Seares: The chopper story: Rappler gets flak on ‘objectivity’ rule

Medias Public

RAPPLER broke the story Wednesday, Jan. 9 at 3:04 p.m. The helicopter ferrying Presidential Asst. for the Visayas Michael Dino landed the day before, Tuesday, Jan. 8 at the Ultra Philippine Sports Complex in Pasig City. The story had already gone the rounds of social media, with photos and comments about the interruption of a running event for the youth, and here’s the naughty part, “just to enable Dino to get a bathroom break.”

The first story, carried under Rappler’s “Inside Track” section, merely reported the landing with a description of what a video sent to the digital news outfit showed. Unavoidably, it raised the question, What was the president’s assistant doing there?

Stories run the next day, Jan. 10, Thursday, reported (1) the side of Dino, through his publicist Jonji Gonzales, which disclosed that that the chopper picked up persons for a function in Batangas City and the PAV just took the chance to go to the restroom and (2) other claims such as the plane not having secured clearance from the Philippine Sports Commission and Presidential Spokesman Salvador Panelo’s opinion that it was the pilot’s fault, not Dino’s, as the Cebuano public official was just a passenger.

Two things that the media-related incident showed:

Social media spared

[1] Reportage and commentary on a public official involved in a controversy sucks a lot more in social media.

Traditional media, with its standards and structure, proceeds with more caution. Social media sites – Facebook, Twitter, etcetera -- had a field day hours after the incident in the form of news bulletins and stories and video clips and screen-grab images, with the snarky comments, mostly based on sketchy and still-to-be verified information. Yet public officials, in complaining, tend to pick on traditional media. Digital Rappler is run like traditional media: it tried to put sense and context into the story.

The complaint against Rappler, raised in a Facebook post and not formalized, concerns the news report about Panelo defending Dino against the fault-finding. While the bulk of the story related Panelo’s defense and ascribed to the president’s spokesman, the last three paragraphs were opinon, not news, with no sourcing and was apparently the reporter’s view.

Rappler, with its avowed goal of good journalism, was called out on alleged lapse of standards. Other netizens, not bound by rules on journalism, were not chastised for their more serious violations on fairness and accuracy. Is it because Rappler reporters are journalists and social media writers are not? That was the defense of bloggers who appeared before the Senate committee that conducted last year public hearings on fake news.

Besides, how does an aggrieved public official go after online bad reporting or commentary that falls short of libel? Tough to hold any faulty report or mean comment by social media writer has no editor and posts the darndest thing without much thought.

Guy said; other guy said

[2] Objectivity in a news report has long been dismissed by cynics as a journalism myth. No reporter or editor, they say, can be truly objective as every journalist has his biases and personal advocacies.

It is precisely those biases that make objectivity a required tool in journalism. True, the reporter or editor does not work on a story with a clean slate, stripped and scrubbed of his biases. But he can still be objective by adopting the journalism rules intended precisely for that.

Peddlers of falsehood

“Mindless objectivity,” however, is what practitioners have tried to avoid while trying to be fair and yet not be complicit to falsehood. Media consumers may not mind the newscaster explaining an event or issue if the journalist does not impose his view but merely sorts out the kinks in a story for the audience to understand it better.

It has become popular in the U.S. with (a) news anchors giving and explaining the news, or (b) late-night show commentators fusing news, opinion and humor in the same segment. We see and listen some of that already in Filipino broadcast media though straight news reporting is still generally observed by news outfits.

Religious adherence to objectivity could let a lie or deception influence the reader. Suggesting to the reader or listener possible gaps in the story may be deemed part of fact-checking, crucial to keeping away barbarian peddlers of untruth from the gates.


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