IT’S the second year that staff members of the paper are asked to swear to its code of standards and ethics; although Sun.Star Davao had adopted the code from Sun.Star Cebu since the 1990s.
Last Thursday, January 24, after the annual convocation mass, Municipal Trial Court in Cities Branch 7 Judge Rufino Ferarris Jr. administered the oath to adhere by the code for reporters and editors of Sun.Star Davao and Sun.Star Davao Superbalita.
Many a communication arts and journalism student has been fascinated that such exist; beyond just the general Philippine Press Institute Journalist’s Code of Ethics. While many a journalist had and will agonize over envelopes with cash, all-expense paid junkets abroad, and what Senator Juan Ponce Enrile seems to be collecting now from Senator Peter Cayetano, “utang na loob”.
Credit goes to the mother company, Sun.Star Cebu, of course. They were the ones who labored over it and finally came up with a code that can be enforced and not just read and displayed in 1991, under the helm of community journalism guru Pachico A. Seares, erstwhile editor-in-chief who recently retired but remains as an editorial consultant of Sun.Star Management (SunMan).
In his 1991 foreword to the Code, Seares wrote, “What makes the birth of the Sun.Star Code of Standards and Ethics more remarkable is that (1) the agitation for the adoption of a code came from the ranks of the reporters and copy editors themselves and (2) it was a product of collaboration of all the sectors involved.”
It started out as a draft code of ethics and was finally adapted in 1991 as a code of standards and ethics, in recognition of the fact that ethics by itself cannot be fully upheld if standards of journalism are not up to par.
“There’s a compulsion for it,” Seares wrote, “I believe the strengthening of a journalist’s moral framework must be accompanied by the sharpening of the skills of his craft. A journalist with integrity can’t do much if he is an inferior craftsman.”
The code has been amended in 2004 to include the Policy and Protocol on Protecting Sun.Star Journalists. As Seares pointed out in the 2004 foreword, “The few amendments in the 2004 Code relate more to procedures than the goals they seek to attain, and to situations then deemed insignificant or isolated, such as the threat of physical assault on journalists.”
The Code aims to guide the editorial department on how to pursue their craft as community journalists where the so-called objectivism dances on a minefield of friendship, kinship, and past associations typical of being in a community.
“The Code hopes to strike a balance between what is ideal and what is reachable,” it’s Part One reads. “It reflects the norms we choose to operate by, without laying down dogma.”
The Code is a 62-page booklet and thus cannot be reproduced fully for easy reading, although it is written for easy reading and quick understanding.
It tackles gifts, bribery and ad soliciting by its journalists and puts down its foot against gifts given by news sources for better play in the news or to destroy another, as well as cash, for whatever reason.
It also prohibits gate crashing and asking for special favors.
As every Sun.Star Davao reporter and editor is reminded, “If the food is for everyone, then it’s okay. If you’re instead asked to order, then order the cheapest one.”
As the Code states under Ethics Section 2, “Unless free admission, discounted rate, and similar favors are granted to all media personnel covering an event as part of the courtesy of the host to its guests, “Sun.Star journalists shall pay their way.”
Or to be blunt about it, “It is not the obligation of the interviewee or the one holding a press conference, seminar or convention to feed journalists. If free meal is offered, it shall be part of the activity, available to all invited persons, and not because it is expected or sought by the journalist or journalists.”
Of note, too, are under its Credo on what Sun.Star and its journalists believe, and we quote:
“Section 1. The primary purpose of journalism is to serve the general welfare by informing the people to enable them to make judgments on the issues of the time. National and community interests can be best served by the widest possible dissemination of information. The claim of national or community interest by a public official does not automatically equate with national or community interest.
“The news medium and the journalist who abuse the power of their profession for selfish motives or unworthy purposes are faithless to the public trust.”
Politicians and those in authority can thus better understand where Sun.Star journalists are coming from; they may not be perfect, but this is the belief we strive to uphold.
What masscom and journalism students can most learn from, however, is Section 8 of the Credo, which deals with a personal code.
It’s a long one, but worth the read.
“Section 8. Sun.Star journalists adopt a personal code that will stress:
“[a] Compassion for the poor, the handicapped, the different; moral indignation when the powerless are victimized; willingness to place responsibility for the failure of policies and decision on those who make them; and a belief in and a commitment to a political culture in which the cornerstone is restraint in the use of power;
“[b] Loyalty to the facts; belief should be on the basis of fact, not hope;
“[ c] A willingness ‘to hold belief in suspense, the ability to doubt until evidence is obtained, the willingness to go where the evidence points’ – an open-mindedness that seeks out and tries to comprehend various points of view, including those in conflict with the reporter’s own point of view;
“[d] Involvement in the affairs of men and women that requires experiencing or witnessing directly the lives of human beings – couple with ability to distance one’s self from the experience to generate understanding;
“[e] The ability to balance equally moral alternatives, the choice to be made on the basis of:
“a. The importance of the possible actions to life (life is the referent of value),
“b. The public interest as against the private interest,
“c. The extent of knowledge of the event (if it is public knowledge or is likely to become so and the material is significant and relevant, the information shall be used),
“d. Serving the needs of society (if the material assists people in participating justly, equally and freely in a meaningful community life, then it shall be used).
“[f] Commitment to a value system but one that is free from ideologies and commitments that limit thought;
“[g] Respect for rules, codes, laws and arrangements that give a sense of community, instead of dividing people into hostile groups, classes or races;
“[h] An avoidance of a value-less objectivity that can lead to ‘an age of not caring… passivity and non-attachment, in a general spreading coldness’;
“[i] A commitment to work;
“[j] Responsibility to one’s abilities and talents; not to leave one’s abilities and talent to follow; to fail to labor to develop them because of indolence or lack of seriousness of purpose demeans self and punishes the society whose betterment depends on new ideas vigorously pursued;
“[k] Readiness to admit errors and a capacity to endure criticism and solitude, the price of independence;
“[l] A reluctance to portray heroes and villains ‘to the rhythm of the deadline’ (while quick judgments are required in journalism, they should be tentative until more facts come in);
“[m] Belief in the methods of journalism: the gathering of relevant materials and evaluation of facts through analysis and the synthesizing of those facts in the story – a conviction that the method will lead to some kind of truth worth sharing; and
“[n] A sense of the past and a moral vision of the future, without which the compulsion of journalists may be power, profit and place in society.”
The last in the personal code is a stark reminder, that yes, there is great power we hold by being journalists, greater still when a journalist is from a respected community newspaper. A journalist can bask in this power and wield it for personal gain as some do. But for as long a journalist is grounded on a sense of past and a moral vision of the future, there will always be that certain stubbornness to push people to immortalize the glorious past while embracing the contributions of the present to bring the community forward to a future that will continue to sustain its people, most especially the powerless.
Such an oath is more relevant now, 2013 being an election year, during which all ethical values can be put to a test as politicians try to woo as many voters through the power of the pen, or the stylus.