“Biased ka lang e!”: notes on bias, objectivity, etc

In this post I explain what “bias” is, why it is more complex than being unfair or preferential, and why legislators need a quick lesson on Journalism 101.

I CRINGE EVERY TIME I hear people misuse the word bias.

I understand that not everyone has received the same training and education as I have, so when people unironically say things like, “biased ka lang e” or, “these are my unbiased opinions,” I just hush my judgment and silently concede that bias has become a common buzzword in everyday Pinoy conversations.

A problem ensues, however, when politicians bungle the word bias and weaponize it against the media. When legislators cry foul against biased reporting while invoking values like objectivity with blatant ignorance of how these concepts are applied in journalism, I cringe even harder in disgust.

Politicians yelling “biased!” against every story they deem displeasing is dangerous: it parrots the misconception that bias is nothing but the opposite of neutrality, and that neutrality is the supreme measure for what makes a valid report or opinion. These notions are patently wrong, and I think it’s high time that we unpack and re-calibrate our understanding of the word bias and all its implications.

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Journ exercise

IMAGINE YOU’RE A journalist tasked to write a news report on the president’s COVID-19 updates.

You wonder why his public speeches somehow always happen when the public is sleeping, but you do your job anyway.

You write your notes as the president speaks. It’s not your job to write everything down — you’re a journalist, not a typist — so you write only the most relevant parts according to your own judgment.

Once the speech is over, you start organizing your story. You begin by drafting the lead, the first paragraph of your report. The lead is the most important part, you know that, so you review your notes and you ask yourself: which among these details is the most newsworthy?

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“Bakit kapag close kayo ng tao, open kayo sa isa’t isa?”

Dapat talaga nag-aaral ako ngayon e. May limang exam ako next week, pero dahil nakakawalang-ganang mag-aral dito sa bahay, ito na muna ang aatupagin ko.

Bale naghanap ako ng mga tanong na walang kwenta — ‘yung mga tanong na parang namimilosopo lang — tapos papatulan ko sila isa-isa.


Alin ba talaga ang nauna, ang itlog o ang manok?

Kung magiging scientific tayo ano, ang tamang sagot ay itlog.

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Teaching Math in Bicol

Over the years I have acquired this rather pretentious past-time of reading scholarly articles about different topics, esoteric or otherwise. I have read academic papers on astronomy, tropical cyclones, Korean pop culture — so basically anything that I find vaguely interesting.

I usually go to Google Scholar to find these articles. Google Scholar works just like regular Google, except when you enter your keywords, the database shows you a list of research studies written by various experts from different fields. It’s not as boring as it sounds, to be honest, especially if you search for topics that you’re genuinely interested in.

The other day, for instance, I was looking for articles about my hometown and I found a study on the variations of Sorsogon dialects in the context of teaching math in grade school. The study was done after the K-12 program mandated the use of the students’ mother tongue for teaching basic subjects between kinder and Grade 3.

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Postscript

I know when to use ng and when to use nang. I also know the difference between pinto and pintuan. But is it spelled anu-ano, or is it ano-ano? And is “although” bagaman? Bagamat? Are they both correct? Beats me.

But I do know that hyphens are used for repeated words and that repetition necessitates likeness. So technically it should be sino-sino, not sinu-sino; taon-taon, not taun-taon. This rule, however, also implies that halo-halo (a combination of unlike objects) is different from haluhalo (our favorite dessert).

It reads wrong, and it looks wrong — who spells it haluhalo anyway? But experts insist that this isn’t a matter of preference. “Paano ka magtuturo ng language kung lahat ay tama?” asks national artist Virgilio Almario in a Wasak interview with Lourd de Veyra. Everyone, including the media, must follow the rules. So it should be ni’yo, not n’yo (rule on contraction); imahen, not imahe (rule on etymology); siyokoy, not syokoy (rule on diphthongs).

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