Bu-lat-lat (boo-lat-lat) verb: to search, probe, investigate, inquire; to unearth facts
Volume IV, Number 11 April 18 - 24, 2004 Quezon City, Philippines
Philippine Press is under siege by a society that increasingly shoots its
messengers. The Philippine Press, among the staunchest defenders of democracy in
this nation, operates in conditions that violate the same rights we seek to
champion on behalf of our clients, the public.
Journalists discuss the Philippine media situation during NUJP confab
Photo by BULATLAT.COM
paper was delivered by the writer during the 4th
National Congress of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines [NUJP]
held at the Ramon Magsaysay Hall, SSS Bldg., Quezon City last April 15, during
which she was elected chairperson.)
Philippine Press, caught up in globalization’s swift technological and
organization changes, confronts a major challenge to preserve its identity and
keep open its doors for the many voices that make up our society. Meanwhile,
individual journalists and small media entities struggle to keep at bay the
dangers of corruption and cooptation in the face of economic hardships, even as
mammoth media corporations ignore ethical considerations in the fierce
competition for ratings and revenues.
often hear that self-serving claim, “there is Press Freedom in the
Philippines,” uttered mostly by those who do not work at the frontlines of our
industry. In a profession that rests on the oft-impossible quest for the
“Truth,” it is time to unmask this lie.
is Press Freedom when Philippine media ties with Colombia as the world’s most
dangerous place to work as a journalist?
2002, three journalists were murdered: Benjaline Hernandez in Arakan
Valley, Cotabato; Edgar Demaerio of DXKP public radio and the Zamboanga
Scribe newspaper in Pagadian City; and San Pablo City TV news presenter and
magazine publisher Sonny Alcantara.
2003, the number of slain journalists grew to seven:
the Committee for the Protection of Journalists notes, we are witnessing “the
routine assassination of journalists.”
the violence experienced by Filipino journalists, it would not an exaggeration
to claim we are in a state of war.
word violence conjures physical harm – killings, of which there have
been too much of lately – 51 since 1986 in the combined list of the NUJP and
the Center for Press Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and 73 from the Bulatlat.com
count; beatings and other forms of torture; arrests and detention.
are other, less physical, forms of harassment: public harangues; threats,
whether veiled or overt; surveillance of movements and communications, news
blackouts; denial of access to information; prior restraint on coverage; and
criminal libel charges. All these do violence, not only to journalists, but to
media as a whole – and Philippine society in general.
have also witnessed major broadcast networks practicing self-censorship or, more
accurately, imposing censorship on independent entities that they host. A
government television station also nixed a submitted taped of a talk show,
because of what it felt were anti-government statements uttered by some of the
the opposite side, we have reporters chafing against employers’ attempts to
make them attack dogs against political or corporate rivals. We have journalists
desperately buying time and fighting furiously to keep their reports
independent, despite employers’ efforts to bully them into publishing
half-baked, clearly slanted stories. This is not an easy thing to do when the
possible consequence is the loss on one’s job.
indeed, takes all forms. And when media is oppressed, when it is literally under
fire, it is society itself that is besieged. It was not too long ago that
Filipinos lived this truth. It is not too much to ask that we do not forget.
too, plays a major role in two other serious problems facing Philippine media:
corruption and poverty.
we hear public officials, business leaders, civic groups, and even our own
colleagues bemoan the state of media in the Philippines. It is overly
sensational, critics say. It is irresponsible. It wallows in filth and garbage,
and ignores the many good things this country has to offer. It is one-sided,
biased. It is rotten and corrupt to its core.
tongue lashing, the litany of our perceived failures, highlight the traditional
roles vested on us: Watchdog, a medium for the many voices that exist in this
multi-ethnic society, champion of the oppressed, chronicler of history in the
the cacophony of voices that demand tribute from media, it is all too easy to
lose our way. It is also all too easy to get mad, become self-righteous, turn
defensive, or, faced with a gun muzzle on one hand and a bundle of cash on the
other, take the easy way out.
does not exist in a vacuum. While it can – and should lead in charting change
– it is also, to a great extent, a reflection of the host society. This is not
meant to excuse corruption or dismiss the prevailing state of poverty among many
journalists, but to provide some context.
is hypocrisy among some sectors that purport to advance the cause of ethical
journalism. For many of the same bodies that moan the lack of ethics in media,
many of the same groups that demand stringent standards of behavior among
journalists, are strangely silent – even dismissive – of the very factors
that fuel corruption within our ranks.
journalist should not receive favors from sources. A journalist should pay his
own way, buy his own coffee, and not partake of free lunches and free rides.
