Wednesday, December 08, 2021

Seares: USC student paper editor flogs Cebu's daily media for 'slandering, maligning' school on 'bakwit' news story.

Medias Public

"Today, Cebu daily media chose to disappoint the Cebuano people with its faulty and malicious reportage of events and the context of Lumad evacuees taking sanctuary in our university. The widespread disinformation has aggravated plenty to viciously slander and malign the proud institution and its community. Today's Carolinian will not stand for it. We will be fact-checking all all such claims." -- Editor-in-chief, Today's Carolinian, University of San Carlos, Cebu City, February 15, 2021

THE statement attributed to the editor-in-chief of the student paper of the University of San Carlos was a critique of sort on the local news reports last Monday, February 15, about 19 minors belonging to an indigenous group in Mindanao who were "rescued" from a Cebu university and at least four adults who accompanied them.

The writer was not named but the E-in-C of "Today's Carolinian" must still be Berns Mitra with whom Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia tangled in March 2020 about his refresher for public officials on free speech and range of the libel law. Must be the same Mitra who reminded Guv Garcia that "a governor is not above the Constitution."

The two-paragraph statement of February 15 indicts not the police and

social welfare personnel who joined the operation. It castigates instead media for its faults, which it contends, worsens the "widespread disinformation."

What TC piece assumed

Never mind the statement's thin assumptions, which, coming from future journalists must baffle present journalists, namely:

[1] That the media, by their stories, "chose to disappoint" the "Cebuano people": Media managers must be pretty stupid to decide, collectively at that, to "disappoint" its audience. And how was that disappointment of the "Cebuano people" expressed: in social media, calls to radio programs, or letters to newspaper editors? A fraction of the people, yes, but most likely not even the majority.

[2] That the "widespread disinformation," which must include the reports of the "daily media," has "aggravated plenty" to "malign and slander" the University of San Carlos and its community. A separate USC-SVD statement also on February 15 expressed "surprise" over the police action but did not mention of slander by the raiders or the daily media that reported it.

Disregard that, for now. Let's just look at the news stories of the "daily media," which the TC editor must refer to daily newspapers SunStar and The Freeman and online news site CDN Digital. The school paper editor could've said "social media" or just "media." He used "daily media," which one routinely assumes to be the daily newspapers, which are the only media outlets that report the news seven days a week.

SunStar stories

SunStar devoted 24 paragraphs to the story, giving the side of the police which disclosed the basis for the raid and the charges they would file, the version of SVD and USC that co-sponsored the Bakwit Program, the story of a parent of the "missing" children, six of whom complained to the police, and a Lumad leader who explained the schooling visit to Cebu.

It was a well-rounded story of February 16, published along with the story of the lawyers group denouncing the arrest of Lumads and raid on the retreat house.

2 vs 4 news sources

The Freeman spent 39 paragraphs to the story, citing the versions of:

[1] PRO-7 Director Ronnie Montejo (seven paragraphs);

[2] Datu Benito Bayao, one of the leaders of the group that came to Cebu and stayed at USC (four paragraphs);

[3] Atty. King Anthony Perez of National Union of People's Lawyers-Cebu chapter (three paragraphs);

[4] SVD or Societas Verbi Divini and University of San Carlos (nine paragraphs, including the gist of a news conference conducted by USC president Fr. Narciso Cellan Jr.);

[5] an unidentified woman who represented the tribe from where the children came (seven paragraphs); and

[6] Beverly Gofredo of Save Our Schools Network (seven paragraphs).

The paper used only two sources that defended the raid, the police and tribal leader, with a total of 14 paragraphs, but used four sources that criticized it, with a total of 23 paragraphs. The paper didn't interpret the facts it gathered but just reported them one after the other, providing context without appearing to side one or the other.

Different narratives

One may just stop here (it's already two out of three among the daily media) and look again at the complaint of "Today's Carolinian," namely, that the daily media "slandered and maligned" the school and its community, colluding and conspiring with one another.

The stories may have faults, as some media reports have. They could still be improved. But one may find it tough to find slander or defamation in it.

Reporters and editors could go deeper into the reason for the enmity and suspicion of authorities towards the indigenous tribe and the institutions and groups trying to help them: the alleged exploitation of the Lumads by training them to become NPA's boy soldiers or, short of that, sending them to anti-government rallies.

Media could help find out the real score on the government's increasing intrusion into school campuses: Is the feared recruitment by NPAs for real or a justification to fetter academic freedom?

The story is far from over. What people have heard are confusing terms: rescue, instead of arrest. And clashing narratives: that told by evacuee students and the groups, including schools and the Catholic Church that help them, as against the version of police and other government agencies as well some parents of the "bakwit."

Fact-check first

One may suspect that the kind of reporting being bitched about is the one that does not take sides. The critics, it seems, want media to adopt the version they embrace at this stage, even as protagonists offer contrasting stories and the public is not sure about what happened and what's going on.

"Slandering" and "maligning," in the sense the words are used, mean spite or ill-well. Please show that Cebu's daily media have been guilty of that in the evacuee-students coverage.

"Today's Carolinian" has to show more than the sweeping charge it makes, which may create undeserved distrust in the institution they may or may not join in the future but the public, in the welter of false information, needs now more than ever.

And apparently against its self-proclaimed mantra, the editor's statement hurled the accusation against local media with little or no fact-checking.


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