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May 06

Digital Murder and a lack of heirs

In disini, Atty. Disini writes of an intriguing case of potential “digital murder”:
Thirtysomething blogs about the alleged hacking incident involving Level Up’s 2005 Ragnarok Philippine Championships.  Some guild masters believe that someone within Level Up Games hacked into their accounts and deleted their characters.  I’m not too familiar with the details but if what they say is true, then the crime of hacking has been committed.  What’s interesting for me is that this seems to be a case of digital murder because characters were irretrievably deleted.  In the end, however, the “murdered” victim was virtual — composed of so many 1 and 0’s.  So, the law treats it the same way as any other piece of electronic data without regard for its underlying value or other extraneous factors.

Disini also links to Media, which hsd, indeed, as Disini says, an interesting article on media bias. The note in the end is particularly interesting:

Anti-bias crusading as an elitist practice
Accuracy in Media claims the the news media are biased toward liberal politics. Fairness & Accuracy in Media
claims the the news media are biased toward conservative politics. Supporters of these views see one group as right and the other as wrong. But the reality is not that simple. Yes, AIM and FAIR each point out coverage that appears to bolster their various claims. At times, the media do seem to be biased one way or the other. What these groups don’t say, however, is that their mistrust of the media is also a mistrust of the people. Those who complain most about media bias would see themselves as able to identify it and resist it. They get upset about it because they question whether the average American is able to do the same. If the average American can identify it and resist it, then there is little need to get
upset about bias. The AIM and FAIR web sites are full of material to help hapless Americans avoid the cognitive ravages of the “evil” conservatives or the “slandering” liberals and their media lackeys. I believe the average American is quite capable of identifying problems with news coverage. In my opinion, crusading against political bias in the news media is an elitist practice.

Now in the Philippine context, I think the same applies as well. Philippine media and journalism hark back to the level of development (or, depending on your point of view, underdevelopment) of American media in the early to mid 20th Century, when media moguls ran their businesses like unenlightened despots. At the height of the newspapers’ influence in the country, that is, when newspapers were still a genuine mass media (today I think they’re not: too few people read and too few can afford papers to qualify the papers as mass media), people still often subscribed to more than one paper, while the papers that did lead the market, such as the pre-martial law Manila Times were known for the greater self-control of their owners than the others. The papers known for more blatantly espousing a party line never had large circulations.

Trust in the reader or the viewer is an iffy thing, in that I do think the market helps correct abuses, by the audience voting with its feet or pocketbooks; on the other hand, there is an ever-widening gulf between segments of the viewing and reading public. By this I mean that the tendency of the papers and other media to pander to sensationalism and show businesses (an inherent danger in the profession), becomes less and less subject to correction because the traditional guardians of some sort of ethical behavior, the middle class, is dwindling and its clout, as a result, evaporating. Hence the increased frustration of vocal middle class values exponents, who find themselves drowning in an ocean of indifference -they can’t dictate the market, because their influence is dwindling.

Meanwhile, in Philstar.com – The Filipino Global Community, Teddy Benigno writes off the younger generation:

But there is another media issue that rankles and disturbs me no end. The old journalists have died, even their immediate successors after World War II. The remaining ones like Amando Doronila, Max Soliven and myself are the vanishing breed, the last of the Mohicans. As in TV, so in print and radio, no promising youngsters have emerged. Women communications graduates, it seems, have almost all flocked to TV, the glamour medium where money is made more easily.

TV programs are mostly entertainment fare. Information is given short shrift. And most talk show programs are ignorant, insipid and imbecilic, the hosts’ delivery the continuing whine of a toadstool, and if they roar at all, it is an elephant’s trumpet call during the mating season. I can’t mention names. They will be my enemies for life. Oh yes, there are one or two or three who are promising, but in the arid desert that is local TV, they will never fulfill that promise.

Red-hot issues with deep intellectual roots are not taken up at all. Gossip is the favorite fare, one-liners, a verbal slash or two, flicks of the camera where certified idiocy of face after face is beheld with wondrous awe.

Not having built up and trained the forward reserves for the next decade or two, Philippine media will just have to hack it like a pugilistic journeyman up against a bouncing ball that refuses to be snared. Just thinking about it gives me the shivers. In the past, we were never at a loss for good journalists.

Teddyman of course ignores the reality faced by all people working in traditional newspapers: the disappearance of readers. Young people are reading papers less and less; if they want news, there’s tv, or the online media, which of course derives much of its content from the newspapers, but which are putting together more modern ways to source information and present it. For example, Inq7.net derives content from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, but also has its own stable of reporters who, it must be said, are less susceptible to editorializing because of the need to provide news quickly and simply. Of course the process is only as good as the professionalism or ethical dedication of those supervising this transition; I can say with a great deal of assurance that the editor-in-chief of Inq7.net (who happens to be one of my best friends), tries to be responsive to the changing expectations of readers. For example, Inq7.net fully disclosed its ownership structure here in INQ7.net, Inquirer, GMA Network ownership disclosed – INQ7.net which is unprecedented. Most media outfits’ ownership is known through the rumormill, but open disclosure isn’t normally practiced. And yet, despite the murky nature of things, I suspect most readers and viewers know when to take reports with a grain of salt and when not to.

9 comments

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  1. Carla

    Yeah, newspapers and newspaper-readers are a dwindling lot. This is true not just in the Philippines but also here in the UK and I would say even in the US. All the major ‘quality’ papers here have declining circulations. Many, including the Guardian, have begun resorting to promotional gimmicks such as giving away free DVDs with weekend editions.