Amen, I see nothing wrong with those proscriptions. But when a media entity that
imposes these rules on its workers, fails to pay them on time, or worse, does
not pay them at all, what is that but hypocrisy? And when the industry groups
under which this media entity falls, say that they are not mandated to tackle
economic issues – only ethics – this, too, is hypocrisy.
but no income
NUJP aims to publish a new fact-finding report on economic conditions in
Philippine media. For now, let me cite a few findings:
remember Polly Pobeda, the Lucena broadcaster slain last summer? I attended his
wake. His colleagues were profuse with praise for his cheer despite several
months’ delay in their salaries. They condemned Polly’s murder, and
acknowledge the conditions they worked in… they just did not see that it
reflected a crime almost a pernicious, a situation that was the equivalent of
slow death. This state of affairs is replicated across the nation. You’ve
heard this mocking line: “May trabaho ka na, naghahanap ka pa ng sweldo?”
That’s not just a joke. That is the reality many journalists face daily.
journalist tries to muddle on as best he or she can. And muddle is exactly what
journalist rails against “envelopmental journalism,” the practice of giving
cash to guarantee positive news slants. The same journalist lambastes colleagues
who moonlight as handlers for politicians and powerful corporate entities. His
chief beef: they skim off part of the loot.
imagine this scene:
journalist complains against broadcast station management’s election-season,
“no fee-no coverage” order, one that apparently includes legitimate news.
Reporters’ hands are tied, he cries out. He claims his coverage duties include
several that involve “under the table campaign fees” to the news director or
the station general manager. That, too, is his biggest beef, the fact that
bosses don’t “share the joy.”
are not apocryphal tales. I personally listened to these plaints during two
huddles with media practitioners in as many weeks.
too, I had to break in and clarify: Were they outraged over the fact that bribes
were proffered and received, or were they outraged at losing their share of
a painful pause, both journalists acknowledged the latter and segued to laments
over the economic injustices heaped on media practitioners. Other colleagues
later pointed out that turning down envelops would mean being ostracized by
journalists were hardly hardened, unrepentant veterans. By their lights, they
were idealistic and seeking help in changing the current realities of Philippine
another part of the country, even more innocent journalists shared how they
tried to keep to the straight and narrow. These two journalists also vented
their ire against the “payola” system and said they routinely turned down
one said the almost non-existent pay in rural broadcast news reportage forced
her to “moonlight” – though clearly this second job represented bread and
butter. It wasn’t just any job. She was secretary to the city chief of police.
Incidentally, she also covered the police beat.
other colleague had earlier apologized for being late. She, too, had gone
hunting for a second job. She got it – as an analyst in the regional Army
intelligence group. By the way, she covered defense and insurgency and civil
asked both about the possibility of conflict of interest.
was none, said the secretary to the police chief. If there was a controversy,
she merely left colleagues to do the coverage and got herself out of the fray.
military analyst, too, couldn’t see the irony. After all, she worked with
classified documents so she would not be writing of these.
would have been hilarious had it not underscored the grave ethical dilemmas
faced by Filipino journalists today. The saddest thing is, all four journalists
are NUJP members or applying for membership.
are caught in a chicken-and-egg situation. Yes, many of us sincerely believe
that poverty is no excuse for corruption. Yet more and more of us are
increasingly bereft of wriggle room in escaping intense peer pressure to succumb
to the easy way out, especially when the prize for courage and integrity in
these isles comes in the form of a hail of bullets, a slew of libel suits,
abduction, or harassment and incessant surveillance.
us think of this when we talk of press freedom. As the International Federation
of Journalists (IFJ) notes, there can be no press freedom if journalists exist
in conditions or corruption, poverty or fear.
for us in the NUJP, there is no way to neatly segregate these woes; they are all
interrelated, each strengthening the other in laying siege on Philippine media.
can yak and yak until we turn blue. Encounters like the ones mentioned above
reduce me to silence, and prod me to examine premises and directions.
