Monday, December 07, 2015

Deadly talk radio

Dead Air — The California Sunday Magazine

Actually, it's about The Philippines, where being a talk back radio has an usually large role, and can be very dangerous:
The Philippines has about 600 radio stations, generally small affairs held together with hope and duct tape. To defray costs, many stations rent out “blocks” of transmitter time to freelancers. In the provincial Philippines, where radio is king, “blocktimers” are often the only source of news and political criticism people can hear. At its best, blocktiming is a mix of political theater, social commentary, and yellow journalism. Some blocktimers are loudmouthed demagogues (think Rush Limbaugh). Some are serious journalists producing shows akin to 60 Minutes. Some are zealots and crusaders, fighting corruption and environmental degradation. Some are hacks working for the families that run the Philippines. A good blocktimer — one who stirs up some controversy and gets a good audience and a sponsorship deal — can earn a middle-class living.
Are blocktimers trustworthy? It is hard to say. A political system built on double-­dealing and conspiracy breeds a paranoid style. That federal report a blocktimer is reading, which provides evidence of a politician’s theft from a road-building fund: Is  it accurate or ginned up by one of his rivals? And the blocktimer himself, fulminating against corruption: Who is paying him? All too often, it’s another politician buying his voice the same way he might buy a hit man....

The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. Depending on how you count, only Syria, Iraq, and Somalia are more lethal. According to the Philippine Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, at least 168 journalists have been killed since1986, when the Marcos dictatorship fell and democracy was restored. About half of the dead have been freelance broadcasters, like Damasco. By the time Damasco took to the air against Hagedorn, the murders had developed a certain ritual. As the broadcaster leaves work, a motorcycle with two men drives up. The passenger fires. The journalist falls. The motorcycle speeds away. Whoever hired the hit man goes unpunished.

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