Media outlets’ publicity about their own relief work

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By Atty. Pachico A. Seares

Media's Public

Saturday, December 7, 2013

DIDN'T TV networks and other news organizations breach ethics in focusing coverage on their relief work during the Yolanda super-storm last Nov. 8 and the 7.2-magnitude earthquake last Oct. 15?

The question was raised at the open forum Tuesday when the Canadian Embassy conferred on Eileen G. Mangubat of the “Cebu Daily News” the 2013 McLuhan Fellowship at the MBF Cebu Press Center. The discussion followed her talk about the news coverage of the destruction wrought by Yolanda in Leyte, Samar, and northern Cebu.

Focus on how news organizations helped the victims was also taken up at the en banc meeting of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) Thursday also at the press center.

What’s the problem?

Court of Appeals Associate Justice Gabriel Ingles wondered if it didn’t violate some norm when the news organization was in the limelight, hugging the news when it should’ve been focused on other players and other stories too.

In bad taste

Mangubat said that on its face it’s in bad taste but “if the organization has the heart and means to do these efforts with transparency and good housekeeping, by all means the help is welcome. But it should be driven by a real spirit of service, not corporate ego.”

One must ask though how corporate ego could be kept out in a network war, which must be waged even in time of disaster, especially in such a time when rivals compete for audiences and the recognition of which does better not just in reporting but also in showing compassion for the helpless and needy. (“Serbisyong Totoo,” “Panig sa Pagbangon ng Bayan”)

At the CCPC meeting, TV anchorpersons Rose Versoza (GMA 7) and Ruphil Ba¤oc (dyHP, CCTN) indicated the self-promotion is necessary: to account for money and foodstuffs raised and to tap the givers’ generosity again in the future (Bañoc), but not to excess (Versoza).

As to what is excessive and who regulates the breast-beating, there are no standards and minders aren’t really counting. No specified number of “selfie” stories. Editors who budget premium time are often influenced by bosses who don’t want the rival to upstage them.

Convenient excuse

“Everybody’s doing it” seems to justify media use of lights on itself, a convenient excuse in both broadcast and print, though newspaper format and space don’t allow the hype and repetitiveness of TV and radio.

Justice Ingles’s concern, from the viewpoint of a consumer, should be on whether news evaluation is bent or distorted and somehow the audience is deceived.

If the self-promotion reduces time of, or crowds out, other important stories, listeners may be shortchanged. Stories of fundraising or repacking and distributing relief goods, which they wouldn’t have considered if that was done by other groups, landed on prime time.

But then it’s done, let it be. Besides, with the convenience of the remote control, one can switch channels. But, ha ha, Channel X shows the relief propaganda that Channel Y shows, with little visual and text variation.

Public support

But media must be credited for whipping up public support, which wouldn’t have been as mammoth and massive as it was for the Yolanda and earthquake victims.

Would the world and the rest of the nation have rallied to people in devastated areas had media, national and international, not given the suffering a face or, more accurately, faces?

Media is told they should’ve been more sensitive to victims who wanted privacy in their suffering. But that is a theory in journalism school and tougher on the ground when the reporter’s values clash: the desire to get the story against the wish not to intrude into another person’s space.

That is as much a dilemma to the reporter on the field as it is to the editor back in the office.

They have to make choices, which unavoidably considers the competition.

Competition, perspective

But competition should be forgotten in time of disaster, editor Michele P. So of Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu] said.

Maybe not, as competition must always be a driving influence. What can be set aside though are petty wrangling over turf or scoop, animosities that will make survival difficult and won’t help produce a better story or photo. Competing reporters can swap information or advice without losing impetus to strive for excellence.

And editors, So says, should get out of newsrooms and visit disaster sites if they can “to get a better perspective” of the story.

Pretty much the same thing a former public official wanted editors to do: get out of their air-conditioned offices and see for themselves how the then governor was governing.

Most editors were reporters before they became editors. They must keep some distance for a better overview and a sharper review of the work of their reporters on the scene.


Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on December 07, 2013.


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