in Media Ethics

Covering themselves: When news people become news makers (Part 2)

Second of Three Parts

The day before the government committee released its investigation report about the hostage-taking, the websites of the country’s two leading newspapers highlighted the debate on whether the report should be released locally first or be submitted to Chinese officials first out of courtesy. The Philippine Star focused on a senator’s comment that Filipinos should have the first look. The Philippine Daily Inquirer also had a similar angle, although it quoted several lawmakers who criticized the “hostage report-taking.”

The news website of TV network GMA7 also talked about the debate on where to release the report first, but it was buried on the last few paragraphs of the main story that quoted a media group saying the government should not make the media as its “scapegoat” in the handling of the hostage crisis. The article’s headline read: “Govt warned vs haling (sic) media to court over hostage tragedy.” ABS-CBN’s news website also uploaded a video clip it aired on its evening newscast accompanied by the script, written in the vernacular, quoting a former senator, now a counsel to the radio station that aired the last live interview with the hostage-taker, saying that the media are not at fault. Former senator Aquilino Pimentel Jr. said: “There is a danger to media here. I think there is an attempt to shift the blame to media coverage.” These articles were uploaded the weekend before the report was to be publicly released.

The four news websites also reported about the release of the investigation’s findings on September 20: Nine government officials, including an undersecretary, the Ombudsman, three police generals and a city mayor, as well as two radio journalists were found liable. Three television stations were also mentioned to have violated codes of ethics. The articles from the four websites were all factual. But what was interesting was the range of side bars or off-shoots of the main story that the websites also published.

Two media groups—the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines and the National Press Club—aired concerns about the inclusion of the media in the list of those likely to be charged. The Inquirer posted an article with this headline: “Media group warns against suing journalists over hostage-taking fiasco.” GMA7 had this story: “Aquino urged to ‘spare’ media from hostage raps.” ABS-CBN2 had this side bar: “IIRC report sends ‘chilling effect’ to the media.”

To be concluded…

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