Category: media

inquirer’s himala moment

… after “killing” Mary Jane Veloso in its headline and story of April 29, and its less than perfect “apology” of the 30th, the Inquirer followed up the fiasco with “A miracle happened” on the front page of its April 30 issue. In the same issue, another story quoted the Indonesian Attorney General as declaring that Mary Jane Veloso’s reprieve was “due to P-Noy plea.” Not satisfied with that, the fourth line of the same headline opined that “credit grabbing (was) in full swing,” in another swipe at those groups and individuals most media organizations habitually refer to as “militants.”

that’s from the may 11 post of melinda quintos de jesus’s center for media freedom and responsibility (CMFR), Reporting the Veloso Case: Biased, sensationalized, tasteless.

earlier, in social media, UP masscom deans, present and past (roland tolentino, nicanor tiongson, luis teodoro, georgina encanto), had released “Fact or Fiction? UP deans on Inquirer’s Mary Jane Veloso coverage,” also questioning the broadsheet’s competence and integrity, and its obvious bias against the left, including migrante and the lawyers org.

… on the front page of the April 30 issue, the PDI followed up that initial error of April 29 with an article entitled “A miracle happened,” as if human intervention had no role in keeping Veloso alive. Moreover, in the same issue, another story quotes the Indonesian Attorney General as declaring that Mary Jane Veloso’s reprieve was “due to P-Noy plea,” a diplomatic statement obviously made for the sake of courtesy and to preserve Indonesia’s good relations with the Philippines.

i would have let it all pass me by except that john nery, inquirer columnist and editor-in-chief of the broadsheet’s online operation, responded to the UP deans yesterday, may 12, basically calling out them out on their anti-administration bias.  which is par for the course.  naturally nery would rise to the challenge, defend the paper that has been home to him for the last 15 years even if only in a personal capacity, even if only to pit pro-admin opinion against anti-admin.

but nery astounds when he insists that “A miracle happened” and even cites mary jane’s mother celia as primary source sort-of.

… the four deans overreach, and betray their religious illiteracy. They seem to think that miracles happen in a vacuum, rather than precisely through human action. Of course humans intervened, starting with Indonesian President Joko Widodo’s decision to grant a temporary reprieve. That does not make the reprieve at the literal last minute any less miraculous in the eyes of many Filipinos. The deans’ criticism of the use of the word “miracle” is what is called cavilling, and (as I hope to show) cavilling of the partisan kind.

wait.   when i hear talk of miracles i think of the dead raised, water turned into wine, fish and loaves multiplied, all in a magical wave-of-a-wand kind of sequence.  are we talking the same religion here?

… The word “miracle” resonated with the public because that’s exactly how the last-minute reprieve appeared to many Filipinos: as an extraordinary fact, not easily explainable by the circumstances. Was there interpretation involved in the choice of the headline? Of course. Journalists are supposed not only to report what they see, but to interpret it—in part by offering the necessary context. I submit that “A miracle happened” offers exactly the right kind of context; in fact, Mary Jane’s own mother Celia is quoted in that story as saying, “Miracles do happen.”

well, that’s a little too convoluted for me.  but yes, i suppose, like EDSA 1986, a miracle!   but a “miracle” only in the sense of unexpected and wonderful, certainly not in the sense of unexplainable or unfathomable.  as with EDSA, and with elsa, walang himala.  it is obvious that there is a rational explanation for widodo’s change of mind, and media’s job is to work at ferreting that out instead of going for the easy way out.  a miracle, my foot.

there is no distracting from the original sin: that damning headline.  unlike many many others here at home and around the world who didn’t stop hoping for a last-minute stay of execution, inquirer had given up on mary jane by press time.  i wonder what they hoped for, whom they prayed for, in those pre-dawn hours.

PEN america & charlie hebdo

i follow two famous novelists on twitter  — joyce carol oates (them, Blonde) and salman rushdie (Satanic VersesThe Ground Beneath Her Feet) — and it’s been interesting to find them on opposite sides of the argument re whether or not charlie hebdo deserves PEN’s prestigious freedom-of-expression courage award.  rushdie was rather pompous and sexist and brooked no argument.

The award will be given. PEN is holding firm. Just 6 pussies. Six Authors in Search of a bit of Character.

oates, among the 200 or so who boycotted the gala in protest, didn’t bite, instead was self-reflexively ironic.

