‘Media frenzy’ on Napoles scandal: has it made fairness impossible?-A A +A
Friday, October 4, 2013
SEN. Jinggoy Estrada’s host of complaints, aired in his Senate privilege speech last Sept. 25, included “media frenzy,” along with “cry for blood and for heads to roll,” whose intensity, to him, has thrown fairness out the window.
By western standards, media coverage of the pork barrel fraud--focused on Janet Lim-Napoles as alleged mastermind and a number of legislators as her accomplices--is no media circus.
Media frenzy assumes that the coverage is out of proportion to the story’s importance, given the number of reporters and writers assigned and the amount of newspaper space and broadcast hours allotted for it.
Few other stories can compete with the bogus NGOs scam that swindled at least P10 billion from the treasury in form of grants from Congress’s Priority Development Assistance Fund (PDAF).
All the elements of a “super” story are there: prominence of the players who include legislators and department officials, a humongous amount of public funds swindled with the use of bogus NGOs, failure of government regulators to detect and stop the fraud, illegal detention of a would-be whistleblower by a hyper-active businesswoman, and flight and surrender of the suspect.
And tightly tied to a raging issue: abuse of pork barrel funds and agitation of some sectors to keep the fund, a clash of interests that has gone to the streets and the halls of the Supreme Court.
Has media gone overboard in its coverage of the story by tapping more journalists and devoting more news space and time to it?
It’s basic for editors to concentrate force and resource on “the” story, even at the sacrifice of other stories. News about what they’re doing at DAR to help food plants grow fast and big can wait for news about how they helped swindlers steal public money intended to assist farmers.
The better papers, it may be noted, have done the tricky job of budgeting space. Other important stories were not ignored; they were still covered adequately though not as extensively as the pork barrel scandal.
Not just Napoles
The top story is not just a Napoles story. It’s also the congressional story, the DBM, DAR, and DSWD story, the COA, DOJ, and ombudsman story, the police story (the heist of the century), and the people story--the story of a nation’s rage against the plunder.
Senator Jinggoy’s accusation of releases from the president’s lump sum outlay called Disbursement Acceleration Program (DAP) to the senators who voted for the impeachment of then Supreme Court chief justice Renato Corona has spun off the story further, taking it to the doorstep of Malacañang.
And look at crucial and compelling concerns that have emerged from the tangled web produced by the bogus NGOs story:
--Protecting public funds from predators with criminal minds that devised methods to steal them;
--Removing flaws of a system that allows public money to go to private organizations, with little or sloppy overseeing by state regulators;
--Prosecuting legislators and bureaucrats who connive with the swindlers;
--Improving early-detection skills and procedures of such watchdogs as COA, SEC, and DBM that were apparently napping on the job or colluding with perpetrators.
More than 5Ws
Clearly, reporting of the story requires much more than Five-Ws coverage. Media need to do more than telling how much money was lost and the probable suspects. Stats are still useful although, as figures grow bigger, they tend to numb the public mind: it’s billions, no longer millions, that shock.
For example, has media clarified these?
--Pork barrel, as locally understood, is where the public official holds control over the fund. So it’s not just PDAF, it’s also DAP or any other outlay, lump sum or not, over which he has enormous discretion.
It’s not just legislators; it’s also the president. Cutting up PDAF and tucking the parts into budgets of departments won’t abolish it if lawmakers still keep control over them.
--It’s not only Napoles who’s the villain. There are also lawmakers, department officials, state regulators, and many others. But assigning blame can be a shotgun blast if suspects are viewed as all crooks.
Very much local
While it is largely a national story, the Napoles scandal is also very much a local story as it affects and touches everyone in the community. It must be given as much prominence as an important local story and not confined to the Nation page.
Local media can help the reader go through the maze of interlocking events by giving the story the display and handling it deserves.
What Senator Jinggoy meant by “media frenzy” could be the noise of commentators and chatter of social media that might confuse, instead of enlighten.
Does that rule out fairness then?
It’s a tough job for suspects like Napoles and the senator to state their case amid the sound and fury. Yet, Janet was heard when she cared to talk; her lawyers could get the print space or broadcast time they’d ask for. Senator Jinggoy made a privilege speech; there was some jeering but media reported what he said.
What must console them is that most media haven’t dumped fairness. They still report the side of the alleged perpetrators.
But, clearly, the call is not just for balance; it is also for clarity.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on October 05, 2013.