CEBU

Seares: Sinas-media dispute: police not legally bound to provide work space for reporters

Medias Public

Medias Public

BEFORE he took over last Oct. 16 as police chief of the National Capital Region, Brig. Gen. Debold Sinas was Central Visayas regional police director.

And his first major controversy in Metro Manila involves not drug traffickers, against whom he waged a massive and relentless campaign during his 16-month stint in Region 7. It is about his relations with the reporters covering the police beat.

What prompted the accusation of Rep. Ronnie Ong, Ang Probinsyano party-list representative, that Sinas is “anti-media” and “a big mistake,” who “disrespected” the press, charges that were not raised during his Region 7 stint?

Sinas ‘sins’

The list of “sins” that Metro Manila police chief Sinas allegedly committed:

[1] He evicted news reporters covering the region police chief from a room that had been their press office inside a police station in Quezon City “for almost three decades.” He cited the legal ownership of the property by PNP, saying he is only taking back what NCRPO owns. He was going to use the space, he said, in effect telling the press corps to pack up and leave.

[2] He banned one-on-one and ambush interviews and announced that all questions from media would be answered only by a designated information officer.

The Manila Press Corps would’ve no legal leg to stand on as the property is owned by the police. And the police are not legally bound to provide reporters with space where they can write and file their stories.

Courtesy, not a right

Providing reporters with a place to work on government property is courtesy extended by the police, not a matter of right of the journalists. It is also plain good sense.

Making it easier for the reporters to work at their beat contributes to quicker flow of information and promotes goodwill as well. It’s not a legal obligation of a government agency but budget for a press office--along with coffee, water, snacks or an occasional meal--passes COA audit in the name of public information, a recognized public purpose. The “freebie” is practiced, from as high a place as Malacañang (or the White House) to as low as the town “municipio” and barangay hall.

Excess of hospitality–-the extreme opposite of what Sinas is faulted by Ong--can be troubling as well. Pampering media through free work space and other amenities may even be seen as bribery.

Commander’s decision

In sum, it is the local commander’s call. The form of courtesy must vary, the policy flexible, differing from police chief to police chief. Years ago, the Cebu City command allowed a reporter to room at the police station at F. Ramos. He didn’t use the space just for working on his police stories, which he syndicated among local media outlets; he also used it as a dorm.

That was in a way excess of hospitality. But media use of a government facility for news coverage does not have to reach the point where media is asked to produce the document for its title to the press room. Did the Metro Manila media ever claim ownership or even just a lien?

The Metro Manila press just has to accept Sinas’s decision. To grouse over it and, worse, to get even by highlighting the police chief’s failures and burying or not reporting his successes would be plain mischief. Revenge is a dish best not served when no right is violated: for journalists, not even when there is a valid reason to complain.

Acting PNP Chief Archie Gamboa reportedly asked Metro Manila media to give Sinas a chance. After all, Gamboa reminded them, Sinas was “a huge success” in his Visayas assignment. He must be referring not just to Sinas’ feat on his “One Time Big Time” operations--which hauled a lot of illegal drugs and thousands of arrests and hundreds of deaths–-but also to Sinas’ handling of the Visayas media.


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