President Benigno Aquino III delivered his fifth State of the Nation Address (SONA) last month amidst his lowest public approval ratings thus far and rising tensions between him and the Supreme Court (SC) over the Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP).
Things then took a turn for the absurd when the highlight of an event held to discuss the state of the Philippines was instead the fashion choices of those in attendance. Several media outlets put a spotlight on the outfits of the various personalities present at the event and soon after, the ‘SONA Red Carpet Fashion Show’ made waves on social media platforms. What was supposed to be a means to brief the nation of its economic, social, and political status – a critical event for the more than 100 million Filipinos, especially for the poor – became an extended fashion show for the elite.
Along with this red carpet news, other details of the SONA that were deemed to be of national importance were the number of government officials texting during the address and how the president choked up with emotion towards the end of his address. All of a sudden, the economic and political significance of the event seemed to be overshadowed by the most trivial matters, thanks in part to the media’s bizarre choice of coverage.
This should go without saying, but the national media is and should be a channel for relevant information concerning the constituents of the country. Furthermore, it should be a channel for stimulating the critical minds of the Filipino people, the masses and elite alike, especially with regards to political events of great magnitude such as the SONA.
The annual SONA is still an event of high national importance no matter who sits as the head of the state. For that matter, which members of prominent families attend and whatever attire they choose to wear should be irrelevant to the coverage of the event. The gaping holes left in the President’s address – issues on the Freedom of Information Bill, the impending energy crisis, and the upcoming ASEAN integration, among others – were amplified by the misplaced spotlight of national news.
Of course, one may argue that many of these media outfits are still businesses, and that there is money to be made out of the spectacle of the people present during the SONA. While in the service of the Filipino and in the spirit of Serbisyong Totoo, and Saan Man, Kailan Man, these media outfits are still privately-owned corporations and, in order to thrive, must adhere to the tastes, demands, and preferences of their audiences.
The problem then does not solely lie on the workings of the media alone. It lies on us, with us, and among us Filipino people. We mire ourselves with all this information without asking which ones are important and worth taking in. We forget that this isn’t just because of the interest of those who control the media, but it is also partly because of the fact that we settle for the mediocre, losing sight of what matters most.
As our public officials and their associates strut down the red carpet, adorned with the privilege, prestige, and security that is denied to majority of the Filipino people, let us ask ourselves what must be paid attention to in these events. In a country that celebrates the freedom of our press, it is of utmost importance that we demand greater responsibility from them as well.