Author Topic: The battle for our minds  (Read 6730 times)

Joe Carillo

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The battle for our minds
« on: October 24, 2023, 11:33:05 AM »
Once upon a time in our fledgling democracy, people who sought elective office assiduously cultivated a public life of honor, dignity, and excellence. The measures of social and political acceptance were intelligence, integrity, and achievement. The political firmament of the pre-Independence era thus brimmed with such illustrious names as Quezon, Osmeña, Recto, Tañada, Roxas, and Laurel. They became larger-than-life presences because of their personal magnetism, eloquence, and deep understanding of the imperatives of public office and governance.

But then that was the time when radio in our country was still an adolescent as a mass communication medium. That was the time when broadcast television was still an infant even in America, which simply transplanted democracy on the largely unprepared Philippine soil at the turn of the 20th century. That was the time when the print media still held sway as the public information medium. The mechanisms of the democratic electoral process could still grow without getting badly distorted by media-induced manipulation.

                                        IMAGE CREDIT: FITSMALLBUSINESS.COM

When the Filipinos discovered TV and radio broadcasting, however, a monkey wrench was thrown on the country’s electoral process. Broadcast media appearance and noise became a very effective substitute for the assiduously cultivated public life. The politics of convenience and of media-induced gloss and popularity became the norm. From then on, aspirants for elective public office no longer needed to possess the intellectual capacity and aptitude it requires. All one has to do is to get sustained exposure on broadcast media, preferably television. The manner of exposure really doesn’t matter for as long as it is sustained exposure. This simple formula had gotten performers and entertainers of all stripes elected to Congress and to provincial capitols and city halls—film actors, clowns and comedians, sit-com talents, boxers and martial artists, talk-show hosts, even plain newsreaders.

There are obviously some exceptions to the rule, but look at what Philippine democracy has produced for us—politicians without political platform or ideology, elective officials who do little on top of preparing themselves for the next elections, individuals who have no true constituency or principle to stand for and fight for. Repudiating the marketing axiom so clearly enunciated in the book Positioning by Al Ries and Jack Trout —that anyone or anything that must battle for our mind must clearly “position” or define itself in the marketplace—these people have not even taken the trouble to position themselves. Most stand for nothing. Political parties adopt them largely for convenience. And only a paltry few have shown a gift for leadership and governance, fewer still those with a clear vision of their role as public servants. Many just capitalize on their media-induced popularity to attract moneyed backers or well-financed politicians who are personally unsure of their own grip of the public mind.

The sad thing is that the Philippine mass media have actually abetted this state of affairs. They have allowed not only politicians but their very own broadcast or editorial personnel to ruthlessly exploit the power of media to advance their political interests. We thus see the embarrassing spectacle of (1) TV newscasts whose newsreaders are also the commercial endorsers of products advertised on these newscasts, (2) broadcast personalities already in high public office still shamelessly extracting media exposure for themselves by keeping their old broadcast programs, and (3) officials in high elective office callously acting as commercial product endorsers on all forms of media to perpetually keep themselves in the public eye.

When will this cult of media-abetted popularity end? I’m afraid it won’t—unless we Filipinos realize that the quality of our governance will only be as good as the quality of the people we elect to public office, and unless they recognize the harm that this reign of performers and entertainers in politics is doing to us and then act in concert to end it. Until then, to expect any great progress in this country’s governance will remain an altogether nebulous notion.

Read this essay and listen to its voice recording in The Manila Times:
The battle for our minds      

This is a condensation of the author's 820-word essay that first appeared in this column in the August 15, 2003 issue of The Manila Times.

Next: A figure of speech often used to subvert reason and logic      October 26, 2023

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« Last Edit: October 27, 2023, 11:46:17 PM by Joe Carillo »