Friday, February 6, 2015

Double-edged media on Mamasapano

By Dean Tony La Viña
Media’s coverage of the Mamasapano tragedy made many of us see in a different light the extent of the dedication and the sacrifice that our policemen go through in order to protect civilians from wanton violence and terror sown by criminals, insurgents and other lawless elements in our midst.
We all know that rank and file policemen risk their lives every day in the performance of their duty. Yet, oftentimes, we take this sacrifice and commitment for granted and with detached indifference; thanks to the stereotypical portrayal formed over the years of a potbellied thug in uniform extorting hapless civilians of their hard earned money supposedly for protection or for some imaginary offense by the latter or are themselves participating in criminal activities.
Indeed, before being exposed to the SAF 44, I did have a picture of the police as the scalawag, torturer, and someone to be scared of. Objectively, I knew it was not right to say that majority of policemen were corrupt, in the same way that it is not true that majority of public servants are dishonest. But biases are sometimes more comfortable than reality. As the news of the SAF 44 sank in, and as media transported me to their homes and families, I realize that I owe a lot to the men and women who keep this country safe. I travel a lot, including in Mindanao. I can be a victim of terrorism anytime in Cagayan de Oro or in Davao which I visited this week. That this has not happened so far is because there are people who make sacrifices like the SAF 44 so we can be safe.
Indeed, as Howie Severino pointed out in a Facebook note, the Mamasapano tragedy may yet change this negative perception of the police.  Seeing on television and the social media the young, fit and committed SAF members who took on a dangerous mission to apprehend two international terrorists which tragically resulted in the death of 44 of their members made us realize that, while there are surely bad apples within, there are many more brave and committed policemen in the ranks.  Through traditional media and social media we get to know and learn about the tragedy not as a remote and abstract occurrence but in a more personal sense. The media featured each and every victim of the encounter; their grieving families and the views and opinions of the principal actors.
As we have seen, the images portrayed and information dished out by the media outfits on events, like the Mamasapano encounter, are powerful and compelling enough to crystalize some sort of public perception, whether positive or negative, on institutions and personalities alike. The outpouring of sympathy on the victims and their families and the public outcry and revulsion over the dastardly acts of the SAF killers, even the anger shown over the President’s supposed lack of empathy for failing to attend the arrival honors for the 44 slain SAF men is a clear testimony of how media can galvanize and influence public opinion.
Clearly, mass and social media are really powerful weapons, which can make or unmake personalities and institutions. Sad to say, it can also be used or abused by some to advance a variety of selfish personal, or worse, insidious political agenda. For instance, the Mamasapano incident triggered a slew of allegations and accusations, mostly unfounded and unconfirmed; often based only on the say-so of an anonymous individual/s. Case in point, a news report that Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (OPAPP) Secretary Teresita Deles stopped the President from sending reinforcements to help government troops trapped in a firefight with members of the MILF and Bangsamoro Islamic Freedom Fighters (BIFF) in last week’s Maguindanao clash.
Other than the fact that the news report comes from alleged statements of unidentified sources it stands to reason that the OPAPP Secretary, given her role in the bureaucratic set up, is in no position to “stop” the President on anything, much less to dictate to the Commander-In-Chief some tactics on police operations. In fact, she has denied this report vigorously, and knowing Sec. Deles personally (Disclosure: she was one of two ninangs at my wedding 30 years ago), I believe this was in fact a malicious and slanderous attack not only on an individual but also with the intent to demonize the whole peace process and the Aquino administration.
Given the frivolous allegations of this kind that come thick and fast in the aftermath of the Mamasapano incident, one can only begin to entertain the thought if these are prompted by some hidden agenda like torpedoing the peace process or destabilizing the Aquino government.
Overall though, I am glad that we have a free media. We have seen how the field reporters, despite threats to their personal safety, covered the event on the ground to give us necessary information. I must mention for example my friend Froilan Gallardo of Mindanews who has so far given the best, gripping, most comprehensive, and analytical report of the events in Mamasapano. Opinion pieces by writers like Randy David, Winnie Wonsod, Fr. Joel Tabora SJ, retired Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban, Sylvia Claudio hves likewise been very helpful with their sober and constructive commentary.
Although there are yet a myriad questions left unanswered, the media reports, piece by piece, give us a more or less complete sequence of the firefight that led to the death of the SAF members, dubbed as the “44 fallen heroes.” The in-depth coverage of the Mamasapano incident also gives the widest possible audience a lot of information not only about the victims and their grieving relatives but also apprises the public of the different views and opinions of key personalities including the ordinary folks in the village of Mamasapano who witnessed the event as it first unfolded.
As a result of media, citizens have become more participative, sensitive and sympathetic. In this age of information, especially with the advent of the internet and cellphone technology, the public has been afforded a unique opportunity to get involved and participate in the events that impact their lives. It gives people the avenue to ventilate their opinions and views that keep leaders of society on their toes knowing that they will be placed under scrutiny with just a click of a finger.
So yes, I would rather have our double-edged media than to have a docile press. As for the bad ones and the bullies, lets just stand up to them as Secretary Deles and her supporters have done.

Facebook page: Dean Tony La Vina Twitter: tonylavs

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