual producers and distributors of content, as they now actively post their comments, share these, and even produce their own material.

Senate approves bill requiring SIM card registration with provision to ‘unmask trolls’

This is a radical democratization of the political discourse that is full of promise, yet also puts democracy at risk, as the freedom to post and share has also become effective channels for manufactured fakery and disinformation.

One can take comfort in the thought that while 86.7 percent of Filipinos use the internet as a source of news and information based on the DigiVoice survey, only 10.5 percent said that they use the internet as a source of information for politics and about politicians.

The Pulse Asia survey resulted in a lower number of 48 percent which relied on the internet as their source of news. The same survey also revealed that only 17 percent among people of common interests and 22 percent of close friends use instant messaging applications to discuss politics and the elections.

It is comforting that only a small fraction of the electorate exists in their social media-enabled political bubbles and echo chambers, and are vulnerable to the production and circulation of internet-mediated fakery.

However, what is not comforting, and where data may be wanting, is the effect of these internet-mediated spaces in the way traditional journalism on TV, radio and print is practiced.

With mass media companies now having their own online presence, and broadcasters having their own social media accounts, the spillover effect of online and digitized modes of information is a very real possibility.

Thus, the quality of broadcast and print journalism that is now practiced may have already been transformed with their acquisition of the social media ethos of being driven by the digital equivalent of ratings and sales, now seen in online subscriptions and engagements measured through number of likes and shares.

Digitized media, and its influence on media practice even within TV, radio and print, have only enhanced the tendency of politics to become what Jean Baudrillard referred to as simulacra, where there is no more distinction between what is real and what is staged.

Politics has become like a theme park where one interacts with fantasy characters as real-life encounters, or as a reality TV show where you watch real people as if they are acting their lives. This is what we have now, as we watch politicians perform scripted moves that appear real.

We would be well advised to be aware of how they could be playing us. What can save us from being taken as fools is to assert that in this new scheme of things, we are no longer the passive audience that we used to be.

We can upend their scripts and tank their agenda by simply refusing to be played. We have to tell them that we can read them, and they have to pick a number if they want to fool us.

WATCH: Identifying “Fake” News | Common Sense Education

Partisan journalism

There is a reason I don’t call myself a journalist.

Journalism is defined as the act of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information. Not all types of communication are news, and therefore fall under journalism. While the universe of mass media includes entertainment, opinion, assertion, propaganda and advertising, it is technically incorrect to claim that every mass media practitioner is a journalist.

I am a media practitioner, but I am hardly a journalist.

One of the tragic consequences of a digitized media is the increasingly porous boundaries that divide news and journalism from other types of media practice. What used to be hard boundaries between news and information on one side and opinion and propaganda on the other have now practically disappeared.

And this is particularly evident in broadcast media, where we have news anchors and reporters who now also host their own opinion talk shows. Worse is radio, where we have the blatant breaching of the divide between news and commentary, when those who anchor, read and deliver the news are also acting as commentators.

Worst is in internet-based media, where we have organizations like Rappler that come out with articles which acquire the characteristics of both news and commentary.

Every journalism student is being told that these two should not be mixed, and that every news article should as much as possible contain both sides, or that if this is not possible, that the other side should be given equal space and attention in succeeding articles. This kind of neutrality and balance is important to fulfill the ethical standards of proper journalism.

But Rappler, and even other news organizations like ABS-CBN, Inquirer, GMA-7 and others, which unlike Rappler have both print or broadcast and online news platforms, seem to acquire a social media mentality in their online presence.

This mentality is manifested in the ease by which news, now expressed almost in real time as Facebook posts or tweets, succumb to the urge of news platforms to attract likes and shares, instead of simply informing. Click-baiting becomes normalized, even as grammatical lapses and factual inaccuracies become more prevalent.

Furthermore, because individual journalists have their own social media accounts in Facebook and Twitter, they are now freer to become journalists and commentators rolled into one, with them tweeting or posting what appears as news reports in their individual accounts, and then later express their own views and opinions using the same accounts. Thus, we see the spectacle of people who are supposed to be bearers of news and information that are free of bias, now also making their own personal commentaries.

This leads us to a situation that is practically an affront to the ethos of classical journalism, when we have journalists who are supposed to be bearers of objective facts now making political statements, from what they say in their posts to the color and symbols they bear, that are sympathetic or hostile to particular political personalities.

Journalism expects that people should not patronize fake news. Journalists should not be persecuted and harassed by people in power. We have to safeguard freedom of the press and should condemn the abuse of power to inflict vengeance on critical journalism.

However, and having said these, we cannot also let partisanship in media off the hook. It is particularly in this season of political division when objective and unbiased journalism is urgently needed.

It is hard enough to ask for sympathy for Maria Ressa, or for ABS-CBN from people who perceive them as being unfair to their preferred political personalities.

It is even harder to urge them not to fall for fake news when bearers of news are themselves engaged in partisan, and therefore biased, journalism.

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