Friday, May 16, 2008

Debunking the myth about Obama's 'soft' media coverage

Finally found time to blog. That is, a 15-minute break from transcribing interviews.

Recent news about Barack Obama's victory over Hillary Clinton as the Democratic Party's nominee in the upcoming U.S. elections made me remind an interesting piece I found online about media's insistence to call Obama as the "black candidate". Do you agree with what the writer, James Burnett, said?

Barack Obama is white!
James Burnett
The Miami Herald
May 14, 2008

Getting ready for work this morning I channel surfed between CNN, Headline News, MSNBC, and FNC, and I heard no fewer than six talking heads refer to Obama as "African American" AKA black, and potentially "the first African American" president. To be fair, I've sipped that Kool-Aid once or twice and not thinking before I spoke or wrote, referred to Obama as a black candidate.

It is short-sighted and disingenuous for my elevated peers to keep referring to Obama as black or African American. He is biracial.

And while his skin color...and Clinton's gender, and McCain's age shouldn't matter in terms of their qualifications, how we address those characteristics should matter to you.

Read more here.

Speaking of the media coverage of Obama, here is a study on the media coverage of the top candidates conducted by the respected Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University. Among other findings, the study belied the notion that Obama enjoyed the most positive media coverage, or that the media were "soft" on him than Clinton during the primaries. Compared to Obama, Clinton also received similar amount of positive coverage. Both also had similar amounts of negative coverage in the press.

Character and the Primaries of 2008
Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University
May 29, 2008

If campaigns for president are in part a battle for control of the master narrative about character, Democrat Barack Obama has not enjoyed a better ride in the press than rival Hillary Clinton, according to a new study of primary coverage by the Pew Research Center’s Project for Excellence in Journalism and the Joan Shorenstein Center on Press, Politics and Public Policy at Harvard University.

From January 1, just before the Iowa caucuses, through March 9, following the Texas and Ohio contests, the height of the primary season, the dominant personal narratives in the media about Obama and Clinton were almost identical in tone, and were both twice as positive as negative, according to the study, which examined the coverage of the candidates’ character, history, leadership and appeal—apart from the electoral results and the tactics of their campaigns.

The trajectory of the coverage, however, began to turn against Obama, and did so well before questions surfaced about his pastor Jeremiah Wright. Shortly after Clinton criticized the media for being soft on Obama during a debate, the narrative about him began to turn more skeptical—and indeed became more negative than the coverage of Clinton herself. What’s more, an additional analysis of more general campaign topics suggests the Obama narrative became even more negative later in March, April and May.

On the Republican side, John McCain, the candidate who quickly clinched his party’s nomination, has had a harder time controlling his message in the press. Fully 57% of the narratives studied about him were critical in nature, though a look back through 2007 reveals the storyline about the Republican nominee has steadily improved with time.

Other findings of the study included:
  • The year 2008 started off extremely well for Obama. Positive assertions commanded 77% of the narrative studied about him from January 1 -13. By March 9, the figure had dropped to 53%. During this time statements concerning his inexperience and youth more than doubled in prevalence.
  • The idea of Clinton as prepared to lead on Day One built steadily over time, reaching more than half of the assertions studied by mid-February. Despite this, over time likely Democratic voters came to think of Obama, more so than Clinton, as best prepared to lead the country—a sign that perhaps they forgive his inexperience in favor of change.
  • The dominant theme about McCain, that he may not be a true conservative, was established early in the coverage––evident in the first months of 2007—and has resonated as a concern even among those in his own party. As late as April 2008, more than a month after McCain has secured the party’s nomination, likely Republican voters were split in our surveys over whether he really is a true conservative.
  • The most common sources for these narratives were the campaign themselves—both the positive impressions candidates wanted to project about themselves and the negative images they wanted to suggest about their rivals. Fully 39% of the assertions studied came from the campaigns, notably higher than the 30% found in a similar study four years earlier, demonstrating the degree to which candidates directly influenced the coverage. Journalists were not far behind as a source of these master narratives (36%), though the results differed somewhat by candidate.
  • While differences by media were minimal, some did stand out. Network morning news is notable for the degree to which it offered an exceptionally positive personal impression of Hillary Clinton. Fully 84% of the assertions studied in those programs projected positive master narratives of the former first lady, some 20 percentage points more positive than about Obama. And on cable news, the three rival channels differed markedly from each other in their treatment of the candidates.
  • Looking beyond the master narratives about the candidates personally, coverage overall in 2008 has so far focused largely on the horse race. Fully 78% of the stories studied between January 1 and the first week of May have focused on political matters, such as who won the latest primary. By contrast, policy stories made up 7% of the stories, personal matters 7%, and the candidates’ public record, 2%. And few major storylines stand out.
Click here to read this well-researched study.

