Oh, Philippine media, how do we loathe thee? Let us count the ways. On second thought, there probably isn't enough time. Why don't we just say that you are pretty well despised? Plenty of Filipinos firmly believe that the country's press is a destructive force. They can make a solid case: the media is venal, sensationalistic and very often just plain dumb. I recall a presidential press conference where the first 'question' was a gushing remark about President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo's dress. The joke is that the press is not free - it has to be bought. A study of last year's election shows no lack of coin-operated journalists, with bent reporters, editors and columnists being paid. Many reporters do not ask intelligent questions, are too lazy to follow up leads, and turn out stories that keep audiences perpetually excited. 'Journalistic expose' is probably the most overused, debased term I have heard. Broadcasting, the dominant medium, can be particularly grating. Plenty of airtime is given to announcers who clearly have nothing to say. Radio reporters make it a point to excitedly shout everything, even a traffic update. The current darling of the airwaves, a motor-mouthed announcer, alternates between reading the news, making snide remarks and hawking vitamin pills, all without missing a beat. Should the press be suppressed? Look at the other side of the coin. The Philippine media reflects Philippine culture: the leading broadcast network shot to the top not because of reasoned, analytical coverage, but because it flooded the spectrum with dwarves, aliens, mutants, butchered bodies and sex maniacs. Viewers lapped it up. Publications which try to be sober and thoughtful founder rapidly compared to rags that froth at the mouth and leer salaciously. The trends are sustained by an audience unable to tell the difference between a reporter and opinion columnist or between news and entertainment. Some think that the solution is to have a 'responsible' press that reports only 'good' news. I can just see the headlines: 'Corruption doesn't grow as fast this year.' Scurrilous as it is, the press has helped bring down criminal governments, such as those of Ferdinand Marcos and Joseph Estrada. It is now breaking a story on how the government might have rigged last year's election. A censored press would not stop corruption, or even be a more professional body. Censorship would only benefit the government. That prospect is even more disturbing than a badly written news story. A dead or fettered press is not the answer. A smarter, better-trained one is. Mangy, flea-bitten and dumb as it is, it is the only watchdog we have.