Certain Philippine media outlets are rightfully getting criticized by the public for giving platform to public figures that promote anti-science views. Last week, GMA Network’s radio station DZBB posted on its social media platforms a short clip of an interview featuring veteran actor Pen Medina where he challenged the established scientific consensus that wearing face masks can help protect people from getting COVID-19.
Medina, who is acting as part of a group calling themselves “Gising Maharlika,” also raised questions about the effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccines. The 45-second interview with Medina has already received over 500,000 views on Twitter alone.
Also last month, GMA News published an article which highlighted the decision of actor Derek Ramsay and his partner Ellen Adarna to delay being vaccinated against COVID-19. “I’m still not confident about it with all the research I’ve done,” Ramsay was quoted to have said in the article.
Now, there is no arguing that every Filipino enjoys a Constitutionally-guaranteed right to free speech and freedom of expression. However, that is not absolute. We are in the middle of a raging pandemic, with the Philippines getting as much as 20,000 additional COVID-19 cases and 300 deaths in a day in recent weeks. Hence, strict compliance to minimum health protocols like observing social distancing and wearing face masks as well as getting vaccinated when it is already possible can save countless of lives.
Against that backdrop, media outlets should be very cautious against giving platform to public personalities who express doubts against the lethality of COVID-19 as well as opposition to mask mandates and vaccination initiatives. Due to their prominence, the words and actions of popular personalities will definitely get attention from the public. Although the majority of netizens may react negatively to the non-sensical statements of Pen Medina and Derek Ramsay, there will still be a significant part of the country’s population who will be receptive to such a message. That’s confirmation bias at work.
For whatever reason, way too many people will choose to believe loudmouths who only got their information regarding the pandemic from dubious websites over medical professionals who’ve been studying about infectious diseases their entire lives.
Let us discuss the main motivation of media outlets in giving platforms to anti-science people like Pen Medina, Derek Ramsay, and disgraced lawyer Larry Gadon. Controversial remarks get tremendous engagements on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter. They are guaranteed click-baits. That, in turn, generates huge traffic to their respective websites which in turn leads to higher revenues from online advertisements. It’s really all about the money.
Media networks should keep in mind that we are in a pandemic and focusing on truthful information can save lives, while amplifying anti-science views endangers lives. The scientific evidence as regards wearing face masks and getting vaccinated is unquestionable. Philippine media outlets should not treat it as if it’s just a matter of having different opinions.
It is stipulated under the “Minimize Harm” section of the Society of Professional Journalists’ Code of Ethics that the media should “consider the long-term implications of the extended reach and permanence of publication.” That is why it is a must for media outlets both in the Philippines around the world to shun people and organizations that promote anti-science views that puts human lives at stake.