Inquirer’s Report, ABS-CBN’s Witnesses

No sane person would tell the world he is sick with lung cancer just to belie an obviously poorly done banner headline in a newspaper. So I believe murder convict Jose Villarosa more than the Philippine Daily Inquirer, whose Jan. 16, 2007 main Page 1 story screamed: “Jailed ex-solon missing.” The former congressman is not missing, after all.

This is not a critique of the Inquirer but is more of a voicing out of misgivings. I have for sometime now been asking myself whether or not Philippine brand of journalism has already hewed closely to basic tenets or is still far from that level. I don’t pretend to have answers to that but I feel something is to be said about the handling of some stories.

Students of journalism may as well find the Inquirer’s Jan. 16 banner headline and its follow-up of the story the next day an interesting case study. The first report had these attributions: “sources at the New Bilibid Prison (NBP),” “Inquirer source,” “NBP sources,” “NBP employees,” “source who asked not to be named,” NBP insiders,” etc.

This reminds me of this technique being perfected by TV news programs. I am referring to video clips of “sources” or “witnesses” whose images are being intentionally distorted supposedly to prevent identification. This became common TV fare during media coverage of the congressional investigations on issues like the “Hello Garci” tape.

Since then, it has become convenient for anybody to make claims, whether against the government or other institutions and no matter how dubious, and be on primetime TV news despite lacking the courage to identify oneself. Interestingly, the same technique was used by ABS-CBN in hitting rival GMA on the ratings controversy.

In the Inquirer story, I like to think the paper had no other purpose in running a half-baked story than to “scoop” the competition, the slant of the story (Villarosa is an ally of President Arroyo) notwithstanding. But even then, it whipped up a reaction that was not only unfair to the Villarosas but also to the people’s pet peeve: Malacañang.

ABS-CBN’s style of reporting, meanwhile, made me recall those times when the popularity of the underground movement was at its peak and some underground elements allowed themselves to be interviewed by reporters and be photographed or videotaped. Underground elements, of course, hate to expose their identities for security reasons.

Initially, therefore, they covered their faces with cloth or wore masks or hoods until some top cadres criticized the practice because it made spokespersons of the underground look like bandits. Thus, the practice was stopped altogether and some elements, like the popular Ka Roger Rosal, had to show their faces when interviewed.

It is basic in journalism that you check the background of “sources” and his or her claims by getting information and confirmation from other people before a story is run. It is a tedious process but ensures objectivity and fairness and protects the credibility of news institutions. But for one reason or another, the rule is not always followed.

–This came out in my Candid Thoughts column in Sun.Star Cebu, January 18, 2008

2 Responses to Inquirer’s Report, ABS-CBN’s Witnesses

  1. This reminds me of Sen. Antonio Trillanes who claimed that he had “credible” witnesses who can testify that the Glorrieta blast was caused by bomb. His allegations was “bought” well by the Philippine press considering that there is news “slant” and lean news value in Trillanes’ statement. But no witness nor evidence surfaced until this time.

    It is already a fad among news sources and those who deliver the news “the press” to attribute to “credible sources”, “insider from blah blah blah who refused to be named”.

    Indeed, we are bombarded with half-baked information. Is the Philippine press more concern on rating games and readership shares rather than focus on the “core” of journalism?

  2. […] to validate claims, to check sources before running the story take much time and effort. But as Candido O. Wenceslao puts it, it is a tedious process but ensures objectivity and fairness and protects the credibility of news […]

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