Elections, the media and pop culture

Sat, 03/10/2007 - 00:00
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reprinted from "How to Win An Election: Lessons from the Experts", ASG-CSP and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung

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Elections, the media and pop culture

The mass media's manner of coverage has contributed greatly to the image of the election campaign as a “cockfight, horse race, (or) boxing match.” Coverage focuses on the personality traits of the candidates, their sensational statements against each other, their perceived standings, and the trends in the race or match based on the opinions of pundits and formal and informal surveys. . Insufficient attention is given to the platforms of the candidates and their specific positions on social issues such as population management, economic policy, insurgency, the environment, decentralization and local autonomy.

The primary reason for the inadequate media coverage is the commercialization of the media which makes it imperative for newspapers and broadcast stations alike to make a profit or to rate well. This has resulted in a strong tendency to pander to the taste of the public for controversy, scandal, entertainment and sensational news. Media coverage has also been less than sophisticated because reporters are inadequately trained, they are less competent or diligent, and they receive insufficient guidance and logistical support from their editors and employers.

The media have become truly influential in our age of communication and information globalization. Media ownership like that of the Lopez clan and media projection and manipulation – whether by celebrities who run for public officer or by politicians who try to acquire some of the glamor and glitter of show business – are mans by which some rent-seeking families and political dynasties preserve and expand their power. For example, the late Renato Cayetano won a Senate seat in 1998 owing to the popularity of his radio and television shows where he gave free legal assistance to ordinary citizens. His daughter Pia replaced him on the shows and was elected to the Senate in 2004, while his son Alan Peter is completing his third term as Representative of Taguig-Pateros.

For the urban poor, according to the PIC study, the media constitute their primary source of external influence on their choice of candidates, while the Church and the family are secondary and tertiary sources, respectively. For the rural poor, however, the family and the political party are considered more influential than either the media or the Church. More importantly, both urban and rural poor are aware that the media provide inadequate information on the accomplishments and plans of candidates. Thus, it is a grave mistake to presume that the vote of the poor is the vote of the uninformed or monkeys of the media. Member of the elite who have such presumption need to enter the cultural world of the poor and immerse in their sea of treats and troubles.

Understanding Popular Culture

An election is not only regarded as a legitimate way to choose a political leader but is also enjoyed as a spectator sport or a game of chance. The popularity of the game of chance as an activity and symbol is linked to the folk belief that life itself is an adventure or a risky undertaking: Ang buhay ay isang pagkikipagsapalaran. Thus, for many of those who want to become overseas Filipino workers, the desire for adventure comes as a close second to the desire for economic improvement. They might have grown tired, too of the age-old adventure of life on these islands with its generous share of sunshine, rain, typhoons, volcanoes, earthquake faults, floods, flawed laws, and flawed officials. There are few places on earth where all these can happen in a year: the sun dries the rice, lava snaps trees, ash falls and pours, storms level homes, waves and floods drown, and laws catch fish and flies but no crocodiles.

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