'Media irresponsibility killing us softly'

MANILA, Philippines – What’s worse than media killings in a country dubbed one of the deadliest for journalists?

For ABS-CBN journalist Anthony Taberna, it’s the potential death of media credibility due to media’s "recklessness and irresponsibility."

“Our biggest problem is not media killings. Our problem is what is killing us softly. What does that mean? Today, they are killing the credibility of media in general because of recklessness, because of some sector of media’s irresponsibility,” Taberna said in a mix of English and Filipino on Thursday, May 22, during the Rotary Club of Manila’s (RCM) Journalism Awards.

Taberna was all praises for his company, ABS-CBN, which he said has been very careful to get all sides of a story to the point that some of his reports never got to see the light of day. He contrasted this with the practice of some media outlets to run unverified reports.

"Ganun po ba nangyayari ngayon? Lahat po kami wala nang kredibilidad, kinukwestyon ang bawat sabihin namin sa radyo. Isip-isipin mo, merong isang government employee na nagsabing binigyan mo ng pera si ganito, wala namang corroboration, walang ebidensya, ipi-print ng kung sinong diyaryo. Ano pong klaseng media tayo ngayon?”

(Is this what’s happening today? We all don’t have credibility anymore, and everything we say on radio is being questioned. Think about it: A government employee says you gave this person money, and without any corroboration or evidence, some newspaper prints this. What kind of media are we today?)

RCM’s Male Broadcast Journalist of the Year for Radio said he found out from media friends how a lot of innocent names were “printed, talked about, tarnished” and their reputations destroyed “because of media irresponsibility.” 

“I think that’s more dangerous than media killings because we are killing our selves softly. Soon, no one would believe media anymore....Irresponsible media are very dangerous to our society,” Taberna said.

Editorial judgment

He did not specify any media outlet, but Philippine Daily Inquirer publisher Raul Pangalangan, who received RCM’s Newspaper of the Year award, reacted, "I don’t know, Anthony, if you were referring to Inquirer, but just for the record, we did not name you.” 

On May 18, PDI published an installment of a special report on the "files" of pork barrel scam whistleblower Benhur Luy, which reportedly cited several media personalities as recipients of cash gifts from alleged scam mastermind Janet Lim Napoles. All those named had denied the allegation.

Pangalangan explained that while it was the newspaper’s policy to give everyone an opportunity to air their side, the editorial judgment for their latest series on the pork barrel scam was to “not cut and paste and edit because the moment we do that, you make yourself vulnerable to editing the list.”

It was the same judgment, Pangalangan said, when they came out with the transcript of Napoles’ visit to PDI.

Despite the “incoherence” and “sensitivities,” the newspaper did not edit the transcript so as not to “cultivate” suspicion among its readers.

Why the delay?

Jojo Robles, columnist for Manila Standard Today and RCM’s Opinion Writer of the Year, asked Pangalangan why Inquirer “sat on the story of the list” and came out only when everyone is already coming out with lists

Inquirer received the hard drive on April 27, 2013, but only reported about its contents early May 2014. Luy’s lawyer Raji Mendoza had earlier said his client cannot confirm the authenticity of the files that Luy's parents reportedly gave the Inquirer.

At least 3 other lists have been circulating – lists from Rehabilitation Secretary Panfilo Lacson and Justice Secretary Leila de Lima sourced from Napoles, and one based on Luy's own records.

Both Lacson and de Lima's lists were already submitted to the Senate blue ribbon committee. (READ: ‘Resolve list confusion in Senate hearing’)

"You see, we couldn’t rely solely on the [hard drive] until it was actually filed by the NBI with the Ombudsman,” Pangalangan said, noting that when they broke the story on the pork barrel scam in July 2013, it was based on sworn statements secured by the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI).

It also took time, he added, since only limited staffers could go over the hard drive’s 20,103 files to keep it confidential.

"For me, the fact that it took us long, I think we should also consider it as a practical reality. This is a hard disk containing roughly about 20,000 files. [The] whole team [was] poring over the list, and making sure that we present it in a way which the public will find accessible [and] reader-friendly,” he said. – Rappler.com

Jee Y. Geronimo

Jee is part of Rappler's Central Desk, handling most of the world, science, and environment stories on the site. She enjoys listening to podcasts and K-pop, watching Asian dramas, and running long distances. She hopes to visit Israel someday to retrace the steps of her Savior.

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