Framing poverty

Letter to the Editor
April 4, 2020

Much as we thank our friends in the media for highlighting the reality of uncertainty, some suggestions should be made in reporting the plight of the urban poor amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

Feel-good stories that highlight resiliency help sell more papers, provide higher broadcast ratings and generate more website traffic. Humorous trivia and inspiring stories on how the poor make do with so little definitely provide some “good vibes” to an otherwise gloomy situation.

For journalism to be both responsive and responsible, however, it is important for coverage to focus on gut issues. There should be a connection between the empty stomach of the poor and the rhetoric of the powerful.

To cite an example, journalists should deeply analyze the recent statements of Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra (“temper the rigor of the law with human compassion” when it comes to an erring senator) and Local Government Secretary Eduardo Año (“so we’ll throw them in jail, no mercy for them” when it comes to the 21 arrested urban poor).

As journalists provide both factual and contextual accuracy, media audiences can better appreciate the complexity of the present and consequently chart their future. What hogs the headlines, after all, should not just tug at the hearts but also open the eyes and challenge the mind. What happened at Sitio San Roque last April 1 should be framed not as a simple violation of the law but as an epitome of neglect whose spontaneous action was prompted by the simple feeling of hunger.

At this time, it becomes unprofessional for journalists to trivialize and romanticize abject poverty when widespread deprivation is becoming the “new normal.” Giving a voice to the voiceless is their primary mission.

As the Fourth Estate, the press is inherently adversarial. Journalists are therefore expected to always remain critical.

DANILO A. ARAO
Associate Professor, Department of Journalism
UP Diliman, Quezon City

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