MANILA—Filipino media critic Vergel Santos described as “inspiring” the decision of major US media networks to cut away from the live broadcast of President Donald Trump’s news conference as he made baseless claims of vote fraud.
The networks immediately conducted a fact-check and disputed Trump’s claims casting doubt over the legitimacy of the vote-counting that showed him behind Democratic challenger Joe Biden.
“Finally they’re doing it,” Santos told ABS-CBN News. “They should have done it a long time ago, probably. I think they’ve been presented with a very unique subject and therefore didn’t how at the beginning how to deal with it. They do know now it seems to me.
“That’s very inspiring for journalists, especially, and for audiences too. Because audiences will have an idea instantly of how credible or incredible something being offered to them through the media is. I think this is a good thing.”
It was Trump’s first appearance after threatening to mount a legal challenge to the vote count in the wee hours of election night.
Networks ABC, CBS and NBC could have carried the entire Trump news conference, but instead interrupted the live broadcast to call out Trump making baseless allegations.
Anchors then made an immediate fact-check.
Santos, a member of the board of trustees of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, stressed the importance of challenging news sources making assertions unsupported by evidence, even as he understood that such an approach posed challenges.
“It is not easy to lay down a hard and fast rule in this case. What do you do with a subject like that? Do you shut him up immediately? At what point in the interview do you shut him up? What do you say to him?” Santos said.
“I understand your predicament. I mean it is not easy. But they should be called out. At the very moment that something questionable or incredible is raised, the interviewee should be challenged. ‘What do you have to support your assertion? Or what evidence do you possess to support this allegation’?
“And if unable to answer like that, I mean, next question, logically is, ‘Why are you making all these allegations if at all you don’t have any evidence’?”
HOW CAN PH MEDIA LEARN FROM US NETWORKS' EXAMPLE
Santos, who served as publisher and editorial board chairman of BusinessWorld and editor of The Manila Times when it was first revived after martial law, said broadcasters should provide a running commentary immediately after airing the speech of the President, for example.
“Right after the speech, there should be or while the speech is being delivered . . . There should be a running commentary saying that the President has said this before. The President has promised this before but he has not acted on this promise. I mean, these things, there should be a running explanation or commentary for the benefit of audiences so that audiences might understand better or be reminded of what promises are like by this President,” the media critic said.
“I think it’s something very basic. Or in any case, if you are unable to do that right at that moment, at some immediate moment after that, a discussion should be mounted to sort these things out.”
The commentary can be done by the anchors themselves.
“I think so, especially at this time, given that just about everyone else has become, by their own views, journalist in themselves, because they have social media and all that. I mean it is up to us, we are more expected, we have better position to do things in a more proper way, more prudently, more fairly, but boldly,” Santos said.
US MEDIA LEARNED LESSON
The US-based co-founder of FactCheck.org who called out practices in the US press that allowed questionable information to reach the electorate in the 2016 US election season, said US mainstream press and social media platforms have now largely learned its lesson.
In a briefing with selected journalists before the November 3 election, Kathleen Hall Jamieson pointed out how the US media fell for the practice of “hack and release,” or the use of hacked content illegally gotten from the Democrats in 2016 by the Russians and trafficked into the US media stream through WikiLeaks without independent verification.
“Largely, the mainstream press and the platforms have learned the lesson on what I categorize broadly as ‘hack and release.’ You don't know where the content came from, and you don't have independent verification,” Jamieson said.
“And I’m really pleased about what's happening in the last three days. And I hope good investigative journalism finds out what's really going on there, and whether there's something newsworthy, and that we ultimately get that good information.”