2:40 am. Another long post.
One of the more annoying episodes of my growing up years happened at the height of the conjugal dictatorship. (No, it’s not about Voltes V. That’s another story.)
It was a week or two prior to Easter Sunday, and li’l religious me was watching a segment of Franco Zeffirelli’s Jesus of Nazareth. The younger generation would probably be more familiar with that ghastly Jesus manga so here’s a brief description of Zefirelli’s work. Produced back in 1977 by British-Italian collaboration, the movie is considered a cinematic Diatessaron or harmonized gospels narrative, and told the story of Jesus Christ from his birth to his death. The movie was quite long, with a running time of over 380 minutes, and in the year I watched it, RPN-9 cut the movie up into four parts, with each part played on a Sunday, with the final and fourth part to be broadcast on Easter Sunday. Note that this was back in the day of no cable television, and when Holy Week came around, stations signed off on Good Friday and Black Saturday. We didn’t have any newspapers on those specific days either. (I initially thought they called it Black Saturday because the TV was, well, blacked out.) The movie is considered a cinematic masterpiece and, despite my loyalty to the second commandment, I still consider it my favorite Jesus movie.
So why do I attach it to an annoying episode in my growing up years? It happened on the night the third part of the movie was supposed to be shown. I distinctly remember the narrator, who I think was Robert Powell, the same actor who portrayed the blue-eyed Jesus, saying, “And now, Jesus of Nazareth, Part 3…” I enjoyed the first two installments and had already settled down to enjoy the third. There was the introductory score, the list of actors and actresses, and the beginnings of the story for the week. Things took a wrong turn when the movie was suddenly cut off and the scene replaced with what looked to me like the local concert at the park. The image of Jesus on the screen was replaced by (horrors!) Imelda Marcos herself, for all appearances ready to croon to her crowd of admirers. With her on stage was the late Rico J. Puno and I was right when it turned out they were going to have a concert right then and there.
Needless to say, I was mad. To think that someone would preempt a religious program, during the eve of Holy Week no less, in favor of questionable singing skills! I’m talking of Imelda, not Rico. I was mad, I was frustrated, I was powerless. The words of my late grandmother, who was an avowed Marcos fangirl, didn’t help: “Huwag kang magagalit! Huhulihin ka ng mga sundalo!” (“Don’t get mad! The soldiers will arrest you!”) So I did the only thing I could think of. I switched the darn TV off.
In time I got my own DVD set of the movie and the station eventually played the whole movie so it wasn’t a total loss but the initial thrill of watching a masterpiece was gone.
That annoying episode came to mind with the latest development in the United States about how some media outlets cut off or interrupted President Donald Trump’s live speeches for “fact checking” his lies. One headline on the local front, courtesy of Philstar’s Interaksiyon asks, “Can Philippine media interrupt live speeches to fact-check?”
My answer: No, why should it?
Now, I am certainly not suggesting that what happened with President Trump is on the same level as what the FFL did. My mind just paralleled the two. Imelda’s act was preempting an already scheduled and, in my humble opinion, a much better program. Can the government do that? In certain cases, yes. Should the government do that? Not all the time. In the case of the US media outlets, they interrupted a speech by their own president. Whether he was lying was beside the point. Besides, who says he was lying? The same media outlets.
Back to Imelda: At the height of their power, the Marcoses controlled the media. Newspapers, TV, and radio broadcasts were censored to favor the administration. The government’s TV station wasn’t the only government TV station, if you know what I mean. Trump doesn’t have that luxury, although I wouldn’t be surprised if some in the media would want him taking over so that they can then legitimately blame him for it.
I certainly have no love lost for President Trump. Do I believe he was a better candidate than Hilly? Perhaps. Is he better than Mr. “Trunalimunumaprzure”? Again, perhaps. Or maybe they’re all evil anyway and it’s battle for who’s the lesser evil. I am not worried about their personalities. What I am afraid of is giving too much power to an entity and unintentionally creating a monster in efforts to combat a less dangerous monster. It’s quite easy to say that the media will do it for the purpose of “fact checking.” But what about if the media just plain doesn’t like you?
Isn’t it the job of the media is to report the news, not make it? Isn’t it their job to report the news as much humanly possible in toto, and not nit and pick in order to form a “narrative.” (I understand that there are cases wherein the media must give a report despite not having all the facts. It’s quite different when the media reports without wanting to know all the facts, or disregarding the facts altogether.) Isn’t that what happened with the pope and his so-called “endorsement” of same-sex marriage? After the release of that particular news, people were reacting to what the headlines claimed the pope said, rather than react to what the pope actually said. If it were the intent of Big Brother Media to confuse people, it definitely succeeded.
Since I’m not American and Donald Trump is not my president, allow me to provide an illustration closer to home. The few times I’ve tuned in to our own President Duterte, I get very frustrated with his ramblings and mutterings. He certainly does not act like a statesman but more like a drunken grandfather who finally has lost any sense of which way is up. (Is that what Americans feel about President Trump?) Would I favor the media to just interrupt him mid speech and present instead their own version of what’s going on? No, definitely not. Would I prefer that they go over his “speech” afterwards with a fine tooth comb and provide useful information either for or to the contrary? Yes, of course. They would then be doing their job. Would I want him censored? No. I can switch off my TV or watch something else—like the Twilight Zone—and that would be me exercising my right to not listen to someone exercising his right to free speech. But that would be just me and not some entity making the decision for me. Get the drift?
As someone else has already put it, we should be against “proactive censorship…fact checking people mid speech to the point of turning off the broadcast because the media arbiters decide that the people aren’t capable of interpreting the message of their elected national leader.”