    TV is just a more engaging medium, I think: it combines text, images, sound. Unfortunately, it is not such an effective medium for sustained and profound political discourse because 1) of the way it is as a medium and 2) in countries like the Philippines, there is no concept of public service broadcasting, apart from Channel 4 as the ruling government’s mouthpiece. As long as commercial imperatives drive TV programming, we’ll never get enough substantive public affairs programs because those won’t bring in ratings and advertising. We modeled our media too much after the US and so tabloid news and trashy DEBATE-type shows are what we get. The BBC and other European public broadcasting models are still the ones to beat when it comes to providing socially relevant and educational media fare. Then again, those are financed through TV license fees and kept politically neutral by elaborate regulatory systems. Not very easy to devise in a context like the Philippines.

    As for media bias, there are communication scholars (Katherine Jamieson and W. Lance Benett) who think that media do not favor the liberal nor the conservative cause. The bias is towards simple narrative frames.

  2. mlq3

    There’s actually work afoot to establish a Public Broadcasting System, since the government media assets are just used for propaganda and corruption. How to ensure a Philippine PBS or BBC type setup will be insulated from political interference? That’s the problem.

  3. Carla

    How is the proposed PBS thingy going to be financed? And what is the proferred regulatory set-up? I’m curious, as well as skeptical, because of our history with Channel 4 and the Philippine Information Agency.

    I wonder how a prospective Philippine PBS will ‘compete’ with private networks in terms of hooking an audience. The commercial system is so entrenched, so saturated with infotainment, that a public network –if it wants to gain a following and credibility– can’t be all staid, nation-building programming. The BBC was expressly founded in 1926 to foster social cohesion Britain. Until the early 1990’s there were no other channels to watch! There are several generations of Britons who have grown up with “Auntie”. Many are refusing to pay the license fee today and show increasinbly tepid responses towards certain BBC formats, but I doubt if Brits would ever let go of the BBC. Pinoys, on the other hand, are accustomed to Eat Bulaga and TV Patrol.

    Sigh. So many problems.

    As for political interference, we can only hope to minimize it with regulatory controls and professionalization. Even the BBC is not completely immune from it. Its Charter is reviewed periodically by Parliament, license fees are also set by Parliament. I saw BBC officials looking humble at Westminster in early March during Charter review. The future of the BBC was so threatened by the Gilligan-Kelly affair and many say it has made BBC News much more cautious–maybe too cautious– in airing reports critical of the Government.

  4. mlq3

    Many things are up in the air. What’s happened is that Unesco came up with a grant for an NGO to do a feasibility study. The study involves figuring out how the proposed Philippine PBS should be funded, its programming, etc. I’ve been asked to sit in one of the subcommittees, and in fact there’s a mtg. this afternoon but I won’t be able to attend.

    There is a kind of revolt taking place against the networks, because of middle class frustration with the quality of programming. Nothing concrete, but even advertisers are worried. What’s interesting is that in the PBS sessions I’ve attended, advertisers are represented, and I think they’re trying to nudge the group into bearing in mind that programs have to be attractive to be watched.

    Your comments on the BBC are particularly interesting to me, since the BBC is the model I’m pushing, and others are proposing paying for the PBS by instituting a license fee for TV’s (and possibly DVD players). The government, for once, is actually interested in a PBS set up, so there’s official support for turning idle or underused government assets into the nucleus of a PBS. I can send you the position papers if you like.

  5. Carla

    Yup, please send me the papers, thanks. I am also in favor of a BBC-type set-up, although I expect it will be such a monumental effort to emulate it. No harm in trying, I guess.

    The presence of advertisers in the PBS consultation process worries me. The core idea of PSB (public service broadcasting) is to insulate programming from commercial pressures so that it can devote itself to content that educates and raises civic consciousness. In 1926, the BBC had no problems with that because they were a monopoly: they could produce the most boring stuff and people watched because there was nothing else on. Nowadays, they, too, have to compete for audience share with other networks (ITV) and cable because they need to arm MPs with political justification for the license fees (People still watch our shows! Make them pay!). So in the Philippine context, that kind of competition for audience share CAN motivate a PBS to come up with enticing, as well as edifying, content. Advertising is not a necessary element.

    I see the long hand of hardcore free-marketeers here: advertising and competition for ratings will force networks to produce the best shows. A survey of Philippine and US shows will disprove that.

    License fees. Hmmm. Two problems: 1) There could be a nationwide uprising once the proposal to ‘tax’ television is floated. What?! Pay to watch Kris Aquino?! And so forth. 2) How to monitor TV ownership and how to collect. Here they have vans that pick up TV signals but an increasing number of people just refuse to let inspectors into their homes or refuse to pay. Some say inspection has not been as rigorous, although I can’t believe that myself since an inspector DID bang on my door last year. Thankfully, we did have a license because my law-abiding British flatmates insisted on buying one (license is £120/year, fine is £1,000). To me and the 2 other foreigners here, it was such an alien concept, paying to watch TV.

    I can trade you papers on the BBC for the position papers. There’s an interesting biography of John Reith, first BBC governor, just out. Can’t send you that but you might want to get a copy.

  6. mlq3

    Sent you the docs, Carla. Will be interesting to read what you have. Am not keen on the idea of competing versus networks, either, but as it is, the idea is just getting off the ground, so who knows what will happen -maybe nothing!

  7. JV Rufino

    The ownership structure can be found here:

    http://news.inq7.net/top/index.php?index=1&story_id=28529

  8. mlq3

    Got it, fixed the link. Thank you.

  9. tin

    1.)How does advertising influence media content?
    2.)How does the violence against journalists affect the journalist’s duty to the public?
    3.)Asses the overall state of press freedom in the country. Does it still exist or ther are contstraints against it? what are they?

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