By Alex P. Vidal
“We don’t go into journalism to be popular. It is our job to seek the truth and put constant pressure on our leaders until we get answers.”—Helen Thomas
I FIND it absurd and laughable for some critics to accuse journalists who write straight news and conduct one-on-one or group interviews to be biased only because they don’t like those making the reporting and doing the interview.
In the first place, straight news is called “straight” because it is based on facts; we can’t invent what happened, when did it happen, where did it happen, who was involved, and why it happened.
Straight news or news writing has its own sentence structure and syntax; it is narrating everything based on these basic elements.
Interviews, like the recent “The Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews” aired on GMA Network, on the other hand, is, in fact, the most transparent form of media reporting.
Questions in one-on-one or group interviews like the presidential debates or the ones recently given by Ms. Soho that became viral because Bongbong Marcos chickened out and accused the GMA host of being “biased”, may be tough but can’t be biased because they are mostly common questions; there is a format that makes the interview fair and square to all concerned.
There are “difficult” questions sometimes intended only for a particular interviewee or participant, but they aren’t biased; they are based on the interviewee’s or participant’s link to certain legitimate issues, his or her background and affiliations, and the controversies he or she had been involved with.
Asking these questions can’t be knocked as “bias”; they need to be brought up in the interviews for purposes of transparency and for the concerned interviewees to be given the chance to air their side on that program.
If the interviewee has nothing to hide or fear, he or she must accept the challenge of a “live” televised interview and won’t give hilarious excuses.
A biased host basically has no credibility and, therefore, can’t or will be prevented from conducting a widely televised presidential interview. The host’s reputation is his or her best qualification—and disqualification. Ms. Soho’s stature as an award-winning and reputable broadcast journalist is more than a qualification to hold such interview.
The subjects of a “live” interview with skeletons in the closets or have plenty of acts of falsifications and anomalies to hide and want to skirt are normally the ones who are quick to shout “bias” to justify their cold feet.
Only the newspaper editorial page or radio and the social media anchormen doing public affairs commentaries can be inherently biased because that’s the way they are meant to be.
An opinion piece must say something and needs to take a position.
In my case, as I see it, I need to express my views on certain issues and subject matters; my job as a journalist is to gather information, translate it for my audience and communicate it clearly and effectively.
Sometimes that is best done by giving my own perspective along with my sources’.
And often, the most powerful way of doing that is by writing in the first person.
It doesn’t make me crooked and unreliable. The editors, the gatekeepers of all the paper’s contents, and the readers will always have the final reckoning.
That’s why there’s a clear-cut demarcation line or a state-and-church-separation rule between news writing and the op-ed page.
The idea of bias and its implied opposite, objectivity, in journalism, are always inextricably linked.
(The author, who is now based in New York City, used to be the editor of two local dailies in Iloilo.—Ed)