Hazards of the profession-A A +A
Sunday, September 1, 2013
I HAVE been in the media for the past 33 years. I joined the radio way back in 1980 while I was studying mass comm at the Ateneo de Zamboanga in Zamboanga City. I was a working student then. I have never engaged in other endeavors. That is why I can say without fear of contradiction that this profession, especially radio, is my “first love.”
And in my more than three decades of being a media practitioner, I have experienced the so-called “hazards of the profession.” I’d been threatened at gunpoint in my stint in Zamboanga. I was mauled by a son of a businessman and his bodyguards in Mandaue City in 1990 when I exposed the exorbitant fees in a barge operation following the closure of the first Cebu-Mactan bridge after a vessel rammed the bridge at the height of typhoon Ruping.
The entire Cebu media industry rallied behind me in that incident, condemning the perpetrators. In fact, the incident was one of the reasons media leaders organized the Cebu Press Week.
I was charged with libel 24 times but not a single one reached the court. All my libel cases were dismissed at the prosecutor’s level and by the Department of Justice. I was held in contempt four times, twice by Regional Trial Court judges. I was penalized. Wa tay dag-anan kung huwes atong kontra. Sila maoy complainant, judge and executioner.
I am not bragging. But I’m telling readers about my experiences on the job so they’ll realize how delicate our work is especially if you’re in the news and public affairs, either in broadcast or print. For a media practitioner who cannot overcome these “hazards of the profession,” they better look for another job.
Being a colleague, I can only express my sympathy to ABS-CBN Cebu anchor and The Freeman/Banat columnist Leo Lastimosa, who was convicted of libel. The case was filed by former governor and now Third District Rep. Gwen Garcia. We cannot question the judge’s decision. I know Leo had no malice in mind to besmirch the reputation of Gwen when he wrote that article entitled “Doling Kawatan.” He did not even mention the name of Gwen in that article.
It was all fiction, Leo said in his defense. However, the court found him guilty of the crime because the court established links that Doling was Gwen based on his previous columns, which were all negative against Gwen. The former governor claimed that her childhood mates called her “Doling.” Had Leo used “Juaning Kawatan” he would not have been charged. Now, that teaches me a lesson. If I criticize somebody using a fictional column, I will not use a nickname, which is close to the real name of the object of my criticism.
Again, I won’t question RTC Judge Rafael Yrastorza’s decision in convicting Leo. But then, I hope his decision was really based on the merits of the case and there were no other reasons. It just suddenly came to my “wild thinking” that maybe there were other reasons. One, because the complainant is an influential person. Second, because judges receive fat allowances from the Capitol. Gwen sat there for nine years and Yrastorza was one of the beneficiaries of Capitol’s generosity.
What is the effect of Leo’s conviction on other legitimate practitioners? Well, there are two bones of contention that may arise out of this case.
First, there might be a “chilling effect,” meaning other media men might be cowed from criticizing influential people like Gwen for fear they might suffer Leo’s fate. On the other hand, this will also teach a lesson to mediamen to be extra careful in commenting issues. They key word is “responsibility.” I am not saying my friend Leo is “irresponsible” that’s why he was convicted. It just so happened he was found guilty of committing libelous statement based on the judge’s appreciation of the facts of the case.
But I don’t think the conviction will silence Leo. He can still appeal the case. With this temporary setback, I think he will be more encouraged to pursue his crusade and advocacy by using the might and power of media. It is not the end of his media career.
Puwede pa siyang mo-“Arangkada” ug mo-“Abante pa gyud Bisaya.”
Ernest Hemingway once said, “A man can be destroyed but not defeated.”
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 02, 2013.