Editorial: Sobering for media-A A +A
Sunday, September 1, 2013
THE conviction of veteran journalist Leo Lastimosa for libel reverberates because it unsettles the debate over press freedom and responsibility.
Lastimosa has a multi-media platform, anchoring “TV Patrol Central Visayas” and disseminating his commentaries through radio and print.
Former governor Gwendolyn Garcia filed the libel complaint against Lastimosa for his columns, published in The Freeman in 2007, where he castigated a character named “Doling Kawatan (Doling the thief).”
Judge Raphael Yrastorza noted in his decision that all the elements of libel were present: “allegation of a discreditable act, publication of the accusations, identity of the person defamed, and existence of malice,” reported newsinfo.inquirer.net.
In a text message to reporters, Garcia noted that, “The decision of the court will speak for itself.”
Lastimosa regarded the ruling as “an unfair warning to media,” reported Gerome M. Dalipe in Sun.Star Cebu last Aug. 31. Claiming that Garcia offered to drop the libel case if Lastimosa consented to cover Capitol’s “Suroy-Suroy Sugbo” ecotourism program, Lastimosa said, “And I refused to be used… (I will) stand my ground.”
Lastimosa hopes the Court of Appeals will see his side of the issue.
For media workers, Lastimosa’s libel conviction disturbs because it challenges the journalistic canon to monitor, scrutinize and hold authority accountable to the public.
According to the code of ethics formulated by the Society of Professional Journalists (SPJ), the profession of a journalist to “seek truth and report it” assumes that it is both a duty and responsibility to sift through information about “public officials and others who seek power, influence or attention” to serve the greater public good.
On the other hand, journalism ethics and standards underline the attendant obligations that cannot be extricated from press freedom. The same standards that the press applies to its news sources and news subjects must also be applied within the media’s ranks:
“Journalists should be honest, fair and courageous in gathering, reporting and interpreting information.”
“Ethical journalists treat sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect.”
“Journalists should be free of obligation to any interest other than the public’s right to know.”
“Journalists are accountable to their readers, listeners, viewers and each other.”
Literacy for all
How does Lastimosa’s conviction affect the current practice of news coverage and analysis?
Will the Yrastorza ruling result in self-regulation or self-censorship?
The former leads to journalists rigorously applying the highest ethics and standards on their own practice, as well as expecting the same from their news colleagues.
The latter constricts media workers to tone down their scrutiny and criticism of authority out of fear of incurring negative repercussions on their career, livelihood, interests and life.
Lastimosa was found guilty of libel two days before September, which is Cebu Broadcasters’ Month. Starting Sept. 15, Cebu tri-media will also hold the 19th Cebu Press Freedom Week, which is timed to coincide with Sept. 21, the proclamation of martial law and the cessation of all civil liberties, including freedom of the press.
More than serving as a lesson or a warning to journalists, the Lastimosa case also affects the public, including Netizens and bloggers who are regarded as citizen-journalists and important voices for democracy.
At the core of press freedom is not absolute power for the knowledge elite—media owners and journalists. According to SPJ, a free press is the foundation of “public enlightenment, (which) is the forerunner of justice and the foundation of democracy.”
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 02, 2013.