Exciting to witness a conflict in which each side is “holier than thou.”

and then i ran into this piece by glenn greenwald (of snowden fame) siding with the protesters, that led to another page where he posted the exchange of letters between deborah eisenberg and PEN’s executive director suzanne nossel that sparked the controversy.

sharing this, from eisenberg (Twilight of the Superheroes):

… Satire might be thought of as sort of a free zone, where potentially dangerous or destabilizing ideas can be safely sent out to play, or to perform for us, and social inequities are implicitly an element in most satire – though it is the parties thought to be holding disproportionate power or prestige who are the usual object of successful satire. It seems to me that power and prestige are elements that must be recognized in considering almost any form of discourse, including satire, and that to ignore very real inequities between the person holding the mighty pen and the subject fixed on paper by that pen, risks making empty and self-serving nonsense of the discussion. In any case, your apparent assumption that I fail to recognize the value of satire is puzzling, given that I made liberal use of it in my letter of March 26.

… It is the work available to us, not the objectives behind it, which we experience and judge. If, for example, I read a book that strikes me as worthless, my opinion of it will not go up simply because the author tells me that she had wanted it to be better than War and Peace. And further, the subjects of a satire are bound to have a different relationship to that satire than those who are only peripherally involved or who have the same set of cultural assumptions as the satire’s author. The Muslim population of France, so much of which feels despised and out of place in their own home, is very aware that the non-Muslim population of France is reading and enjoying mockery of their religion, and they are very unlikely to care what objectives Charlie Hebdo ascribes to itself, however lofty those objectives may be. A person wounded by ridicule is unlikely to much care what the ridiculer intended – to care whether the goal of the ridicule was to stimulate insight or to inflict humiliation.

But presumably the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award is being awarded to Charlie Hebdo for its actual publications, not for its stated aspirations. So those aspirations are as immaterial to PEN’s choice as they are irrelevant to the Muslim population of France. What actually matters most in this instance, in my opinion, is what people believe is being awarded: What does PEN wish to convey by presenting this prestigious award to Charlie Hebdo? And that is still not one bit clear to me.

Charlie Hebdo is undeniably courageous in that it has continued irrepressibly to ridicule Islam and its adherents, who include a conspicuously and ruthlessly dangerous faction. But ridicule of Islam and Muslims cannot in itself be considered courageous at this moment, because ridicule of Islam and Muslims is now increasingly considered acceptable in the West. However its staff and friends see it, Charlie Hebdo could well be providing many, many people with an opportunity to comfortably assume a position that they were formerly ashamed to admit. This is not a voice of dissent, this is the voice of a mob.

Here I am, piping up again, and re-stating some of the things I’ve already said. And how good it would be if you and I could sort out and settle all these issues and those that are attached to them in the exchange of a few letters! But obviously these matters are not easily sorted out, let alone settled – and they are not easily discussed, either. They do, however, call for discussion – for examination, for re-examination, for endless, painstaking vigilance and continual efforts at clear thinking.

You seek to persuade me that Charlie Hebdo was a judicious choice to receive the PEN/Toni and James C. Goodale Freedom of Expression Courage Award by telling me people are flocking to join PEN because of its support for Charlie Hebdo – but that only redoubles the anxieties I described in my first letter. I can only wonder what exactly is so alluring to these new dues-payers: are they indeed demonstrating enthusiasm for PEN’s long-standing support of free and courageous expression, or are they demonstrating enthusiasm for a license that is being offered by PEN to openly rally behind a popular prejudice that has suddenly been legitimized and made palatable by the January atrocities?

In short, it is not Charlie Hebdo I’m writing to you about, it is PEN. I would be very sorry if this essential organization were to alter radically in character, from one that supports and protects endangered voices of dissent to one that encourages voices of intolerance.

and this, from garry trudeau (Doonesbury):

… Ironically, Charlie Hebdo, which always maintained it was attacking Islamic fanatics, not the general population, has succeeded in provoking many Muslims throughout France to make common cause with its most violent outliers. This is a bitter harvest.

Traditionally, satire has comforted the afflicted while afflicting the comfortable. Satire punches up, against authority of all kinds, the little guy against the powerful. Great French satirists like Molière and Daumier always punched up, holding up the self-satisfied and hypocritical to ridicule. Ridiculing the non-privileged is almost never funny—it’s just mean.

By punching downward, by attacking a powerless, disenfranchised minority with crude, vulgar drawings closer to graffiti than cartoons, Charlie wandered into the realm of hate speech, which in France is only illegal if it directly incites violence. Well, voila—the 7 million copies that were published following the killings did exactly that, triggering violent protests across the Muslim world, including one in Niger, in which ten people died. Meanwhile, the French government kept busy rounding up and arresting over 100 Muslims who had foolishly used their freedom of speech to express their support of the attacks.

