Allow me to deviate from my usual food writing as I reflect on an important issue that involves mass media and society. Having worked in broadcast journalism in the past, I have always strongly believed that media practitioners have a serious obligation to their audiences — whether you are on TV, radio, print — or the internet. They have a critical societal role of delivering truth that would influence — and hopefully, correctly guide — pubic opinion. Being in the media requires professionals to possess integrity and to be good examples to their audience whether they are at work or outside of it.
I believe that such responsibility is not only carried by men and women in news here in the Philippines and abroad, but also by the same professionals in the entertainment sphere of media. We all know too well by now that entertainers also possess an important role in educating their audience through the values their materials project. And do take note, in the 20 to 24-hour daily cycle of a mainstream TV station, for example, news takes smaller percentage of airtime. A bigger bulk is occupied by entertainment. Hence, many people may are more exposed to entertainment than news.
Vice Ganda has failed to fulfill his responsibility as a media practitioner during his recent concert. As you may have read by now through tweets and online articles that have spread like wildfire, he has ridiculed GMA News anchor Jessica Soho for being plus-size in one segment of his show. What made it worse, of course — and I believe unethical — was how his ridicule of weight was interlaced with how the scenario would be if the news anchor were a victim of rape.
Much has been said about the “rape factor” and I echo it. From Ms. Soho herself, as well as present newsroom professionals, there has been condemnation for such references. Right on. Rape is no joke. It is not just bad taste to make it part of a gag. It is the height of irresponsibility coming from a media professional.
Such references trivialize the serious crime of rape. Remember — the death penalty used to be meted out as penalty for convicted rapists. Just think of the ordeal that women go through when they experience such a crime. In fact, the very act of reporting it is already an ordeal in itself. By making it part of his gag, Vice Ganda took the Philippines several steps behind in our fight against crimes against women and children My personal analysis is, more victims would be ashamed to come out and report crimes because they would fear ridicule. Or as Vice Ganda put it, they might fear ridicule for being treated and demeaned like lechon. Aside from these references being anti-women and inhumane, Vice Ganda did the opposite of educating the populace about the horrors of rape — he treated it as “comedy” and misguided the public as such. Who would want to laugh at such a thing now? Vice Ganda has so much power to influence people towards the good. Unfortunately, he has made the wrong decision in his show. It is a waste and perhaps, an abuse of such influence, that we, the public — let us remind him — have given to him in the first place.
As of this writing, much of the heat has been placed on the reference on rape. After all, it is the most serious of Vice Ganda’s violations. Still, let us not forget the references to people who are plus-size. The root of the mockery stems from this particular theme. Simply put, it is discrimination that must not be tolerated. Perhaps, I may be speaking from my own limited experience of someone who is beyond his ideal weight — such remarks are hurtful. A lot of people deal with issues of being overweight and for not a few people, this has affected their mindset, self esteem, and confidence. For many people, aside from health issues they go through, it has even affected their own dreams because of discrimination they receive. It does not help at all when a person of influence adds injury and hurt to these people. Such tend to reinforce discrimination.
I have seen a number of Vice Ganda’s episodes on television. I have also viewed some of his films. And when you look at the content, the content have consistently made fun of people who are overweight or obese. Some content have made fun of other so-called “deformities”. Such content, again, pushes us back from a values-oriented media where, instead of championing integrity, honesty, the right values– we emphasize more the exterior, physical beauty alone. We give value to physical attributes alone and mock people who are dark and not white enough, don’t have abs, short, etc. These are all reinforced! And we wonder why a lot of teens nowadays suffer from poor self esteem?
Which is why, Vice Ganda should not bear the sole brunt of public crucifixion and persecution. Vice Ganda has unfortunately made a poster girl of my former boss for obesity. But before this, how many gag shows have made fun of those who are dark? Remember Whitney Tyson from the 80’s? Remember that not-so-fair-skinned girl who is always made fun on Bubble Gang? And then, there’s Diego. Remember Jinky Oda from Okay Ka Fairy Ko? The list goes on and on. And we haven’t even touched on the negative portrayals of the LGBT on mainstream media. Vice Ganda, perhaps, was just following what has been defined as “funny” all along. So my hope is that we all take a step back and reexamine what media has been doing and where it is going. And I think, it’s about time we, as consumers, really start complaining and start making better choices on what we and our children consume.
Media has a role in educating the public and elevating standards for society. But for both news and entertainment, there has always been this debate. Because every time such efforts are done to elevate standards, viewers, listeners, and readers don’t follow. Ergo, no profit. No ratings. No ads. Hence, there is always that struggle to balance three things: 1) Making a profit; 2) Elevating standards; and 3) Giving the public what it wants — or at least, the media think they want. So the question now, how has the media fared when it comes to item number 2? How skewed is the media when it comes to items 1 and 3? Good points for examination. It has long been argued that in order to elevate standards, profit may need to be sacrificed in the long term to elevate standards and perhaps, educate the public.
So when you think about it, Vice Ganda should also not be left with all the blame. I’ve looked at the video and purposely observed the reactions of the concert audience. For me, I was even more shocked with the volume of the audience’s laughter, as well as the expression on people’s faces. My knee-jerk reaction was to ask: Have we, as an audience, lost our sense of right and wrong? And now, the net is still flooded with people who are taking the side of Vice Ganda (and his kind of comedy), even to the point of bashing Jessica Soho — and by extension, all the victims of rape.
My personal response to these: if you had a relative or a close friend who had been raped (God forbid), and someone else made the same jokes about that person, how would you feel? And goodness, let us not even attempt to bring the network wars to this conflict! Because clearly, die-hard fans have been clogging the network with comments based on a twisted sense of network loyalty). If you were overweight yourself and people made fun of you — imagine if pinagka-piyestahan ka — and you were humiliated that way, how would you feel? A little empathy would help. And that’s how we can tell if we are still Filipino and human. So please, before people put hash tags calling for respect for Vice Ganda, let us first think before we click. Vice Ganda, you were with your mom on television recently. Would your mom agree to such statements coming from you?
I have nothing against Vice Ganda. I had thought of him to be articulate and intelligent. As of this writing though, it is apparent that he finds it “smart” to be quiet. I trust that if he does possess that integrity and responsibility of a media practitioner, he would do the right thing. An apology is in order. He will not lose anything by doing the right thing. I also hope that the right agencies would respond and take measures without harming the right to free and responsible expression, as well as self regulation. And please, I hope our politicians would not attempt to make an even greater circus of things by joining the bandwagon to get a short sound bite.
I have mentioned that Jessica Soho used to be my boss. I was a journalist at GMA News a lifetime ago, and I have respect for her — JS or Ma’am Jess — as a journalist. So perhaps, I may be accused of being biased. I can live with that. I have always been biased for what is true and what is good. It is quite ironic that of all the people who can be possibly victimized by poor practice of standards, the victim is a media practitioner who has striven for 30 years to uphold the standards has even striven to pass them to people in the industry. The truth is, looking back, I have been one of these beneficiaries of on-the-job training under her. JS is a very strong person and for sure, this chapter will be a very short footnote in her career. All things considered, what matters for JS is that her integrity is solid and intact, and that the public will continue to rely on her for news.
[Note: in the interest of fairness, this site, of course, is open to the side of Mr. Vice Ganda]