News and elitism

12:00:00 AM

I think I know why I didn't grow as tall as my father would have liked. When I was younger, my mother would always let me stay up to watch The World Tonight (TWT), ABS-CBN's late evening news broadcast anchored by Angelo Castro, Jr. and Tina Monson-Palma. It usually ends close to 11pm, after which I'll go to sleep.

I miss seeing this on television
(image from the internet)
The program was in English, and it was delivered without the unnecessary drama. It wasn't packaged like reality television programs, the way most news programs are today. Watching TWT made me aware albeit a little weird - I was the only kid in class who knew who Benazir Bhutto was, and none of my classmates cared about the conversion rate of the US Dollar against the Philippine peso.
(photo from the internet)
Facts were presented in a simple, straightforward manner. The questions asked were the ones that really mattered. The reports did not focus on the latest in show business. The news intended to inform, not to entertain. It aimed to give viewers information that was important, which would then equip them to make decisions that could shape society.

There were biases, even then. I don't think there's a way to be 100% unbiased, especially with the time constraints. But the biases are more blatant now than ever. News departments have become profit centers, and I think that's where the conflict arises - what is the cost of protecting public interest?

Even as a kid I understood the value of a well-informed society, and it was for that reason I took up Communication to become a journalist. But before I graduated from college, my idealism was knocked out of me by my experience as an intern for the news department of a local network.

The news is not what it once was, and I didn't want anything to do with it anymore. I stopped watching the news, and after graduation I looked for opportunities outside broadcast media. And whenever I do get to watch news (usually by accident), I am assured that I made the right decision to walk away.
Quality television from Aaron Sorkin
(image from the internet)
My best friend Joandrea told me to watch The Newsroom. It's an original series created by Aaron Sorkin (the mind behind The West Wing) and produced by HBO. The show is genius, and I was hooked from the first episode all the way to the conclusion of season one. (I particularly love Charles Skinner!)
Winning cast
(photo from the internet)
Watching it made me long for The World Tonight, for the time when the news made sense, for the era when the news gave people what they need to make informed decisions. Sadly, such is no longer the case, and we shouldn't be surprised at the kinds of people that get elected into office.

I'm not blaming the news media for this. Well, not entirely. But since they are no longer the solution, they have become part of the problem. They have the power to make things better, but they  choose not to because in recent years, profit has become the priority. At the end of the day, it is a ratings game, and this is why the news had to be dumbed down.

The show reflects my elitism. I used to hate that word, moreso being labeled such, but my college professor, Dr. Benilda Santos, assured me that elitism is not a bad thing. It shouldn't be confused with the Filipino word matapobre, which describes a person looking down on society from a superior position.

Elitism is the belief that a select group's opinions matter more than that of the rest by virtue of better education, more access or connections, or maybe even privilege. Society is led by a small number of people considered the elite, and they have the responsibility to lead the masses to the right direction.
The fictional elite
(image from the internet)
It is the recognition of this responsibility that differentiates elitism from simply being matapobre. This is the premise of the show; Will McAvoy (the anchor and managing editor) and Mackenzie McHale (the executive producer) are aware of their position as the media elite, and they are also very much aware the responsibility that comes with the territory.

They call it elitism, but I have another word for it: idealism. Reality can drill that out of you if you let it (like I did, sadly). Life is hard, so it's very easy to fall into the trap. But there are those who, despite what they are dealt, choose to be idealists, to still believe in the good. A chosen few out there believe that people will make the right choice if they are given the right information.

Our news media has made the choice to keep people dumb (and therefore impoverished) to protect, and ensure, profits. The few who are aware have the responsibility to open the eyes of those around them. It's a difficult thing to accomplish without the media's reach, but it can be done. Yes, that's what an idealist would say, and I hope to become one again.

Disclaimer: I'm not saying all news programs have taken a dive for the dumber in order to win ratings, and I'm not saying there's absolutely no good material on Philippine news because there still is (although most of the time, such material is given little airtime after showbiz news). I'm just saying they could do better, and they should. It's for the greater good. 


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