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The New Media: Distorting Politics

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The New Media: Distorting Politics

Carreon, Elimar Andree L.
Valmores, Michael Aldrin S.
Hidalgo, Jebb B.

Saint Louis College

Mr. Al Gerald S. Barde
English IV
IV – St. Alphonsus of Ligouri
October 21, 2011

The New Media: Distorting Politics The crucial function of mass media in influencing public’s knowledge and understanding on global and national issues is indisputable. In the Philippines, media plays a critical and widespread role in daily life (Suguitan, 2007). Suguitan proclaims that it is an understatement to say that the media is merely influential, for it is powerful enough to make or break persons and institutions, and even shape society (2007). Performing as the main source of information, media serves as the medium in which the government informs, explains, and tries to win the support of the people for its programs and policies (Soifer, Hoffman and Voss, 2001). In this jurisdiction, the media is often called the fourth branch of the government for it monitors political matters to ensure political players don’t abuse democratic processes (University of San Francisco, n.d.).
According to Political scientist Harold Lasswell, a pioneer in media studies, the media must perform three societal functions: surveillance of the world to report ongoing reports, interpretation of the meaning of events, and socialization of individuals into their cultural settings. Surveillance involves two major tasks. When it constitutes to the need of general public, it is referred to as “public surveillance”, but it is called “private surveillance” when it involves only particular citizens. Public surveillance is politically significant since it awakens public concerns and initiates action in the society (Graber, 2010). Meanwhile, Mcluhan, another pioneering media scholar, states that the media also serves as “sense extensions” for those who cannot directly witness most of the events happening around them.
The second function of the major mass media that Lasswell mentions is interpretation. The media does not only survey events and report them to the public. They also interpret the events, put them into text, and consider possibilities on the consequences (Graber, 2010). The last function of the media according to Lasswell is socialization. Socialization involves learning of orientation and basic values that prepare individuals to fit into their present setting or environment (Graber, 2010). However, although Lasswell has presented three societal functions the mass media has to realize, Graber strongly believes that to these three, a fourth function must be added: deliberate manipulation of politics (2010).
In terms of politics, the major mass media comprise a wide scope on how it can vastly be of influence and effect. Graber implies “the public believes that the media have an important impact on the conduct of politics and on public thinking” (2010, p. 11). The Mass Media, through its news, reportings, and analyses, affects the people’s learning on politics and their own political views (Soifer, Hoffman and Voss, 2001). Past researches confirm the impacts of media on factual learning, opinion formation, and on citizens’ political activities. On the other hand, Graber says that aside from these scholarly findings, even if media stories lacked impact, they would still be influential because of the pervasive belief that the media are powerful and that it deserves consideration especially in politics. In total, media coverage has a great impact on political developments and on the public’s perception of politics (Graber, 2010). As political journalist Theodore White put it, the power of the media sets political agenda and that this power is unrestrained by any law. White also states that the media determines what people will talk and think. Graber on the other hand firmly believes that the mass media are an important influence on politics because they regularly and rapidly present political information to large audiences. These audiences consist of political elites as well as a large number of average citizens whose political activities are shaped by the media (Graber, 1989).
University of San Francisco’s page on how media shape public opinion reports that “News reporting is supposed to be objective, but journalists are people, with feelings, opinions and preconceived ideas”. In conclusion, although the media serves as the main source of information for the people, the media should have more clearly defined restrictions as to what it can write and report to the people as doing such contributes to political stability. This restriction is termed as censorship. While it is true that censoring the media takes away press freedom, doing such will filter out unnecessary and misleading information which would later lead to political stability; however, censorship must not be wrongly used to cover up corruption and abuse of power in the government. The function of censorship in attaining political stability will be further discussed in this paper.
