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Art Workshop

Communicable panic

Social media went ablaze yesterday when a report of a mysterious flesh-eating disease that was allegedly spreading in Pangasinan became viral. 

The report was from a story that ABS-CBN aired over TV program Bandila the night before. Said story set off a string of comments filled with panic, especially since the spread in Pangasinan of a deadly disease that attacks the skin had been allegedly predicted by a self-proclaimed prophet.

Later in the day, the Department of Health (DOH) allayed fears by belying the report,  saying that there was no flesh-eating disease spreading in Pangasinan. It further said that the diseases had been identified as leprosy and psoriasis, two non-contagious diseases. When necessary, DOH said, the media should consult experts, especially when dealing with reports that could possibly cause alarm.

The incident is a perfect example of irresponsible journalism, the kind that gives not only their station, but also all other journalists a bad name.

Perhaps ABS-CBN, in its determination to release a sensational piece of “news,” forgot that media is a public trust. That is, the lifeblood of the media is public’s belief that journalists deliver correct, accurate and verified reports.

Trust, however, is earned, not given. This is especially true in the media where in order to continue being credible and trustworthy, it must  prove that it is capable of  doing its primordial duty.

In the case of the flesh-eating disease hoax, ABS-CBN sacrificed accuracy for the sake of media hype.

This is nothing if not a flagrant insult to the practice of journalism, which above all, should favor the truth.

Beyond this, it is also a belittling of the public’s intelligence. The report was made as if all of the program’s viewers were gullible dolts who would simply swallow any fact that they are fed.

Still, it could be said that the network got what it wanted. While the mystery disease was
confirmed to be non-communicable, panic unfortunately is. Whether the report was correct or false, the network got the publicity that it wanted, never mind that it was of the negative kind.

In the end, the public is once again the loser—an easy target of careless reporting, a helpless victim of false information.

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