Saturday, February 23, 2008

Damaged Institutions--and a Weakened Press?

Randy David writes an insightful piece on the current national crisis. The issue is not just about the rampant corruption in the government, he writes, but the long-term damage to the country's institutions--especially under Gloria Macapagal Arroyo's watch.

"Bonfire of institutions"
Randy David
Philippine Daily Inquirer

Because it is easier to imagine it, corruption has taken center stage in the public’s appreciation of the current national crisis. Against the backdrop of mass poverty, the quantities are truly mind-boggling: $130 million in kickbacks for a government project worth $329 million, a bribe offer of P200 million for a single signature, cash gifts of half a million pesos each for politicians who attend a breakfast or lunch meeting with a President facing impeachment, half a million pesos in pocket money for a government functionary who flies to Hong Kong in order to evade a Senate inquiry, and many more. But it would be a mistake to think this is just about corruption. This is, more importantly, about the long-term damage to a nation’s social institutions.

Read more here.

Speaking of David, he also offered his views why despite the fact that there were so many scandals hounding this administration last year, there were too few investigative reports from the press. This dearth of investigative reports amid a barrage of political scandals last year was the main story in the January 2008 issue of the PJR Reports.

Despite another year of scandals
A Lean Harvest of Investigative Reports

by Hector Bryant L. Macale, Don Gil K. Carreon, Junnette B. Galagala, Melanie Y. Pinlac and Kathryn Roja G. Raymundo
Source: PJR Reports

The central role of a free press in any society hardly needs elaboration. A free press provides the sovereign citizens of a democratic society the information they need to make decisions on public issues, to demand transparency and honesty in governance, and to hold their elected officials to account. In democratizing societies, the information a free press provides is often the crucial factor that makes the transition possible. Authoritarian regimes fear a free press for these same reasons. But by providing citizens information vital to their concerns, a free press can also hasten the fall of dictatorships and the dawn of democratic governance.

Recent events in the Philippines have again and again validated the vital role a free press plays in public affairs, and demonstrated as well the need for press freedom in any society. During the Marcos dictatorship the emergence of a press that dared challenge the martial law version of events was a major factor in the EDSA 1 citizens’ uprising that overthrew the regime. The critical and free press played a pivotal part during the Estrada presidency, when investigative reporting on the anomalies involving former President Joseph Estrada helped make his impeachment in 2000 possible. Estrada’s successor, Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, has also had to contend with press reporting and criticism of corruption and bad government. She faced the possibility of being removed from office, and in fact entertained the idea of resigning, in the wake of the public outrage that followed the critical reports of 2005 and early 2006 on the “Hello, Garci” election scandal.

Since Arroyo’s infamous “I won’t run in 2004” pledge that she made in 2002, her reneging on that pledge in 2003, the fraud-ridden 2004 elections, Arroyo’s “lapse in judgment” apology in June 2005 over her calls to former Comelec Commissioner Virgilio Garcillano while the votes were being counted, and the first failed impeachment attempt against her in August that same year, the country has been reeling from one scandal to another. The year 2007 indeed proved to be another showcase of controversies and scandals, with most of them implicating Arroyo and other high government officials in various acts of wrongdoing.

The press was not remiss in covering the details of these scandals and controversies as it went about its daily task of reporting on governance and politics and other public issues. Through in-depth and background reports, as well as editorials and other opinion pieces, the press also provided background information and analyses in furtherance of helping the public arrive at informed opinions.

But a more careful look at the coverage of last year’s political issues and controversies reveals a lean harvest of the kind of investigative reports that were so crucial in shaping public opinion and even moving citizens to action during the Estrada impeachment crisis and the “Hello, Garci” scandal of 2005 and 2006.

Read more here.

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