The White House took a lot of hits for not sending a high-level representative to the pro-Charlie solidarity march, but that oversight is now starting to look smart. The French tradition of free expression is too full of contradictions to fully embrace. Even Charlie Hebdo once fired a writer for not retracting an anti-Semitic column. Apparently he crossed some red line that was in place for one minority but not another.

What free speech absolutists have failed to acknowledge is that because one has the right to offend a group does not mean that one must. Or that that group gives up the right to be outraged. They’re allowed to feel pain. Freedom should always be discussed within the context of responsibility. At some point free expression absolutism becomes childish and unserious. It becomes its own kind of fanaticism.


Why I Won’t Be Attending the PEN Galapalooza

And now for Ona. . . A Manila Trial a la Nuremberg?

By G. U. Stuart, MD

I thought the controversy on the ActRx Triact anti-dengue drug was going to die a quiet death—consigned to inevitable oblivion by the strong arm of politics that threatened many close to the heart of the research, nitpicked every which way, vilified as crap, with a media ensemble so eager to chorus their tsutsuwariwaps, amens and hallelujahs for the rantings of the powers that be.

But, perhaps, the controversy is far from dead. There has been a flurry of emails from the other side of the controversy—taking Garin, Claudio, and Leachon to task.

But now, a new voice from the anti-Ona trenches—Dr. Francisco Tranquilino, a regent of the Philippine College of Physicians Board and Assistant to the dean and college secretary of the UP College of Medicine. He sings the familiar line: the ActRx Triact dengue study was “technically and ethically fatally flawed.”

Dr Tranquilino draws on the  Declaration of Helsinki-Ethical Principles for Medical Research Involving Human Subjects.  He criticizes the inclusion of children in the Triact study as a “vulnerable” group. But how can you exclude children in a drug study for a disease where the children population is most vulnerable, where the majority of deaths happen in the same population. Also, nowhere in the Helsinki Declaration is it stated that children should be excluded in all studies. In fact, article 20 states: Medical research with a vulnerable group is only justified if the research is responsive to the health needs or priorities of this group and the research cannot be carried out in a non-vulnerable group. In addition, this group should stand to benefit from the knowledge, practices or interventions that result from the research. The article, in essence, supports the study of the drug in this vulnerable group of patients.

And again, to belabor what has been said so many times, artemisinin has been extensively studied and used in  thousands of children and has proven to have an excellent safety profile.

Not done with bully pulpit pronouncements, Dr. Tranquilino draws from history and says: “Like the Nuremberg Trial, we might need out own Manila Trial” —referring to a series of trials for the prosecution of prominent members of the political, military, and economic leadership of Nazi Germany in the 1940s. Is he insinuating an analogy with the “Doctors’ Trial” brought about by Nazi human experimentations that led to the development of the Nuremberg Code of medical ethics?

A Manila Trial akin to  the Nuremberg Trial? Are the doctors being accused of crimes against humanity? Is their research work being compared to Nazi human experimentation? That is a grievous, malicious, odious and defamatory insinuation—an insult to the Philippine medical research community. It demands an apology.

It also calls upon the community of physicians—researchers and clinicians alike—to show visible and audible umbrage. Till now, there have been only emails expressing quiet dissent, decrying the dirty and brutal politics that reigned in the Ona ouster and termination of the Actrx Triact anti-dengue drug study. To continue with silence is to risk consigning future medical research to the control of politics and politicians—to its inevitable demise or awful compromise.

And to Dr. Anthony Leachon, president of the Philippine College of Physicians: Do you agree with this position and insinuation by Dr. Tranquilino? And, lastly, let me rephrase your quote : “The interest of patients should take precedence over the interest of science.” I posit: The interest of patients should take over the interest of politics.

Charlie Hebdo, proud to offend

The newspaper was born in controversy in 1970, after a publication called Hara-Kiri was banned for mocking the death of former President Charles de Gaulle. That prompted its journalists to set up a new paper, Charlie Hebdo, named for its reprint of Charlie Brown cartoons from the United States and a French shorthand for weekly publication.


Proud to Offend, Charlie Hebdo Carries Torch of Political Provocation 

The Blame for the Charlie Hebdo Murders  

Cartoon Debate: The case for mocking religion