When to call a violent incident election-related-A A +A
Saturday, March 2, 2013
AMONG the questions, issues, and case studies the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) is compiling for its forum on election coverage (Thursday, March 7, 2013, MBF Cebu Press Center) is that raised by Mildred Galarpe, a Sun.Star Online editor: Why does it take long for Comelec to determine if a violent or controversial incident is election-related?
The press wants immediate answers. Even if it knows an incident still has to be investigated, reporters have deadlines to meet and, with more media platforms, more news cycles to chase.
They need something now and what reporters ask, often persistently to the point of annoyance is, “Is it election-related?”
A barangay leader is gunned down. A jeepload of armed men is stopped at a checkpoint.
Stallholders are evicted from their market spaces. To all that, media’s inevitable question: “Is it election-related?”
What faze them
These faze Comelec officials: when (a) they’re clueless about the incident, (b) they still have to sort out conflicting claims, (c) they’re tied by internal rules that specify the person who can speak for the Comelec on explosive issues, or (d) they wait for a complaint to be filed.
Mildred G. asks why the lack of a complaint is used by Comelec to justify not making the call. Can they not tell how they see the incident without a formal allegation of political motive?
Comelec in turn may ask why the rush when it’s not a matter-of-life-or-death, it’s not like whether a tsunami would hit Pasil and the public the press serves must know at once. Can media not wait until facts are in?
Another reason for the caution, an election supervisor once told me, is that a rash opinion could fuel political rivalry or alarm residents about public safety. This is an extremely suspicious town during election season, he said, and a shooting laced with political color might set off demands for Comelec control.
The extreme caution that election officers adopt can be unnerving to a media that feeds on information to function.
Not listed among the reasons for the slow response (because Comelec doesn’t want to admit it) is lack of an inclusive definition of “election-related.”
Almost anything disruptive during the election campaign and election day can be linked to something political. Almost nothing is not election-related. Each camp is quick to find political motive in the rival’s camp’s move, no matter how innocent it would be in other times.
When a political leader’s house is strafed, his allies scream, “Political harassment!”
Media routinely gets the side of both camps but still must ask Comelec’s independent opinion, “Is it election-related?”
Media’s own call
Can’t media--as independent as, or even more so than, Comelec--make its own call? If it has the facts, why not make its assessment?
Media can but often doesn’t. The reason is the fear of reporters and editors being seen as taking sides, when its finding tends to favor one over the other.
A safer stance would be not to make definite conclusions and instead just present the stories for the public to decide.
A police finding, in that example of a shooting, that the gunman was a spurned lover who got drunk would be weightier than a Comelec second-hand disclosure.
Media needs to make its own inquiries from sources, official or unofficial, other than the Comelec.
While it still asked Comelec what it knew about organizers busing crowds to recent UNA and LP rallies in Cebu, some journalists went directly to bus drivers and passengers.
A few respondents lied, obviously coaxed by “hakot” managers, but the truth came out.
About those “umbrella boys,” cops in civilian clothes carrying Pagcor-donated umbrellas: Comelec wasn’t the source but the reporters themselves who saw the spectacle of police serving as ushers.
Journalists are reminding themselves that the official word is not sacred: while it must still be sought, it must be verified against what others say.
So, is it incident-election related? Ask the Comelec but don’t rely solely on its answer. There are other independent sources, including the journalists themselves.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on March 02, 2013.