A CNN analysis on why Clinton's bid failed also reflected the notion that the media were favorably covering Obama compared with the coverage of the former First Lady.

Analysis: Why Clinton's bid failed
By Rebecca Sinderbrand
CNN Associate Political Editor
June 6, 2008

As media coverage of Clinton's candidacy shifted to reflect the new realities of the race, her campaign started to develop a hostility that permeated the entire organization and proved a distraction from far more daunting challenges.

At the top, former President Clinton publicly and privately railed against what he called "the most biased coverage in history," and both Clintons complained of what they believed to be a pervasive sexism dominating the campaign narrative.

On campaign conference calls, a new press skepticism to ever-evolving standards of electoral success was often met with outright antagonism from Clinton staffers.

Read more here.

Monday, May 12, 2008

The "engaged independence" of the press amid political crises

One thing that is certainly not lacking in this sorry land of ours are the political scandals--often, if not all, involve the putative president and her family. From the Hello, Garci scandal to the more recent ones such as the NBN-ZTE deal, Spratlys controversy, and rice crisis, it seems political turmoil in the Philippines has never stopped, and in fact exacerbated, since President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo came to power.

Given the continuing political crisis, should the press remain "disinterested" and "disengaged" in its coverage? Should journalists continue to cover issues the way they have always been?

The political context pushes us in the press for a reexamination and reaffirmation of the crucial role of journalism in our society, as well as the professional values we hold dearly. And at the same time, the reexamination and reaffirmation should include an understanding of the political situation we are in, and more importantly, the policies--stated or otherwise--of the current administration.

Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), and Luis Teodoro, PJR Reports editor, discuss the media coverage of political crises in the April edition of the PJR Reports. Both their views were presented at an earlier CMFR forum about the issue.

What is Journalism For?
by Melinda Quintos de Jesus
PJR Reports

April 2008

A crisis of leadership

The political crisis in the Philippines is a crisis of leadership, provoked initially by the initial controversy over the president’s interference to manipulate election results in 2004.

The crisis has been heightened by serial charges of corruption with a resulting loss of public trust and confidence in her leadership and her capacity to put public interest as the central value of her government. While these have all failed, the number of impeachment complaints (13) and attempts (three) filed in Congress— a strong indication of the depth of the crisis—are unprecedented in Philippine history.

But as has been pointed out by many critics of President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo, it is not only the public officials currently in power who are failing. The entire political system, culture, and conduct of the ruling class are all in need of reform. Because weaknesses seem embedded in the system, the public seems at a loss about how best to resolve the crisis.

The public has not been able to unite on a strategy. The continuing challenge to the president has weakened the authority of government and the state, along with its agencies and instrumentalities. The profound polarization has eroded public support for government itself as leaders resort to a tactical approach to insure the president’s political survival.

The press community itself is divided. News reports and commentary reflect the opposing views of the factions among political groups and organizations, as well as those of civil society.

Read more here.

A Two-Way Street
by Luis V. Teodoro
PJR Reports
April 2008

Political crises take many forms. In this country—and for the generations represented here today—these forms have ranged from such critical events as the bombing of a political rally and the subsequent suspension of the privilege of the writ of habeas corpus, the declaration of martial rule, the killing of the late Senator Benigno Aquino Jr., military-civilian mutinies that have unseated presidents, several coup attempts, and a declaration of a state of emergency which itself became an emergency for many groups and individuals as well as for the Bill of Rights.

