Seares: Manila Times had the right to print it. Critics slam the way it was done

Medias Public

CRITICISMS of the April 22, 2019 “Manila Times” news story about “a plot to oust” President Duterte, which implicated three news media organizations and a group of human rights lawyers, have included these:

[1] It was “poorly sourced” and a “huge stretch” for anyone to accuse journalists of being coup plotters. A matrix is “by no means evidence of destabilization or ouster plot.” It also created a conflict of interest since the author Dante Ang is a Duterte-appointed diplomat. All that adverse tirade was made by the paper’s former managing editor, Felipe Salvosa II. He resigned, or was fired, two days after he tweeted his critique. Rappler, another alleged plotter, said in a statement, “Poor writing, an example of how not to write and investigative report–not even everyday straight news.”

[2] It had a number of errors of fact, “wrong on many points,” said Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), one of the three news outfits that allegedly conspired to “discredit and destabilize” the Duterte administration. For one, PCIJ said it had “absolutely not ever received any email from (journalist) Ellen Tordesillas on the link to the so-called narco-list video of Bikoy.” The video, as everyone must know, was available on YouTube and didn’t have to be illicitly circulated.

[3] It was a generalized accusation against media, with no specifics, alleging that practitioners “manipulate public emotion, touch base with the leftist organization, enlist the support of the police and military, then go for the ‘kill.’”

Poor journalism

Note that criticism of the working journalists was on the kind of journalism done, not on the right of the newspaper to publish. The Times, or anyone else, had the right to publish the information: “it was a major scoop!” But now it must suffer the the flak for doing the work badly. Rappler’s Maria Ressa slammed “the level of incompetence, like sending the third strings to play in a basketball game.” She said “all we can do is laugh and hold the line.”

Only the National Union of People’s Lawyers (NUPL) and NUJP, the journalists advocacy group, feared harm that might befall the media workers named in the matrix, just like those named in the drug matrix who were killed or had disappeared.

“Amusing, if it were not perilous to the safety, security and liberty, if not the lives of the 500 or so lawyers,” said NUPL.

What it should’ve done

To be sure, the Times had the right to print the story but it could’ve done better.

It could’ve added, prominently and high up in the story, the red flag, the warning the reader deserved, namely, that the media matrix, although sourced to Malacañang and the President, was by no means, in itself, evidence of any plot against him.

Attributions in the Times article should’ve been clear, especially in parts that defended the President. As it appeared, the writer mixed his supportive opinion with what the matrix alleged. And he should’ve disclosed that he is a presidential appointee and part of the government whom the alleged plotters threaten.

Journos can take it, but...

The journalists and news media outlets tagged in the matrix knew that the risks of journalism include being tarnished and smeared without evidence. They can take it.

What media, even those not singled out, must be concerned about is that assault on name and honor of media and its workers might lead to worse forms of reprisal, such as suppression of more rights and physical violence.


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