THE caution, which is as old as much of journalism, is for journalists to avoid making themselves part of the story they report. The rule is institutionalized in journalism associations such as the Society of Professional Journalists in the U.S. or in newspapers and broadcast stations here and abroad, including print publications and digital news site of SunStar network.
The rule has undergone some revision, evolving with the changes in journalism style and technology. But many reporters and editors as well as field broadcasters and anchor persons still try to stay out of the story they publish.
The reason is that the journalist being personally involved in the story he covers or helps produce tends to create a conflict of interest that may cast some doubt on his sense of fairness and risk his newspaper or broadcast station or digital news site to a mean attack about credibility.
Commotion on a bridge
Last Thursday (Jan. 9, 2020), GMA reporter Jun Veneracion complained on a Facebook post that a police general confiscated his cellphone while he was taking video shots of a commotion between police and a Black Nazarene devotee on Ayala Bridge in Manila.
The general, identified as Brig. Gen. Nolasco Bathan, chief of the southern police district in the National Capital Region (NCR), admitted he snatched the phone purportedly to prevent the danger of an explosion, saying he thought it was a grenade or some other explosive.
Veneracion, rejecting the apology, suspected Bathan was lying. The day after the incident, Bathan said he didn’t recognize the reporter and denied he deleted the video shots of the religious activity. They were deleted all right but Veneracion was able to recover them from a file. Apparently, the police official didn’t want the police action against the devotee -- whom they ganged up on, shoved and dragged -- recorded and publicized on video.
Choosing to be part of it
The reporter here didn’t have much choice about staying in, or removing himself from, the news story. His phone, with a record of part of his news report, was snatched from him, not by a thief but a police official. And the purpose, though denied by the police, was to prevent the scenes of “police brutality” from being broadcast.
GMA officials supported Veneracion, saying he was just doing his work and did “nothing illegal or improper.” Aside from Bathan’s apology and explanation, the statement of NCR police chief Debold Sinas (who had a previous stint as Central Visayas head) limited itself to a plan to investigate the incident but to keep Bathan in his post.
Veneracion became part of the story, not by design and, to be sure, not entirely of his making. Which cannot be said of Frank R. Benedicto, a veteran radio man and presently anchor person at dyRF, who must have a choice in keeping his high-profile job in radio broadcasting and at the same time running a major, high-income-earner barangay in downtown Cebu City.
Maybe because of political rivalry: Benedicto is affiliated with BOPK, the Tomas Osmeña party that lost to Mayor Edgardo Labella’s Partido Barug in the 2019 election. And his political enemies are targeting him.
Or maybe Benedicto just could not shun the controversial actions and incidents – ranging from alleged padlocking of the barangay hall, dumping garbage at an unauthorized “transfer facility” to withholding the pay of barangay employees and sexual harassment of his secretary. The latest attention-getting stories include Benedicto’s claim of the loss of P200,000 cash and a Lenovo laptop from his drawer and the finding of a packet of suspected shabu in the Zapatera barangay hall.
Boost to ratings
All that has made his work as broadcaster seem awkward although not untenable, since the controversies must have boosted program ratings.
Inevitably, Benedicto must talk about the clutch of charges against him, which led to his 60-day suspension by the City Council, starting last Dec. 19. His radio station must include in its news reports the incidents in which its own broadcaster is involved.
Nothing has been reported about his conduct as a broadcaster, still his situation supports the position against journalists becoming part of the story they comment on or report in the news media.