ODDLY enough, what dramatically brought to public attention the problem about block-timers in Cebu this week was not a libel complaint in court or an allegation of slander on air. It was the charge of verbal abuse against a traffic enforcer on the road.

Last Thursday (June 4), newspapers reported the uproar in social media over the May 20 confrontation between block-time radio commentator Roger Cimafranca and Citom aide Lyndon Lito Ocampo. Ocampo stopped Cimafranca while driving on South Road Properties (SRP) coastal highway for allegedly overloading and carrying two un-helmeted back-riders.

Not known to the driver, the traffic aide was recording the “arrest” in video and sound, which expectedly cautioned the enforcer to be polite and civil while the radioman fumed.

‘Just a request’

The video showed Cimafranca repeatedly (a) waving his “credentials” of being with media and intimately knowing the mayor, other powerful city officials, and the LTO chief, and (b) threatening to strip Ocampo of his job.

Otherwise, the broadcaster didn’t heap gross insults on the enforcer, except one line warning Ocampo he could end up in a garbage bin. No, Cimafranca didn’t rant. He said again and again that it was just a request (“hangyo ra”) but also kept threatening to have Ocampo sacked for the rebuff.

It was more of a display of arrogance and pride over one’s being with media and associated with influential persons -- and brazenness to avoid paying the P2,500 fine for the traffic violations.

A graphic illustration, an ethics class teacher or a senior editor might say, on how journalists shouldn’t behave in public.

Supervision

But then it brings to the surface once more the ambivalence of the broadcast industry in dealing with block-timers and failure to regulate block-timers the way other broadcast workers are kept in check.

While block-timers are under the supervision of the station manager, who’s responsible for the content of their commentaries and those of station-produced public affairs programs, broadcast officials haven’t had much success in curbing excesses of those who pay for air-time.

What’s holding back station managers? Block-timers aren’t really regarded as among the station’s own; they’re contractors, welcomed as clients who help boost revenue, but not part of their organization.

Managers apparently worry about the business they’d lose. But this point may have been missed: under KBP rules and libel laws, station managers are duty bound to see to it that block-timers, as well as regular commentators, follow their code of conduct.

Broadcast rules

The Broadcast Code ranks “block-timers” with “employees” and “announcers” in the category of personnel who can be fined or suspended. With that in mind, shouldn’t station managers be as serious in enforcing regulations on block-timers as they are, or tend to be, in applying rules on regular broadcasters?

Treat block-timers the way you treat your in-house commentators, because of the responsibility mandated by by law and the Broadcast Code.

Under penal laws, the station manager shall be as criminally and civilly liable as the commentator. Same rule in print media where the publisher and editor may be held to account for libel committed by the opinion columnist.

The Broadcast Code is even more explicit about the manager’s responsibility for content, whoever produces it: a contributor or a staffer.

On behavior outside the newscaster’s booth, station managers’ hands-off policy is clear. No law or KBP edict requires responsibility over anything else than what they say on air. Jun Tagalog of dyLA was right in saying Cimafranca is not an employee and the manager merely oversees Cimafranca’s radio program, not how he deals with people outside the station booth.

Station’s name

Yet the radio station’s reputation is often dragged to the mess in case of undesirable conduct “outside,” as Cimafranca to the news outfit when he told the enforcer and, by internet extension, the world that he was a dyLA commentator. It was a simple traffic violation but it could’ve been something vile, say, trafficking women, guns or drugs.

There are block-timers who give their kind of work a bad name but there are also block-timers whose talk shows many listeners enjoy and respect.

Media consumers have the principal duty to pick the broadcasters who deserve their time and trust. But radio stations need (1) to identify clearly the nature of the program, if not the identity of its financiers and (b) to check abuses that violate law and broadcast policies.

Voices too

Block-timers also constitute voices in multi-platform media. Let them say their piece but they must do so governed by the same rules that apply to other commentators.

Aggrieved parties now seem to disregard the identity of the commentator or the nature of the commentary, just whether the “offense” is actionable -- and “uploadable” in the internet. Being sneered at in social media can be as harshly punishing as being hauled to court.

[publicandstandards@sunstar.com.ph or paseares@gmail.com]