Why Malacañang keeps off media corruption issue

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By Atty. Pachico A. Seares

Media's Public

Friday, April 4, 2014


“That particular discussion or conversation should take place in the media, within your circle, rather than the government.”
--Presidential spokesperson Edwin Lacierda, rejecting the proposal that the Palace engage in a dialogue with the press about media pay-offs

COMMUNICATION specialists of President Noynoy Aquino assumed the “not-our-problem” stance when two former officials of the state-owned National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor) alleged in affidavits that two broadcasters received P2 million from pork barrel kickbacks.

It was the prudent thing to do. Palace p.r. people know:

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[] Journalists are most sensitive to and highly irritable over any charge of being on the take or getting bribes. They bristle over any accusation of graft or unethical conduct. They fume about any suggestion that they who question the honesty of those in government must themselves be questioned.

[] Many corruptors of media are public officials, using various forms of undue influence -- from “gifts” of junkets, free lunches and second jobs to outright cash-outs and, to media managers, the lure (or threat) of ad revenue.

[] Journalists stung by criticism of bribery find ways of hitting back and getting even. Vulnerable public officials can attack once or twice but reporters or editors may unleash a steady stream of adverse news or opinion.

Public fund

Lacierda concedes though that if the two broadcasters, both news anchorpersons of two different networks, indeed received pork barrel money, it was public fund. And thus within the ambit of the Department of Justice to investigate.

Inquiry, when called for by law, is different from a dialogue with Malacañang.

Besides, what will an academic exchange of two wary camps achieve?

The Palace is right in keeping off any talk with media about the case of the two broadcasters. The proposal, raised at the Malacañang press-con, was a reporter’s off-the-cuff comment and didn’t represent a consensus or intent of the media industry.

But here’s what the Palace can do, on the premise that what was spent was public money. It can prod the DOJ to take its inquiry seriously and not sweep it under the rug.

Media itself

It’s media itself that should show more interest in an issue affecting integrity of its functions.

But then many journalists won’t like peers outside their respective news organizations to poke into their suspected seamy affairs. Not any press association, not a press council or some other mechanism that media as an industry often uses as argument to resist government regulation.

Media often claims self-regulation by the press. But with what extra-newsroom means, especially when it comes to corruption?

Journalists wouldn’t want to be talked about regarding any alleged misbehavior even in a press forum. Many reporters and some editors protested when a documentary presented by the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) tackled the problem of media corruption a few years ago.

Not from peers

The film made no direct accusation but reported the admission of a number of journalists that indeed some form of corruption existed locally. The opposers said “no journalist has the right to pass judgment on us.”

When the “docu” made no judgment and merely tried to start an internal conversation on an issue that has persistently bugged media. The film was just scratching the surface, yet would’ve served as springboard for professional self-examination.

The “docu” was only a news report in video and sound, not an indictment, and a few journalists, who’re schooled and believers in freedom of information, even wanted the film banned and archived.

Not just ironic but a sad commentary on how journalists view an issue that, like prostitution, has ailed the industry for ages.

‘Within your circle’

Malacañang tells media to discuss the subject “among yourselves, within your circle.”

Self-regulation, “di ba?” as Cardinal Vidal would quip. Amen. Still, among journalists the subject seems to be taboo and any media person would be gagged on the subject unless he’s lily-white and pure.

In deciding the controversy over the film on corruption, CCPC, in an en-banc membership resolution, left it to the different media companies to investigate any accusation of bribery against their personnel.

TV5 and GMA 7 announced they would make their own inquiries if their two broadcasters indeed profited from the pork barrel scam.

Ultimately, each media outlet will heed its own readership or audience in resolving any controversy over corruption. Consumers can assume the news organization wants to protect its credibility and keep the trust of its public.

(publicandstandards@sunstar.com.ph or paseares@gmail.com)

Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on April 05, 2014.

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