Hubert Webb and Lauro Vizconde are in the headlines again after the former was acquitted by the Supreme Court yesterday. There were sudden outbursts of emotions from the two camps after the SC announced the decision as shown on major TV news programs last night. There are already many opinions and thoughts shared in the media and internet about the Vizconde case.
Yet, many failed to see that the real story is neither the acquittal of Hubert nor the denial of justice of Lauro Vizconde but the power of media to influence public opinion.
Though the journalistic dictum that “news is only supposed to be right today” is true, we must realize that the concept of what is right now becomes absolute in the opinions of many even if it’s wrong tomorrow. Though balance and accuracy are the primary elements of news writing and news reporting, the manner of executing the news itself creates a misconception particularly when presenting the priority angle of the two sides of the story.
A news story can be presented in either negative or positive angle as long as these are based on facts. For instance, the news yesterday about the SC decision on the Vizconde case can be presented in these angles: HEADLINE 1: “SC acquits Hubert Webb et al” or HEADLINE 2: “Justice denied for Lauro Vizconde”. Both headlines are factual but the angle makes the difference. If the news focused on the side of Hubert Webb first, chances are public opinion may be in his favor and the same goes for Lauro Vizconde.
The key in influencing “initial” human judgment about a particular issue lies in the headline because it dictates the story angle and builds the interest of the reader or televiewer as the story progresses while the other side becomes a “by-the-way” or a mere rebuttal in the totality. Collectively, this initial human judgment becomes the public opinion. It will take a long time before this can be reversed.
HEADLINE: Solon’s son accused in Vizconde massacre
This was the headline more than 15 years ago at a time when the entire nation cried for justice and needed an outright answer to the question “Who massacred the Vizcondes?” The name of Hubert Webb was in the headlines as a suspect. Hubert Webb became the outright answer in sympathy with Lauro Vizconde. Hubert Webb was already guilty in the eyes of the public even though he was only an accused who is supposedly innocent until proven guilty.
The story of Hubert Webb as the prime suspect was very interesting simply because he is the son of then Paranaque Congressman and TV and sports personality Freddie Webb. The angle was for the masses where Hubert symbolized the fall of the discriminating influential and wealthy class by committing a heinous crime.
HEADLINE: Hubert Webb acquitted
This is the headline today fifteen years later. Hubert Webb was found not guilty by the Supreme Court yesterday. The SC ruled in favor of his innocence. If you are going to conduct a survey or a focus group discussion about Hubert Webb, I will my mug of coffee that the opinions will be in his favor. The sympathy will be his.
The story of Hubert Webb today is that 15 years was taken away from the life Hubert Webb for a crime he did not commit and wrongly accused of. As for Lauro Vizconde, justice is really denied. He was chasing the wrong people all along. With Hubert Webb being acquitted, the entire case has become meaningless and a major futile exercise. Justice is also denied for Hubert Webb for being incarcerated for something he did not commit.
It’s the irony of all ironies. Injustice is blind.
The question 15 years ago on who killed the Vizcondes was already answered through Hubert Webb. I think it should be asked again and the demand another answer. The PNP and NBI should do their job carefully and efficiently and should not be affected by public opinion this time. The same thing with court judges, don’t get influence by public opinion.
Our consciousness is susceptible to the bandwagon effect being reflected by the media. We easily get influence by what we see and what we are told on TV, newspaper, radio and internet. There is no difference between news and advertising. We buy what is advertise and we believe what’s in the news.
The big difference is that news and opinions are free.
My Rule of Thumb for our justice system is THUMBS DOWN.
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