“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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On Badjao girl, free slippers, and other superficial sympathies

badjao_girl
Original photo by Topher Quinto Burgos | Source

We see a photograph of a scene basked in gold sunlight — and right in the foreground, a girl. She wears a faded pink shirt and slung around her left shoulder is a worn grey cloth tied tightly in a knot. Her eyes are dark and her hair has tinges of brown as golden as her skin.

The picture would be shared several thousand times in social media. A few more days and the girl would star in her own photo shoot. She would be in the news and in lifestyle programs. A politician’s wife would reportedly grant her a scholarship during a show known for handing out libreng tsinelas. And of course we, the audience, would feel elated for the pretty lass.

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