Andami Kong Alam: Some Context on ‘Out of Context’

"Kalma lang, manatee"

“Kalma lang, manatee”

Social news site Rappler issued an apology last week for making an Instaquote from an interview with Liberal Party presidential candidate Mar Roxas on the supposed “Laglag Bala” scam that has been in the news of late.

“Instaquotes are a new form of instant distillations of sometimes complex issues. In the past, we shared memorable quotes, but there’s possible danger when applied to news. Because it is visual with a higher viral potential, when shared and removed from context, it can be open to misinterpretation,” it said in a Facebook post.

That was, of course, entirely Rappler’s call to make, especially since I don’t even work there. It is troubling, however, that there is a tendency to equate unflattering to being taken out of context.

Rappler has repeatedly said that Roxas did not get in touch with them about the error, and there is no reason to doubt that.

At least one member of the administration Liberal Party has, however, gotten in touch with the media over a supposedly inaccurate story that was actually accurate and was in the proper context. I know this because I worked on the story and had to defend it.

In an e-mail, that LP member complained that the story did not reflect “the message [the LP member] was conveying.”

This, despite us including the relevant quotes and links to previous stories. The quote was quite clear and supported the headline used, but, the LP official insisted that “mentioning [that] the body of the headline somewhat clarifies the title isn’t acceptable.”

Up to this point, I was not aware that acceptability to a government official was among the news values. But, again, I didn’t go to journalism school, so that was probably in one of the classes I did not take.

The LP member added: “You are a journalist and I’m not. You know that most people will only read the title and won’t even bother to read the body”, and therefore, it was “quite unfair to [the LP member] just to have a catchy title to an article.”

In the wake of that e-mail, I asked reporters better versed on the issue whether we had a wrong appreciation of the quotes, the context, and the issue itself. We did not. However, the story made the politician look bad, and so, the complaint.

This is the context of my violent reaction to the apology especially since the quote, in its entirety, supported the pull quote that Rappler used and was criticized for. Granted, online graphics are a lousy medium for nuance, the quote was not pulled out of thin air and was not manufactured.

Add to that how Roxas has always been savvy about managing media appearances and photo ops. Anyone who has covered him — at the Senate at the Department of the Interior and Local Government — knows this and will likely have their own stories to tell (privately, and over drinks).

There is also this, with the caveat that context is unknown:

That Roxas doesn’t want bad press is not necessarily a bad thing — who, after all, does? He is a politician and operates by different rules and priorities. But so does the media, and the idea that those different sets of rules must intersect is problematic for me.

I have never taken the position that the media is infallible. I have made mistakes and have paid for them, and have also criticized colleagues when I felt that they were in the wrong. That has soured some friendships, but that is the price of caring about the profession.

But I defend it too. Not out of arrogance — I know my place in the greater scheme of things — but out of awareness of media’s fragile place in society. That I do has also soured some friendships, but that is the price of caring about the profession.

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