Thursday, February 3, 2005

SWS corrects my reporting error

Mea maxima culpa.

I missed out on two words--a pronoun and a preposition--and this made a world of a difference. The words were ``it to’’. Because I missed those (my eyes did not coordinate with my brain) I wrote a sentence that turned one of the Social Weather Stations’ 2004 survey findings upside down.

This had to happen in the second to the last sentence of a longish news article, that is, when I was about to put a bullet on the article and write ``30’’. I hope not many readers got to that end part on the jump page. How I wish I had written something shorter and stopped at the usual 5,000 characters. Then the last two sentences would not have been written and live forever in the digital archives of the universe. Oh, but the right and good stuff, too, will live forever.

SWS president Dr. Mahar Mangahas’ letter to the editor will surely see print in a section of this paper but, just the same, here it is :

``Subject: PDI Error in Claiming that Filipinos Prefer Authoritarian Government

``In the PDI issue of Saturday, Jan. 29, 2005, the article by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo `Pinoys make do with less’ based on the SWS Survey Review of 2004 which I presented on Jan 26th at AIM, has a very serious error in claiming that SWS `said most preferred a more authoritarian government.’ What the presentation actually said (attached slide 61) is that ``Though only 40% are satisfied with how democracy works, most Filipinos prefer it to authoritarianism…’’ This was followed by a slide (attached Slide 62) with the clear labels: `57% prefer democracy’, and `24% prefer authoritarian government’.

``I trust you would agree that the issue of public preference between democracy and authoritarianism is of such great importance that for a newspaper to report the very opposite of what an opinion poll found is a very serious error indeed, and deserving of a very prompt and prominent correction.’’

SWS presented a whole year’s findings in 69 slides that showed dazzling colored graphs, statistics and summaries. These covered the elections, foreign relations, personal quality of life, governance, the Erap factor, corruption, democracy and general morale. The presentation was a comprehensive recap of what had been presented last year. It also went back 20 years. How has this nation progressed, what have we become?

SWS, a non-profit, non-government institution, is 20 years old, by the way.
I am not known to be a careless reporter, irresponsible feature writer or abusive columnist. So what happened? Did my mind play tricks on me?

I was myself baffled that most Filipinos would prefer an authoritarian government—for that is what my mind wrongly grasped. In fact, that is what I wrote, and mercifully, almost as a footnote.

Slide 61 on which I based my erroneous sentence and which Mangahas partially quoted in his letter, completely reads: ``Though only 40% are satisfied with how democracy works, most Filipinos prefer it to authoritarianism—and are again keeping a watchful eye on the loyalty of the military. They think democracy worked better a decade ago, and that in the next decade will recover partially.’’

Note the two highlighted words that blipped in my brain. The second sentence was the gremlin. I thought, people thought democracy worked better a decade ago but it does not work now. That it will work better in the next decade but it does not now. And so I wrote ``(SWS) said most preferred a more authoritarian government, and that they were keeping a watchful eye on the loyalty of the military.’’ Or so, I thought.

``A more authoritarian government’’--that was what I wrote, not ``authoritarianism’’. But I don’t blame the copy editor for putting ``authoritarianism’’ as subtitle for my last three sentences.

Now, postmortem, as I examine my SWS hard copy, I think I should have, while writing, referred to Slide 62, no matter how microscopic its numbers and words, that showed that—hear ye, everyone--57% in fact prefer democracy, while 40% are satisfied and 24% prefer authoritarian government.

It was slide 64 on my hard copy that caught my attention. It says ``Public anxiety about the loyalty of the AFP is back at the high levels of 1990-91.’’ During Mangahas’ presentation I scribbled ``worry?’’ Was this really anxiety, I thought.

The test statement for the respondents was: ``Ang Sandatahang Lakas ng Pilipinas o AFP ay tapat at masunurin sa gobyernong pinamumunuan ni Pang. (Aquino\Ramos\Estrada\Macapagal-Arroyo)’’. (The Armed Forces of the Philippines is loyal and obedient to the government headed by…) Did the dive in the ``agree’’ responses and the rise in the ``disagree’’ responses (the line graphs almost meet somewhere near 30%) for the Arroyo term necessarily mean anxiety? Might there be respondents who in fact prefer this scenario or simply don’t care?

I wanted to bring this up during the forum but I thought I’d rather listen. There were many facts and figures to absorb and I was trying to think of a good story angle. Surveys are high and dry, so how to bring this down to ground level?

I decided on how the Pinoy made do with less in 2004. I relegated the issue of democracy (just for now!) minus statistics to the second to the last sentence as it had been tackled so often. Well, it struck back as if saying, ``Daing (the fish, the lamentations) and democracy could go together.’’

I hope this lapse on my part would not be used by dark forces that threaten democracy.


Synchronicity? Tomorrow I attend the 2nd Philippine Summit of the News Media. It is dubbed ``Media Nation 2: Owning Up’’. Sponsored by the Inquirer, Phil. Center for Investigative Journalism, and other media institutions.