Thursday, 4 February 2010

Google Could Have Helped The Administration

John Mangun
Outside The Box

Once again the Arroyo administration is caught in a storm that could not have happened fifteen years ago or so.

The latest controversy is about the advertisements that were designed to cast this administration in a favorable light. Gallons of ink have been used to print tens of thousands of words showing to the ultimate degree how the administration’s economic and social development numbers are slanted and biased, untrue and distorted, ‘lies’ at the taxpayers’ expense just to fool the public into thinking that the wonderful world of the Philippines has changed so much for the better during the last ten years.

I am shocked. To think that a government would use public funds to tell the people that it did such a great job. This must be the first time it has ever happened since mankind crawled out of the caves and started speaking in complete sentences. I am being sarcastic of course.

But many of the local columnists and ‘experts’ are acting as if the Arroyo administration just invented the idea of political propaganda.

In the interest of keeping these pundits’ blood pressure and cholesterol levels down in the future, let me share some practical wisdom. All governments in every country at one time or another try to convince the people of their excellent job performance. And the more authoritarian and dictatorial the government, the more instances of propaganda.

For me, the ads were sort of like the resume of the Arroyo administration. We all know that our resume is designed to cast our past performance in the most favorable light. And if making a resume filled with half-truths, distortions, and bias were a mortal sin, I am afraid heaven would be much less crowded. Especially with us from the media and the press.

In truth, the critics of the administration did exactly the right thing fact checking and calling the administration on the information and data that was included in the ads. That is the right thing to do. But it did strike me as kind of funny that a newspaper would criticize the ads and at the same time were being paid hundreds of thousands of pesos to print the ads. If they were so concerned about the truthfulness and the waste of public money, why didn’t they just refuse the business?

Frankly, I assume that there are many like me that could not care any less about this issue. But it is surprising that the administration would have pushed through with this idea knowing that every little detail was going to be reviewed and examined like the Shroud of Turin for authenticity. The only legacy of this event will be that the administration came off looking like they tried to bend the record and failed. In the end it becomes disadvantageous except of course for the newspaper that increased their advertising revenue for the month.

In the good old days of the 20th century, yesterday’s newspapers were thrown away and quickly forgotten. What you printed last as long as the person with the best memory could remember. But with the internet and archiving, everything seems to last forever and everyone has access to a storehouse of information. The internet never forgets.

One of the most vocal critics of the Philippine education system also wrote in 2006 that the Philippines was so bad in English that it was hard to believe that the Philippines could ever compete against any other country in the outsourcing business. But that person would never admit to being totally and foolishly wrong in their analysis. And it is ironic that the newspaper in which this particular column appeared now publishes headlines like “$16 million BPO Center Opens” and “1000-Seat Service Delivery Centre Opens In the Philippines”.

But all of us ‘experts’ are the same. I sincerely beg you not to ever look in the archives of the Biz Mirror at some of my more ‘brilliant’ predictions from the past. It would just be embarrassing for both of us.

The information available on the internet is a valuable tool to keep everyone, not just governments, honest and truthful. But it is a double-edged sword. The internet spread the foolishness of global warming and at the same time, internet access to information exposed the scientific fraud and deception.

Whoever in the administration that designed the content of these ads is still living in the 20th century, the mid 20th century. As companies hire a computer hacker to test their cyber security, so to should someone have been given the task to test the validity of the political spin that frankly became embarrassing to the government. All this clamor could have easily been avoided while at the same time given an accurate but still politically flattering appraisal.

The information in these ads was plain silly. To say that the debt “ratings” improved when in fact it was the overall financial “outlook” that improved under Arroyo, made the ads look that they were not only grossly misrepresenting the truth but also ignorant about the meaning of the information presented.

Any goodwill that might have been created was not only lost but the ads were counter-productive. Haven’t they heard of Google?

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