Reckless Spillover

by Juan L. Mercado

Kalapati mababang lipad translates  loosely  into rooftop skimming pigeons. It is Pinoy shorthand  for  harlot.  “

The  axiom  resonated  at the Philippine Press Institute’s conference Monday.  “Attempts at  self-regulation are failing”,  Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility’s Luis Teodoro warned.  Media’s  ethical  lapses court heavy handed government  interference. 

This  threat emerges  in spillover from August  2010 coverage of  eight Hong Kong tourists and a hostage taker killed at  Luneta,  CMFR says. Reporters and  istambays jostled with cops for vantage posts  in the 10-hour standoff.  From initial denial, networks argued  the police didn’t set the limits of media coverage, Teodoro noted.

Journalism  ethics  stipulates  care to  prevent harm. Was this beyond networks, once , ratings and ad revenues are involved? , CMFR  asked.. Belatedly, networks  argued: government did not set  limits of coverage. In so doing,  they jettisoned  self-regulation. Yet, this is the only option for a democratic society.

As late as August 2011, RMN  insisted: they were  “just doing (our) job.”   “We  are sometimes  factually reckless,” Washington Post’s Meg Greenfield  once said. On other instances, “we’re morally smug. On our worst days, we can be both.”

Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas
clapped  P30,000-fines on ABS-CBN’s Channel 2, Radyo Mo Nationwide and TV5. They leaked operational details and compromised  rescue efforts. RMN staff  butted into negotiations. “Slap on the wrist”, critics scoffed.

“The press is free, like the air”,  U.K. prime minister  William Pit ( 1759-1806 ) once sneered. “It is a chartered libertine.”  In today’s English, that  would  read  “constitutionally protected prostitute”.

Kalapati mababang lipad becomes more  problematic as  Internet, cell phone and Facebook, etc. move truth—or falsehood—at “warp speed.” In the past, a scoop stood until the next edition. Today it lasts only until the next click of a mouse.

“News organizations are  abandoning the race to be the first to break the news,” Economist notes. “[They’re] focusing instead on being the best at verifying.”  The need is for more, not less, of hard-nosed reporting of facts and commentary anchored on values. “.  

CMFR’s paper did not include print’s experience with self-regulation. It is longer but just as mixed as that of  broadcast. 

Recall  the 1965  Philippine Press Council. One of it’s first rulings skewered  the  yearly awards to “Ten Outstanding Congressmen”, by  journalists on the Lower House beat. Business reporters quietly junked similar awards on their beat.

“It was the first significant  attempt to  establish a system of professional control,”  notes the book,  “Marcos and  Martial Law.”(Cornell University).   But  “the Council had only a brief history. Complaints  were few”. And martial  law aborted this initiative.

After People Power One, a Press  Council  was reconstituted.  But it didn’t command similar broad support of  publishers, as did the  earlier Council . Some members ignored  a Council  request:  Publish  rejoinders, by Marian School academic supervisor Antonio Calipjo Go, to  criticisms for his campaign against flawed public school  text books. 

“A  cabal of columnists (went) hammer and tongs against Go after his campaign resulted in the Department of Education banning (some) materials,” Inquirer’s Fernando del Mundo recalled.   “The torrent of invectives in op-ed pages came in the midst of  re-filing of an alleged extortion case that a court dismissed earlier.

“Most criticism didn’t rebut textbook errors. Instead, they zapped Go’s bona-fides.  “The columnists’ campaign to shoot the messenger killed [Go’s] message,” Del Mundo wrote, “Defective textbooks are one of the root causes of the decline in Philippine education.”

President Aquino and Education Secretary Armin Luistro publicly supported Go. By then,  kalapati mababang lipad had  strangled  Manila’s post-Edsa  press council.

Only Cebu has a functioning press council  today. Organized in 2011, Cebu Citizens Press  Council  acts on complaints against media. It addressed issues ranging from coverage of minors in conflict with the law, anti-obscenity, decriminalization of libel, etc. CCPC  protested against  mandatory – and unconstitutional – “right of  reply”  four years before SB2150 and HB3306 almost slipped thru Congress.

Is an oversized  kalapati roost finally being dismantled at the Bureau of Customs?

“Our membership lists remain porous” a  2004  Press Freedom Week editorial admitted:    “We’ve still  have to flush out hao-shaios who flash  oversize self-printed press cards or blocktime microphones, notably in Customs.”

Commissioner Ruffy  Biazon  signed this year  Memorandum Order 37 to ferret out “fake journalists who engage in illicit activities” in customs. .BOC issued  55 IDs to legitimate media. It  rejected almost double that number,  mostly from tabloids or radio  blocktimers

Those shut out asked the Supreme Court  (a)  zap  Biazon with a Temporary Restraining Order; and  ( b)  strike down  Memo Order 37.  Reason?   “It curtailed press freedom”.

“A  claim of press freedom is tainted when right to information’ is  misused for personal requests or sleaze, Sun Star’s Public Standards editor Pachico Seares snapped. ”Access to information is unimpeded. It’s only the number of people covering BOC that is reduced”.…

No TRO has been issued. “Apparently, the Court doesn’t see “clear and imminent danger to press freedom” . That liberty can be used as a “last refugee for scoundrels.” Or if you prefer: kalapatis.

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