Lately the crisis has taken the form of a confrontation between, on the one hand, a president more than a majority of the populace believes was not legitimately elected, and, on the other, a broad spectrum of forces that wants her government to at least account for, or to at most resign over, the vast network of corruption that has metastasized in it. Late last year, however, the country was also treated to a crisis which was erroneously reported as a coup attempt, the main component of which seemed to be a press conference in which the same putative president was asked to resign.

We have thus witnessed one political crisis after another, each of varying intensity, but each one being, by common consent, a turning point in the way the country is being governed. And that’s what a political crisis is—a moment in the life of a country in which issues of power and governance come to the surface to shatter the illusion of stability that every government this country has ever had since 1946 has taken pains to cultivate.

Read more here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

On press and blogging

Finally found the time to blog. Recent weeks proved too busy and tiring for me to write anything here, and I don't see any free time these coming days as well. I found myself muttering "Oh God, please help me" too many times already these past few weeks. And I'm pretty sure once June and July come in, my blogging activity will be reduced even further. Sigh sigh sigh.

Since I really don't have the time in the world to post all the things that come to mind, I will be sparing you my take on a recent discussion in the blogosphere about journalism and blogging. In case you do not know, some bloggers negatively reacted to an article quoting Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) deputy director and PJR Reports editor Luis Teodoro on his views about journalism and (or is it versus?) blogging. Some of these views here, here, and here. Manolo Quezon also posted his take here.

Aside from the lack of time, I really don't want to say something because some might accuse me of being biased for Prof. Teodoro or that he told me to post about it. (I work with CMFR and write for PJR Reports for close to seven years now. Aside from the fact that Prof. Teodoro is my boss, he is also my former teacher and dean during college.) Besides, he already said his piece on the issue.

But let me just share Anthony Ian Cruz's insightful post on the issue. A long-time blogger, Tonyo currently works as a reporter for the Manila bureau of Asahi Shimbun, Japan’s second biggest daily newspaper.

Blogging and Journalism
May 6, 2008

A debate rages in the blogosphere about journalism and blogging, with partisans lobbing virtual grenades at Prof. Luis Teodoro.

Dean Jorge Bocobo leads the assault, taking pains showing the entire world the meaning of name-calling. Geez, methinks Philippine commentary (online or offline) would be better off without name-calling. For so what if Teodoro is/was a leftist? Does that disqualify him from expressing himself? Should we only have centrist or right-wing public intellectuals and pundits? Should we just jail or assassinate leftists or suspected leftists? I suppose the left has a place in the blogosphere. I am sure Mr. Bocobo will latch on this side-issue till the Second Coming, but I leave the blogosphere to judge name-calling, whether it is intelligent and whether name-calling is relevant in discussions such as this.

Good thing, Teodoro is a journalist and was part of the anti-Marcos resistance so we could safely assume that he knows how to take blows, be it as petty as name-calling.

Anyway, I just wish to focus on Mr. Bocobo’s main point in his tirade against Teodoro: Mr. Bocobo’s pride was hurt.

I never felt slighted by Teodoro’s remarks. I assumed those statements were made in completely good faith. Why? Because Teodoro seemed to have a clear objective: to ventilate the need for ethical standards that govern most professions and most areas of human activity. Whether journalists or, in the case of the Cebu perfume canister scandal, doctors fall short of their avowed ethical codes, we must gnash our teeth and demand accountability and urge conformity with the said rules.

Read more here.

Discussions on blogging and journalism, name-calling and labels excluded, were particularly interesting. The issue made me remember a recent global study made on the role of the press in an increasingly online world.

Newspapers likely to be free in the future: survey
By Kate Holton
May 6, 2008
Source: Yahoo News

LONDON (Reuters) - Newspapers seeking to compete with the Internet are likely to become free and place greater emphasis on comment and opinion in the future, a survey of the world's editors showed on Tuesday.

The report, conducted by Zogby International for the World Editors Forum and Reuters, revealed that newspaper editors were still optimistic about the future of their publications but believed they would have to adapt further for the digital age.

