Round Up: The Philippines Do Debates 360-Style

For the first fully attended Filipino presidential debate in more than two decades, the GMA Network did not hold back. Plus, debate news from the UK, Ireland, Jamaica and more.


For the first fully attended Filipino presidential debate in more than two decades, the GMA Network, which moderated the Feb. 21 debate along with the Philippine Daily Inquirer, did not hold back.

The 360-degree livestreaming on the GMA website allowed web users to pan the omnidirectional camera around the venue in “near-real-time” as they watched the debate (go behind the scenes in this short YouTube video.) The main debate page, Eleksyon 2016, which housed the livestream (along with multiple social media stats), had more than 1 million views.  

Philippines presidential debate social media stats

The first debate was a success by other, possibly more meaningful measures of engagement as well. TV ratings were huge and even bigger on Mindanao island where the debate was being held. The #PiliPinasDebates2016 hashtag was trending on Twitter inside and outside the country.

The Rappler news site did a nice job of summarizing and providing highlights from the debate. It also provided an interactive community page that maintained active commentary and conversation during and after the debate.

Despite all this engagement, the debate, in both format and content—as well as levels of access—was not without controversy. It was held at Capitol University in Cagayan de Oro City on Mindanao, the second largest and southern-most island in the Filipino archipelago. While the moderators—all journalists from major news outlets in Manila—were prepared to address local issues in the debate, the Commission on Elections (Comelec) initially limited local journalists to only five seats at the venue. After threats of a boycott from the local press club and at least one of the candidates, the number of seats increased to 25.

Comelec was already being sued by Rappler for the way it granted exclusive broadcast rights to the nation’s largest television companies and partners of its choosing. The national moderators also admitted that candidates knew the debate topics ahead of the debate, although not the questions. 

As far as the debate itself, many viewers thought the 48 minutes of commercials during the 135-minute broadcast was a bit much, and the candidates had difficulty getting beyond soundbites because of the strictly enforced 90-second limit on responses. Two more presidential debates and one vice-presidential debate are scheduled in the coming months.

IN OTHER DEBATE NEWS …

Live From Wembley! Should UK Stay Or Should It Go: It’s not an election year, but the BBC will be hosting televised debates—this time in the run-up to the EU referendum on June 23. It’s not yet known whether Prime Minster David Cameron will take part. 

On June 21, the BBC will hold “its biggest ever campaign event where thousands of voters will be at Wembley Arena to question representatives from the leave and remain camps.” 

No Debates, Big Loss in Jamaica: The strategy of a seemingly entrenched incumbent candidate refusing to debate a rival, opposition candidate backfired big-time on Thursday, as the Jamaica Labour Party upset the ruling People’s National Party in the country’s general elections.

The national debates were canceled after the PNP refused to participate over grievances with Labour Party Leader Andrew Holness.

Writing at Global Voices, Emma Lewis has a terrific round-up of last-minute proposals for political dialogue and dashed hopes. (Her earlier round-up of reactions to the PNP’s decision not to participate in national debates is equally good.)

In one instance, RJR Communications Group, which owns a number of media outlets, proposed a news forum, with each party interviewed separately. But as Lewis notes, two RJR journalists—Dionne Jackson Miller, head of the Press Association of Jamaica, and radio talk show host Emily Shields, both panelists for previous televised debates—refused to participate on principle.

Earlier this month, Noel daCosta, chairman of Jamaica Debates Commission, shared survey information the Commission had gathered to assess the impact of national debates in 2007 and 2011. Among the findings:

  • More than three-quarters of respondents (78 percent) who followed the debates felt the debates addressed issues that were important to them. 
  • Approximately 70 percent said the national debates helped them to clarify the position of each party on critical issues, with 32 percent of respondents saying the debates “definitely” helped, and 38 percent saying the debates helped “somewhat.”  
  • About 30 percent of those who followed the debates said that they were more likely to change the way they would vote as a result of the debates.

“The findings from this study clearly indicate that voters pay attention to the national debates and, for many, the debates do help them to make decisions about how they will vote,” daCosta wrote. 

To the Polls in Ireland: The last of three debates with the party leaders in Ireland concluded on Wednesday in anticipation of today’s general election. Adoreboard, a semantic analytics firm at Queen’s University, declared Labour Leader Joan Burton the winner.

“Adoreboard’s emotion platform, Toneapi.com, managed to show that more than 57 percent of the interactions with Ms. Burton on the site were positive,” reported The Irish Times. Facebook had sponsored an earlier debate.

Baby Steps Toward Debate Culture: Although President Yoweri Museveni of Uganda won a fifth term in office, promising to extend his now 30-year reign (classified as “dictatorship light” by analysts, notes The New York Times), democratic forces can claim a minor victory with the first-ever presidential debate attended by all the candidates. 

Crispy Kaheru, a coordinator for the Citizens Coalition for Electoral Democracy Uganda (CCEDU), spoke optimistically to Voice of America: “Uganda is one of those countries where the culture of debate is not deeply entrenched. And seeing us making baby steps in that direction is very much encouraging. And beyond a debate of this nature, I think it lays a foundation for dialogue processes to happen post the election, which is important for this country.”

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