poverty is no excuse for corruption. True, some of the most corrupt journalists
may be the industry’s highest paid.
pains most is this: That those among us who command respect by virtue of skill,
integrity, brilliance have largely turned their backs on those who need most
pervades our daily coverage of the news, especially in the provinces where,
traditionally, socio-economic inequities, injustice and human rights violations
fear, too, is what every journalist confronts when called upon to fight for his
or her economic rights. Workers in Bombo Tacloban had just formed a union when
they found themselves out on the streets. In many newspapers and broadcast
stations, journalists will tell you that the standard reply to requests for
compensation or improved wages, is “di maghanap ka ng ibang amo.”
varying degrees, similar stories are shared in newsrooms all over the country.
Of course, there are community papers and broadcast stations that manage to
survive, even thrive, while paying staff humane compensation. But these are
exceptions, not the norm.
I have the answer to this dilemma? No. I simply do not know where to start
unraveling this mess. We at the NUJP are focusing much energy and passion on
these issues, and admittedly, are still groping in the dark.
as we do, media faces a debate over the recent killings of journalists. Jun Pala,
for one, continued to fan controversy with his death.
In death, Pala – who used to say that journalists, leftist journalists
anyway, were fair game for killing –succeeded in dividing the ranks of those
who struggled against the mindset he perpetrated.
understand the despair and anger over corruption and abuse in media. But there
can be no justification for killing journalists, notwithstanding the
considerable power – or the illusion of it – the press wields in this
country. We start drawing lines, and we shall soon find ourselves hapless in the
face of warring economic and political groups.
us not confuse the issues. Against the violence that stalks the Philippine
press, we must be united.
we want to rid the profession of corruption in its various forms, silence in the
face of violence is not the answer. If anything, an atmosphere of fear can only
make it easier to fall into the trap of corruption. Pala took the yak-yak route.
Others would take the path of silence. Either way, that makes a mockery of this
so-called “free” press.
want to clean Philippine media? Then, by all means, let us form pressure groups,
from the workplaces, to regional and national levels, and seek the support of
our main client, the public.
it, our major media organizations, all purporting to uphold the cause of ethics,
have been one big boys’ club where corruption is concerned. When put to the
test, and there have been many, we are too quick to cite professional courtesy,
which we are all too quick to junk when faced with circulation or ratings
now, print and broadcast journalists nationwide struggle to keep faith with
professional ethics even as their employers – the same folk who regularly like
to pontificate on ethics – issue election-related orders that clearly violate
the Press’ mandate to serve the people’s right to know.
broadcast networks have imposed a blanket “no-fee-no-coverage” policy. As a
result, only those candidates with deep pockets enjoy publicity. Reporters are
banned from covering and reporting on candidates who do not pay fees, either on
a piecemeal basis or per campaign package.
the same time, those spared these constraints find themselves deluged by all
sorts of offers that, directly or indirectly, act as bribes and sweeteners.
members themselves have direct experience with this kind of blandishments. We
were recently approached with a Malacañang offer to submit the names of our
children – including new college graduates – for inclusion into the list of
beneficiaries of the government’s education aid program. There is nothing
wrong with journalists’ offspring availing of government aid. But the
circumstances, a rush offer towards the homestretch of the election campaign,
and the lack of clear guidelines naturally raised suspicion of a PR move at the
expense of taxpayers. Why, in the first place, would graduates qualify for
educational aid? Where, in the education aid program, does the government offer
to shoulder living allowances for graduates during their job-hunting phase? The
offer was coached in a way that seemed all takers would be approved.
no such thing as a free ride. Ethical, courageous journalism is not a godsend
from heaven. You fight for it daily in the newsroom, on the beat. Nor will our
economic due fall like manna from heaven. For this, too, we shall have to slug
cannot stand aloof on some high ground and take pride in our righteousness, and
sniff when muck and gore flood the lowlands. That is not struggle; that is
escapism. Down, where the currents rage, is where the battle field lies. The
only way to teach others the art of resistance is by wading through the mud and
reaching out to some rather grubby hands.
Let us not forget, we are workers. Manggagawa. We allow ourselves to be treated like peons, we shall soon be thinking like peons. We’ll stand silent while our masters dance on our graves. Posted by Bulatlat.com