Some 86 percent of respondents believed newsrooms should become more integrated with digital services as two in three believe the most common form of news consumption will be via electronic media such as online or mobiles within a decade.

"For these editors the future is self-evident and our survey shows that they see the writing on the newsroom wall," said pollster John Zogby.

Read more here. The study is the 2008 edition of the Newsroom Barometer, an annual survey of editors around the world conducted by Zogby International and commissioned by the World Editors Forum and Reuters. For the main findings of the study, click here.

Saturday, May 03, 2008

The fight for press freedom continues

Today marks World Press Freedom Day. Ironically, global press freedom continues to decline, according to international press freedom groups.

According to the US-based Freedom House:

"Global press freedom underwent a clear decline in 2007, with journalists struggling to work in increasingly hostile environments in almost every region in the world, according to a new survey released today by Freedom House. The decline in press freedom—which occurred in authoritarian countries and established democracies alike—continues a six-year negative trend."

Read more here.

There is no shortage of shortage of press freedom predators around the world, according to Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.

For the past seven years Reporters Without Borders has exposed the world's "predators of press freedom" - men and women who directly attack journalists or order others to. Most are top-level politicians (including presidents, prime ministers and kings) but they also include militia chiefs, leaders of armed groups and drug-traffickers. They usually answer to no-one for their serious attacks on freedom of expression. Failure to punish them is one of the greatest threats to the media today.

There are 39 "predators of press freedom" this year. Five have disappeared from the previous list. Fidel Castro is one of them, as the "lider maximo" has definitively transferred power to his brother Raúl. Pakistan's President Pervez Musharraf lost February's parliamentary elections and, in the process, his ability to harm press freedom. In Ethiopia, the situation seems to have stabilised and imprisoned journalists have been released, so Prime Minister Meles Zenawi has been taken off the list. The same goes for Swaziland's King Mswati III, who has not committed any serious press freedom violation for several years. Finally, Young Patriots leader Charles Blé Goudé in Côte d'Ivoire has stopped calling for violence against foreign journalists or opposition journalists.

But 10 new predators have entered the list. In the Palestinian Territories, the armed wing of Hamas in Gaza and the Palestinian Authority's security forces in the West Bank were guilty of serious press freedom violations. Each faction systematically hounded journalists suspecting of siding with the other camp.

Read more here.

The Philippines remains one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, despite a few positive steps taken--which are eager to claim by the government--to address media murders. The culture of impunity still reigns in the country, and not just for journalists but for many others as well such as political dissenters, activists, social and human rights advocates, lawyers, development workers.

Here's Joel Simon and Sheila Coronel of the Committee to Protect Journalists on how the problem of impunity in the Philippines has had an effect on journalism and coverage of critical issues of human rights and corruption:

The (Marlene) Esperat case has been justly hailed a milestone in the fight against impunity. What is shocking, however, is that such convictions are so rare. There are 24 other murders carried out since 2000 in the Philippines in which no one has been brought to justice.

This dubious record helped earn the Philippines a top ranking in the Impunity Index devised by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) as a measure for assessing the safety and protection of journalists worldwide.... In fact, the only countries in the world that have a worse record of bringing journalists to justice have endured years of violent conflict – Iraq, Sierra Leone, Somalia, Sri Lanka and Colombia.

This nearly perfect record of impunity in the Philippines has had a devastating impact on the free flow of information and has inhibited coverage of human rights and corruption issues in the communities affected by violence."

Read more here. For more information about the CPJ and Freedom Fund for Filipino Journalists campaign, click here. For CPJ's Impunity Index, click here.

Local press groups, among them the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, held activities today to observe the May 3 event. There was a wreath-laying ceremony earlier at the National Shrine of Marcelo H. del Pilar, a beloved hero of the Philippine revolution and editor of La Solidaridad. The event was followed by a jamming session of members of media tonight at Freedom Bar.

Eternal vigilance to fight for press freedom, therefore, is certainly needed. Expect the struggle to be a long and arduous one because of--and especially under--a government that has shown no qualms in being brazen in committing wrongdoing, discarding laws, throwing delicadeza out of the window, repressing the media and destroying democratic institutions just to cling to power.
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