According to Censorship in America in their online accounts, censorship is a regulation of speech and other forms of communication which may be considered offensive, harmful, sensitive, or inappropriate to the general public as determined by the government, media, or other controlling body. Simply, it is controlling information circulating in the society. Global Internet Liberty Campaign (GILC) organization mentions that not all types of censorship are done equally, nor do all of these come from the government alone or other external bodies. Most individuals self-censor all the time. This can also be considered as a form of censorship.
Depending on the type of information one wishes to censor, objectives may vary significantly. According to the same report from Censorship in America, there are five types of censorship namely: moral, military, religious, corporate, and political. Moral censorship can be defined as the elimination of materials that are morally questionable or of those which demoralize any group of people. Meanwhile, Censorship in America claims that military censorship is the process of keeping military tactics and intelligence away from the enemy. Religious censorship occurs when a material objectionable to a certain faith is removed, while corporate censorship happens when editors in corporate media outlets interfere with the publishing for the sake of its name and other business partners. Lastly, political censorship takes place when the government tries to distort or conceal information that its citizens receive (Censorship in America, n.d.).
Distribution of information in the media is rapid, and therefore may have extensive effects (Ambekar, 2008). There are various reasons that would prove the need for censorship. Ambekar states that it is sometimes crucial to censor materials especially when it pertains to religion or religious beliefs, for when disregarded, it may cause explosive results (2008). National security is also another reason that would prove the need for media censorship (Ambekar, 2008). Especially during military operations, discretion in the media is demanded by the government to ensure national security and successful warfare.
Given the present newsgathering methods especially in the field of investigative journalism, broadcasting of information may contain traces of slander and libel (Suguitan, 2007). Moreover, intrusion to privacy can also be attributed to the contemporary norms in newsgathering. Slander, libel, and intrusion to privacy justify the necessity for censorship to a certain extent.
Information is made to let people know what’s happening on the world around them. They should be informed so that they know how to decide. This is why television and radio or even the internet is made, so that people will be informed with the information from the news. The role of media is there, to provide information to people not only on their own country but also news coming from countries all over the world.
Although the role of media is to provide information, it may cause negative publicity which in time offends people. Publicity often starts with the media, but this information will then spread through interpersonal communication, and recent research has examined how word-of-mouth (WOM) influences product success (Chevalier and Mayzlin 2006; Godes and Mayzlin 2004; 2007; Mayzlin 2002). Negative publicity offends people because it is sometimes used to attack their character which may cause conflicts among people. An example of this was during the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the media played a role in fueling the conflict that led to the death of 800,000 people. In December 2005, the world also saw the role of media in the hostilities between some members of the local Anglo-Australian community and Middle Eastern people at Cronulla Beach in Sydney, Australia (Luci, 2010)
According to Mucunguzi’s statement from a news article “stories on peace don’t sell but war stories sell most” (Role of media in fuelling or de-escalating conflicts cited 2010). Mucunguzi also added that young journalists must be careful on writing about hate campaign speeches for they might be used by some people whose motive is to advance their personal or political interests that would further contribute to the conflict (2010).
News gathering and production can be erroneous, even when media institutions are believed to abide with careful and strict rules (Graber, 1989(
With this being said, the way the media presents its news reports is also affected by the way people would like them to be.
The media industry has a “misleading ethical code” and tendency to be dishonest (Davis, 2008).
Davis (2008) stated the following:
The problem with misleading and dishonest reporting isn’t that it is unethical; it’s just that it is meaningless. Misleading others is generally self-defeating because you will surely get caught. Professional communicators should be much more authentic and honest. There is a problem that if everyone else is lying and only one person tells the truth, the person who is telling the truth won’t get believed – sometimes it seems like we need to lie to keep up. The mass media are more than passive provider for available information. By putting stories into their perspective, media personnel assign meaning to the information and indicate the values which need to be judged (Graber, 1989). According to Graber, the style of most news stories reflects three major objectives. The first is to produce exciting stories that will appeal to media audiences. Second, reporters hope to