On politics and media

Orly Mercado

Posted on March 12, 2008

One of the most uncomfortable questions to answer is from students who begin by describing you as a veteran (broadcaster) and ask you compare your past experience with what you are going through now. It becomes even more difficult when one is asked to comment on “the widespread notion today that there is more emphasis on the broadcaster rather than substance.”

Be that as it may, I believe it is a fair question. Or may I say, the premise of the student is understandable. Whether it is mass media or any other field, it is not possible to compare two eras without considering the changes the industry goes through. Let us zoom out and look at broadcasting as an industry. It is a young industry. Its programming content, to a great extent is influenced not only by public tastes, but by the technology itself. Marshall McLuhan was right on target when he said: the medium is the message.

The power of the electronic media has been its pervasiveness. Today, it is also intrusive. And with the explosion of alternative media of communication in this age of the Internet, not only is there no escape from it, there are now so many voices speaking to us all at the same time. For the broadcaster to prevail, he must be heard above the din of a cacophony of voices. In simpler times, we could afford to be more laid back. We had the audience’s full attention. I still remember the family gathering around the radio and later the TV set. Now, there are more than a hundred channels available to most viewers, the remote switch is the perfect companion for surfing. Besides, our viewers today are not just watching TV. This is the age of multi-stimulation and of course multi-tasking. It is in the context that one can understand why there is an emphasis of personalities who can not only attract attention but hold an audience. The choice between substance and form is a no brainer.

The other question asked of me is more personal. Given my past forays into politics, do I believe my being an on the air personality helped me win elections. Well, there is no doubt about it. I am one of those who won elections because I was a recognizable face. Of course, it would be nice to believe that people knew I was a student leader and an activist when I was young. Or that I had the diplomas to prove that I had what it takes to be a lawmaker. To flatter myself, I would like to believe my subsequent re-election was because of my performance as a Senator, but that may not be the whole truth.

Walter Cronkite is reported to have said: “It terrifies me that anyone should suggest that a person, just because he anchors an evening broadcast, might be qualified to run for public office. There’s no relation between those two things. It shows how skewed our values have become.” I share his view on this matter. It is important to point out that Cronkite made clear what he meant by using the phrase: “just because he anchors an evening broadcast.” Having the advantage of popularity, as a consequence of being a broadcaster is certainly not reason enough to run for public office. Aside from other obvious qualifications like education, an advocacy or embracing a cause larger than oneself is imperative. Otherwise it is could be just an ego trip.

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