Seares: Did 'under-reporting' of areas badly-hit by Odette cause delay of aid? Rappler headline raises 'link'; OPAV denies intent to criticize.

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"Malacañang official links Odette aid delay to under-reporting by media'" -- Rappler headline, January 7, 2022

THE Rappler headline is clear enough. A Malacañang official -- Cebu-based Presidential Assistant for the Visayas (OPAV) Michael Dino -- traces delay in the delivery of aid to typhoon victims to failure of news media to report fully the damage in badly-battered areas of the country. In effect, Dino blamed media -- partly or largely, it doesn't say -- for the late assistance.

RAPPLER STORY HEADLINE. The story, however, does not support the headline.

The Rappler news story, by Inday Espina Varona, reported about a list of the under-reported "badly-hit" places in the wake of Odette that last December 16, a Thursday night, cut a wide swath of destruction in Visayas and Mindanao. The list was posted on Secretary Dino's Facebook page, topped by a suggestive headline.

Rappler reported that it asked OPAV [a] if it had visited the areas (it talked with heads of disaster agencies in Bohol, Negros Occidental, Negros Oriental and Southern Leyte); [b] what help the office had sent to the listed provinces ("no reply"; and [c] noted that the OPAV post headline "focused on media lack of reporting. The story noted that OPAV's post relegated to the latter part the list of the victims' "immediate needs."

OPAV POST HEADLINE. The OPAV post header, in all caps, asked: "What are the badly-hit areas of Typhoon Odette that are not well-covered by the media?" That led off the list of places in Bohol, Southern Leyte, Negros Oriental, Negros Occidental and Cebu. Followed by a list of the "immediate needs" of the victims.

Apparently, to Rappler, the descriptive clause "that are not well covered by media" suggested that deficient reporting caused delay in the "hinabang" or "ayuda." There was no direct accusation against media in the post, even as there was a specific accusation against OPAV in its story headline.

THERE WAS UNDER-REPORTING. OPAV didn't specify which media failed to do its job fully. It must mean the media in Manila, the national newspapers, and the broadcast networks, those are the media outfits that more quickly reach the decision makers in Manila.

As to the regional and other community media, most of them were shut down with the cut-off of electricity and telecom facilities. Those that kept operating (including Cebu's four daily newspapers and, notably, GMA radio) were struggling with the coverage of their own area. They couldn't, even if they wanted to, cover those places. Their own respective community demanded priority and even there, their work must not have been adequate.

Odette indeed was under-covered: the media outlets left standing were hobbled by lack of, or damaged, resources. "ABS-CBN could've helped the coverage" was a common, if wishful, remark in the industry during the twin crises of pandemic and the typhoon.

WHAT'S NOT TRUE, WHAT SUCKS. The sparse resources and adverse conditions during and after the typhoon seriously handicapped the work of media. They aren't denying that. No reason for Rappler or anyone else to resent the OPAV suggestion.

What must sting though -- because it’s false and it sucks -- is the shifting of blame for aid delay to media from government. That is, if OPAV did that, but it insists it did not do so, at least not deliberately.

At most the OPAV post's headline hinted, suggested, indicated. Was it intentional? Explainer asked Girlie Enriquez Veloso, an OPAV assistant secretary, who said Tuesday, December 4, that Undersecretary Jonji Gonzales declared there was "no intent to put media in bad light," OPAV had "no intention gyud," it was "just sharing information to the public nga wala nagawas sa news." Veloso said that in her "own understanding, diri sa title nasayop." If the OPAV post header erred, people there also disagreed with the Rappler headline ("wala sila nauyon gyud sa headline," said Veloso).

GOV'T. VAST MACHINERY. Earlier, an OPAV statement said "the post was not about how the government is responding because right after the storm, all agencies have been mobilized to do assessment, response, relief, recovery, and even rehab." It said their "people have been on the ground since Day 1..."

How could delay or deficiency of media news coverage ever shut out or slow down government assistance? So goes the logic: Its vast bureaucratic machinery is supposed to be everywhere, moving even without information from the news media.

The fact is, media relies on government for news and information, more acutely during crises, when the state continues, or is supposed to continue, operating amid the most adverse conditions. Media counter-checks the government version when it can, corrects wrong information. It criticizes, pushes, prods, inspires but, surely, the State does not wait and should not wait for private media to tell it where the help is most needed.

The theory of media delaying assistance to the crisis victims because of insufficient coverage cannot stand anywhere and any government office or official pushing that is crapping, with epic and mega insult, on the public.

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DISCLOSURE: Atty. Pachico Seares is executive director of Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC). The column expresses a personal view, not CCPC's collective stand.

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