Without Fear or Favor: What We Learned from the Iconic ‘The Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews’ on Journalism We Need and Deserve

Narratives & Perspectives

With the 2022 national elections coming soon, millions of viewers have since witnessed the first election-related program courtesy of GMA Network’s ‘The Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews’. With more presidential debates and public forums coming our way, here’s everything that we learned from the award-winning journalist’s stake in uncovering strengths and weaknesses of the four presidential aspirants running for public office and the bar it set for those that attempt to tail its success.

Prefacing what is expected to be a slew of campaigns and elections-related televised interviews and forums on the aspirants for the upcoming 2022 National Elections, GMA Network’s highly-anticipated special The Jessica Soho Presidential Interviews, fittingly opened the season of debates and intimate interviews—and passed with flying colors if we are to look at the many positive feedback from the public after it aired last January.

The program was hosted by multi-award-winning journalist Jessica Soho herself and had an almost complete attendance of Vice President Leni Robredo, Senator Ping Lacson, Senator Manny Pacquiao, Manila City Mayor Isko Moreno. Former senator and son of dictator Ferninand ‘Bongbong’ Marcos Jr., made news after declining the invitation. The interviews were broadcast live on the GMA News Channel, Facebook Live, and Livestream on Youtube.

To no surprise, with years of experience and world accolades to her merit, the program received highly positive feedback from ordinary spectators, viewers, and even by Soho’s colleagues in the journalism industry.

Dissecting the show’s elements, the first commendable thing was the refreshing approach and the overall ambiance of the program. Unlike how debates can be intimidating and heavy for others and may present fierce competition with the candidates, the show’s format gave us a new method, where competition was evident but was centered on the candidates themselves. Each one was highlighted by answering tough questions thrown at them by the journalist, which allowed spectators to virtually participate by having our own comparative analysis on each running candidate.

Another element that should be highlighted from the program was the tough, no-non-sense interview questions and how these were well-written, precise, straightforward—all based on extensive research, verifiable facts, and journalistic skills.

The show covered topics from the Philippine political issues that should be prioritized, the problems that needed to be addressed, up to the most profound controversies each candidate has been involved with.

The different set of questions divided into segments gave us not just the political facade of the aspiring candidates but also allowed us to assess their raw personalities: Who provides the vibe of a trapo (traditional politician)? Who knows what they are talking? Who is rehearsed and insincere? And, like in a school requirement or a job interview, who came unprepared?

In over two hours, the show offered an informative, insightful, and thought-provoking look at the candidates and the Internet, of course, is not without its raves. However, even with the good feedback from a huge chunk of its viewers, it did not come without things that needed questioning and improving on.

It was a surprise to a number of viewers to learn that not everyone was given a fair chance, particularly, one of the presidential aspirants, Leody de Guzman, who is also a labor leader, because reportedly, only the top five names in the surveys were invited. Still, in the spirit of inclusivity, offering a platform to every presidential aspirant regardless of whether they have topped the surveys or have the biggest names in the political sphere. 

Furthermore, having panelists present during the interview, working together with experts from different sectors would help us dig deeper into issues that needed to be addressed in particular sectors. Enlisting the help of economists, political scientists, health experts, labor leaders, agriculture experts, human rights specialists, among others would have been a good addition to the already capable hands of the award-winning journalist. Something worth noting and considering in upcoming debates and discussions that are sure to come our way.

Still, to be the first program to conduct Presidential Interviews, Soho has raised the bar high—as it should. And truthfully, all eyes are on upcoming legitimate debates and interviews to come after it. But if there’s anything that the nation has learned from watching the presidential interviews with Soho at the steering wheel, it is that our standards on our leaders should never wane and the same standards should apply on the messengers tasked to examine these figures. As GMA Network noted, “The questions are tough because the job of the presidency is tough.”

In addition, with the longstanding attacks on Filipino journalists looking down on their credibility and reliability in the emergence of fake news and trolls in social media, Soho and the show served a cathartic television moment to tell us that “This is journalism, this is what it looks like.”

With the 2022 National Elections drawing near, maybe some of us have already been eyeing a candidate they want to campaign for, and others might still be in the undecided route, but one thing for sure, it is our duty as citizens to utilize our votes and our voices to assess whoever is deserving to become the next leaders to govern the country for the following years. 

Some may say that the presidential interview benefits candidates to campaign for themselves, and it is not wrong. But more than that, it is for the benefit of the citizens.

What we get from this presidential interview is in-depth information and knowledge on the presidential candidates on where they stand, what they prioritize, and how concrete their ideals for the country are. It gives us the option to critically think and scrutinize their stance to point us to the direction of the rightful candidate for us.

The Filipino people have gone through a lot, and now we have the opportunity to turn the tables and seek a better country governed by competent leaders. Through this program and future presidential forums coming, may we realize about the difficulties we had in the past years as a consequence of failed leadership, and may we not repeat the same mistakes again.

Rewatch the full show here:

With additional text by Leo Balante