gain appreciation from the journalism profession, and lastly, many reporters want to trigger political action or be part of it (1989). Given that the media often plays its part in politics, it may provide, however, misleading information which may trigger either action from the government or action from the people. Journalists may write stories about public policies in hopes of producing a massive public reaction that will lead to widespread demands for political remedies (Graber, 1989). As such, some news stories often fuel rebellion against. The people will become a part of a change in the government; however, the problem exists when news articles published would arouse public demand for reorganization in the government (Graber, 1989). It is true that the media is there to provide information to people; however, the responsibility on the consequences is also present.
Defamation suits in the Philippines can lead to imprisonment, as well as instigate a serious threat to media professionals through the tremendous damages it can set off (Teodoro & Widiastuti, 2005).
Suguitan (2007) reports the following on defamation:
Defamation is made up of the twin torts of libel and slander. In general, the two can be distinguished in that the former is written, and the latter is oral. Defamation is an invasion of the interest in reputation and good name. The defamatory meaning conveyed is the touchstone of a successful defamation suit, and can always be negated by good faith, truth, or the fact that ordinary use or the words as a whole warrant an innocent interpretation under the circumstances. Libel is defined as a public and malicious imputation of a crime, or of a vice or defect, real or imaginary, or any act, omission, condition, status, or circumstance tending to cause the dishonor, discredit, or contempt of a natural or juridical person, or to blacken the memory of one who is dead. The actual malice standard as adopted in this jurisdiction pertains to false defamatory statements made about a public officer or public figures. The persons responsible for communicating the statement (including the writers, publishers, and broadcasters) can be held liable only if there exists clear and convincing evidence that they acted with knowledge of the statement’s falsity or with reckless disregard of whether the statement was false or not.
According to a news report from International Freedom of Expression Exchange’s (IFEX) website, libel charges were filed against five journalists on October 3, 2005 for publishing stories indicating a municipal mayor as the mastermind of a 94 million pesos Bank robbery in Bogo, Cebu province, south of Manila.
Seares, one of the defendants, said in a statement that the story concerned a public official’s conduct and is a matter of public interest.
Martinez on the other hand, the complainant, said that the articles written were without basis and unjustified. Moreover, he added that the journalists published the reports to please the owners of the paper who are relatives of his political enemies.
Defamation suits are often brought by powerful public individuals to suppress criticisms directed against them (Teodoro & Widiastuti, 2005). This in return undermines the media’s function in public surveillance.
Section 4 of Article III of the Philippine constitution reads as follows:
No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances.
The Constitution of the Philippines, however, does not absolutely provide for restrictions to the right to freedom of expression. The only restriction to the rights to expression and information and press freedom is contained in the provision on the right to privacy.
Article III, Sections 3 of the Constitution states:
(1) The privacy of communication and correspondence shall be inviolable except upon lawful order of the court, or when public safety or order requires otherwise as prescribed by law.
(2) Any evidence obtained in violation of this or the preceding section shall be inadmissible for any purpose in any proceeding.
Like the right to freedom of expression, the right to privacy is protected under all major international human rights instruments (Teodoro & Widiastuti, 2005).
In conclusion, press freedom is not absolute since it has been imposed in the constitution that intrusion to privacy is a limitation to right of expression and information.
Performing as the fourth branch of the Government, the mass media plays an important and vital role in our country. Its power which includes the freedom of speech as well as its duty to respond and supply the public’s right to information is protected by the constitution. Media personnel cannot underestimate individuals’ rights just for the sake of getting their news stories published in the name of public interest. “There is no public interest to be served in publishing false and unfair stories” (Suguitan, 2007 p. 28). Although the public has the right to know, this argument cannot be illogically used to the disadvantage of a person’s right to privacy.
“With freedom comes responsibility” (Suguitan, 2007 p. 28). The mass media cannot write and report everything, for each news article they write corresponds to a consequence. These consequences are not just for the media to decide, but also for the people, the Government, and the nation itself.

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