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Author Topic: The battle for our minds  (Read 3892 times)
Joe Carillo
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« on: August 22, 2009, 12:41:15 AM »

Once upon a time in our fledgling democracy, people who sought elective office assiduously cultivated a public life of honor, dignity, and excellence. The measures of social and political acceptance were intelligence, integrity, and achievement. The political firmament of the pre-Independence era thus filled up with such illustrious names as Quezon, OsmeƱa, Recto, TaƱada, Roxas, and Laurel. They became larger-than-life presences because of their personal magnetism, eloquence, and deep understanding of the imperatives of politics and governance. But then that was the time when radio in our country was still an adolescent as a mass communication medium. That was the time when broadcast television was still an infant even in America, which had transplanted democracy on the largely unprepared Philippine soil at the turn of the 20th century. That was the time when the print media still held sway as the public information medium. The mechanisms of the democratic electoral process could still grow without getting badly distorted by media-induced manipulation.

When the Filipinos discovered TV and radio broadcasting, however, a monkey wrench was thrown on the countryā€™s electoral process. They discovered that broadcast media appearance and noise could very well substitute for the assiduously cultivated public life. They discovered the politics of convenience, the politics of media-induced gloss and popularity. From then on, no one who wanted to enter politics needed to learn the art of politics and governance. All one had to do was to expose oneself on broadcast media, preferably television. The kind of exposure really didnā€™t matterā€”decent, indecent, whateverā€”so long as it was sustained exposure. Clowning or outright buffoonery or somersaults on TV was perfect. Reading the news or prattling on TV and radio with half-baked opinions was just fine. Anchoring talk shows or quiz shows was just great. And yes, doing 30-second TV or radio endorsements for any product that needs heavy advertising was even much better! Pitch multivitamins, rum, brandy, anythingā€”and voila! one can be sure to be rated highly by the statistical pollsters and run for election. The greater the broadcast exposure, the higher the level of public office one could aspire for. So why bother learning the art of management, leadership, and governance? After all, the simple media-exposure formula had wonderfully sent entertainers of all stripes to Congress as well as to provincial capitols and city hallsā€”film actors, clowns, sit-com talents, martial-arts performers, talk-show hosts, and newsreaders. At one time, the same formula even sent one of their kind to the highest post in the gift of the land!

There may be some exceptions to the rule, but look at what Philippine democracy has produced for us: politicians without political platform or ideology, elective officials who do little on top of preparing themselves for the next elections, individuals who have no true constituency or principle to stand for and fight for. Repudiating the marketing axiom so clearly enunciated by Al Ries and Jack Trout in their book, Positioningā€”that anyone or anything that must battle for our mind must clearly ā€œpositionā€ or define itself in the marketplaceā€”these people have not even taken the trouble to position themselves. They stand for nothing. They belong to a political party largely for convenience. Only a paltry few have shown a gift for leadership and governance, fewer still those with a clear vision of their role as public servants. Many have just capitalized on their media-induced popularity to attract moneyed backers or well-financed politicians who were unsure of their grip of the public mind. Some, in fact, have evidently become touts or politicians for hire.

The sad thing is that the Philippine mass media have actually abetted this state of affairs. They have allowed not only politicians but their very own broadcast or editorial personnel to ruthlessly exploit the power of media to advance their political interests. (Of course, it is entirely possible, too, that the media owners were the ones exploiting their former wards all along for their own vested interests.) We thus see the embarrassing spectacle of  (1) TV newscasts whose newsreaders are also the commercial endorsers of products advertised on these newscasts, (2) broadcast personalities already in high public office still shamelessly extracting media exposure for themselves by keeping their old broadcast programs (as if nothing has changed in their professional lives), and (3) officials in high elective office callously acting as commercial product endorsers on all forms of media to perpetually keep themselves in the public eye.

When will this cult of media-abetted popularity end? I am afraid it will notā€”unless the Filipinos realize that the quality of their governance will only be as good as the quality of the people they put into public office, and unless they recognize the harm that this reign of entertainers in politics is doing to them and act in concert to end it. Until then, to expect any real progress in this country will remain an altogether ridiculous notion.

From the weekly column ā€œEnglish Plain and Simpleā€ by Jose A. Carillo in The Manila Times, August 15, 2003 issue Ā© 2003 by the Manila Times Publishing Corp. All rights reserved.

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hill roberts
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« Reply #1 on: October 01, 2009, 12:15:30 AM »

Hello, Joe,
You hit it on the nail---re the media...
Great article. Thank you, I'm learning everyday.
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Joe Carillo
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« Reply #2 on: October 01, 2009, 05:15:02 AM »

Thanks for the compliment, Hill! I greatly appreciate it.
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