Janet Napoles’s complaints on media coverage of scam-A A +A
Tuesday, August 20, 2013
JANET LIM-NAPOLES, alleged mastermind of the fraud using bogus non-government organizations (NGOs) to siphon at least P10 billion public funds, is in hiding.
Napoles--now a household name that meets name-recognition standard in running for the Senate--apparently believes she’s not getting justice from the government.
Her lawyer complains that the arrest warrant (for illegal detention of her employee and whistleblower Benhur Luy, not for the massive scam) was issued too fast. But apparently not quick enough to catch Janet.
Did she flee, aside from the warrant that would detain her without bail, also from adverse media coverage? Flight doesn’t only signify guilt; it also leaves defense in media to her lawyers who will be voluble but will give scant information.
Janet herself had a mouthful to say against the way her case was publicized, specifically print media, more specifically, the “Inquirer.”
At a roundtable with the paper’s editors and writers last Aug. 8, her gripes included:
News reports based on “erroneous” or “false” information with journalists getting away with it by using the word “alleged”;
Not being contacted by the paper to get her side.
On using “alleged,” whose effect must be misunderstood by Napoles and a number of reporters in many newsrooms: it is not a defense, the Supreme Court says, against libel or slander. Calling a public official corrupt when there’s no evidence of that is not excused by attaching “alleged” to the word.
Yet that seems to be the public impression. A lawyer one time said a news story in Sun.Star was libelous because it didn’t use the “A” word. That may be the reason some journalists use it liberally even though it’s a mythic safeguard.
Can’t be reached
Getting the side of the person accused of wrongdoing is basic in news reporting.
Stories that tell of a crime or abuse and name the suspect usually include the line that the person concerned was contacted by the reporter but didn’t comment or couldn’t be reached.
Napoles asked a reporter at the roundtable: “Di ba susulat ka, tanungin yong side namin. Para naman...”
She said that no reporter from the “Inquirer” contacted her. One called her only after Napoles wrote the editor-in-chief.
The reporter and his colleagues who helped cover the story disputed her, saying they texted her but she didn’t answer. Napoles stuck to her claim, saying they could check with the telecom firm.
Post-story denials must instruct reporters to record details of effort to reach the suspect and to give as much data about it in the story as space allows, not just the formulaic “cannot-be-reached” comment.
The other side
The reporter must diligently get the side of the suspect for the day’s story. But if he fails, he must still pursue it for the next news cycle although many reporters take the silence as waiver of right to reply.
But must the side of the suspect be contacted for each story the paper runs, which was what Napoles wanted?
The story has spilled over to other areas or beats on side issues that may no longer be within her knowledge or concern. A follow-up story on, say, how mayors handled benefits from pork barrel money didn’t require it but she wanted her comment sought too.
On her initiative, she could’ve mailed or phoned in statements before or after publication. Her company or personal publicist could do that. Her statement to the paper, if relevant to a raging issue, has high chances of getting space.
The paper decides when and how the right of reply is granted. Fairness is for media to dispense and for the public to judge. It is not for one news source to dictate.
What Napoles’s beef was about fairness and right of reply. It was not shown that the reporters didn’t seek her out for her part of the story. Her claim on that, like other claims in other facets of the issue, cannot be taken immediately as true.
As to right of reply, the paper granted it not only in news stories but also in full-length transcript of her meeting with the paper’s journalists.
After accusations about fairness settle down, ultimately it’s the readers who’ll judge. The readers decide if the paper deserves continued trust.
It’s Napoles who’s losing credibility. After loquaciously promising she is open to full scrutiny and has nothing to hide, she vanished. But it wasn’t caused by a bolt of lightning, which she said God could strike her with if she lied.
The threat of being locked up in jail must have made her flee.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on August 20, 2013.