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Saturday, October 20, 2018
CEBU

Seares: Photo-taking of journalists as threat from police: not for now?

POLICE regional chief Debold Sinas did it before. He ordered that photos be taken of active police officers who would visit the wake of SPO1 Adonis Dumpit in Cebu City. Dumpit was shot dead last June 27 in Bohol by fellow law enforcers during an NBI-police operation against him on suspicion of drug trafficking.

Last Thursday (Oct. 4), just a few hours after five bodies were found in the mountain barangay of Malubog, two police officers visited the SunStar Cebu office at P. del Rosario St., saying they would like to take photos of reporters and editors. They were ordered by their superiors in connection with its program to reach out to the community through the media.

Why the doubt

It looked like an innocent request. But it could be taken as a threat of sorts if the media community would:

• Relate it to a similar order from General Sinas to take photos of Dumpit mourners. Mayor Tomas Osmeña, whom the slain cop served as close-in security, last July 4 decried the caution as “foul.”

• Note that it coincides with the multiple killings in Malubog in which the police are accused by two survivors as possible suspects. Timing was uncanny, don’t you think?

• Consider that the task is redundant since reporters are already identified through company-issued IDs. If really needed, photo and video shots can be taken of the reporters right at their beat, which they cover pretty much of their time. As to desk-bound journalists, their photos may be secured online or requested from their respective media units.

Explanation

The visit was explained politely and so the initial fear was dismissed by one editor who even posed for a photo for the uniformed visitors. Broadcasters though later picked it up; apparently, there were similar incidents reported by other media outlets.

It caused a minor uproar, given the style of General Sinas and the current atmosphere, which must be influenced by the talk about a “Red October” uprising that President Duterte disclosed and sent the AFP scrambling to justify the scare.

Not for now

Although media is prone to check a speculation before squelching it, there’s no reason for a full-blown alarm, anyway “not for now,” as the general loves to put it. (E.g. Are journalists safe? “They are, for now.”)

A host of rumors preceded declaration of martial law in September 1972, before military and police with their arrest and seizure orders (Assos) convinced people that it was for real.

•••

Reporters not required to help crime witnesses

The female witness to the Oct. 4 multiple killings in Malubog, Cebu City asked for a reporter (“a woman from media”) to accompany her to the hospital. Apparently, she didn’t trust the police at the time she came out from hiding from the people who wanted to kill her.

A reporter, as part of the public, doesn’t have the obligation to be a “good Samaritan,” such as protecting by his presence a crime witness who was traumatized by her experience with the police.

By getting involved in the story -- as in the Malubog incident or when a crime suspect asks for a specific radio anchor to surrender to -- the reporter becomes a witness and may be asked to testify in court.

That can be a hassle. But it’s the journalist’s call. He may consult his superiors or the newsroom code of standards for guidance. Although he may get an exclusive and a closer look at the story, he also faces risks to his personal safety and professional work. The bottom line is he can refuse the request.

•••

Biggest story in the U.S. since 2016 elections

It’s the confirmation process in the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the United States Supreme Court. Of course, President Trump is also very much in the story but Kavanaugh, against whom testimonies of sexual abuse and boozing during high school were made, has been the center of the news.

Facebook called it one of the biggest “traffic-generating news stories for hyper-partisan news pages of Facebook in the past two years.” Daily Wire said it was “certainly the biggest story” since the Clinton-Trump electoral fight.


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