What the ….?

What the ….?

Photo by Val Leonardo

During the live coverage by the government-run television station PTV 4 of the state funeral of President Fidel V. Ramos at the Libingan ng Mga Bayani in Taguig City, Metro Manila on August 9, we heard the news organization’s reporter doing a live broadcast.

The television visuals at the Libingan appeared all right, as did the sound of the initial paragraphs of the annotation.

The uniformed soldiers were carrying the urn containing the ashes of the 94-year-old US-trained general, who served in the Korean and Vietnam wars, which was placed in a flag-draped coffin, and carried by six pallbearers amid subdued music that included Ramos’ favorite “Maalala Mo Kaya” which was also sung by Filipino-Spanish operatic soprano Andion Fernandez on the last night of his wake.

His cremated remains were placed in his grave after a funeral procession led by honor guards and his family, which was showered with flower petals from two helicopters.

The ceremony, beamed live nationwide by PTV 4 and major TV networks, was attended by the 64-year-old President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. and was capped by a 21-gun salute.

Marcos Jr. visited Ramos’ wake on August 4 and condoled with the family of Ramos, who, he said, “was a symbol of stability after all the tumultuous events of 1986.”

1986 was the year when Ramos, the vice chief of staff of the Armed Forces, head of the Philippine Constabulary and a second cousin of the older Ferdinand Marcos, and Juan Ponce Enrile, then Marcos’ defense secretary, withdrew their support for Marcos and led the Catholic Church-supported so-called EDSA Revolution.

That defection is for another column time – with Enrile, now 98, President Marcos’ chief legal counsel and a member of his Cabinet, in a twist of events from 36 years ago.

Elucidating in Tagalog, the PTV journalist fell into an error of fact and identified the remains of the about-to-be-buried head of state as the incumbent president.

Then there was, to use television lingo, dead air, a time in which the audience can no longer hear any audible transmission from the network.

What is outrageously deplorable is that kind of lapse by people from the same network had happened in just over a week, the first when some enthusiastic staff, using a social media platform – perhaps hoping to beat news competitors – said that President Marcos and Vice President Sara Duterte sent flowers to the wake of, for the first recorded time, the late President Ferdinand Marcos Jr.

That was eventually removed. But the harm had been done.

We agree with some news observers that perhaps there was no malice, nor outright mischief by a group at PTV 4.

But indeed there is a need by the authorities, under whose wings PTV 4 is, to review their media strategies or game plans, particularly in live coverage when something said can hardly be edited, television being, in many aspects, a very cruel medium.

We don’t mind other people’s beeswax, really now, but when these lapses occur in a government-run station, the damage can be very abominable, to say the least, since they are “killing” the very head of the infrastructure that gives them life.

News organizations, government-run or not, can do well to send their seasoned reporters to major events like state funerals, with a heap of background materials and stock knowledge up their cerebrum to fill air time in emergency situations.

As in a fire or plane crash, there is only so much a reporter can say.

In that Libingan ceremony, people were following the funeral live coverage – perhaps hearing FVR’s echoes “Kaya natin ‘to” – and there is not much a reporter can say, the reason there is a lot of “dead air” and that can be considered baleful to the home viewing audience.

The reason a good heap of relevant materials and backgrounders is needed.

But never commit the mistake of wrong identification. This is a no-no in broadcast coverage as it is in print.

The character Scott Lang, also known as the Ant-Man in the 2019 superhero film Avengers: Endgame, if he were anywhere near the broadcaster or the staff who used one social platform, might have repeated his memorable quote: “What the Hell Happened Here?”


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