WHEN LOCAL news organizations complained against the “special favor” to CNN in the coverage of Yolanda, how valid was the gripe?

CNN and crew brought their “100-kilo” equipment aboard a C-130 when many evacuees from the super-storm were pleading for flights out of Tacloban City.

That sort of complaint is not new, which arises not just during coverage of exceptionally huge news but also in gathering routine stories.

Item 1. A TV news team complains that it is often skipped when a top news source sends out a news advisory.

Maybe the news source thinks the news outfit can be ignored or there has been no effort on either side to correct the omission.

Who get the best seats

Item 2. In White House briefings, prime news organizations get front seats in the James S. Brady Press Briefing Room in the West Wing: NBC, Fox News, CBS, AP, ABC, Reuters and CNN in the first row; Wall Street Journals, CBS Radio, Bloomberg, National Public Radio, Washington Post, New York Times and AP Radio in the second row; and, those getting the last row in the back, Talk Radio, Dallas Morning News, Boston Globe, CBN, BBC/Baltimore, Sun, Scripps and Financial Times.

The biggies (in audience share and clout) usually get the best seats in the house. The seating chart though, White House insists, is drawn up by the White House Correspondents Association. Presumably, the press corps itself devised the system of allocating seats.

We’re not aware of any seating arrangement at Cebu City Hall or Capitol, whose press-cons must be on a grab-which-seat-you-can basis.

‘Fair-haired’ reporters

Item 3. A reporter says that a rival paper or broadcast station often out-scoops the competition because the top man (mayor, governor, or police chief) prefers the reporter of the said news outlet.

That may not be true. The rival reporter may just be more diligent and enterprising, has more patience and stamina, or may be plain lucky. He may have multiple sources, one of which provided the story tip.

If one is always beaten though, indeed the rival reporter may be a “fair-haired” reporter who benefits from favoritism or special treatment. Which a news source shouldn’t do at the risk of getting enmity from the less favored reporter but nobody could stop from doing.

Reasons for inequality

Why the seeming inequality? It’s a reality that a journalist on the field must accept.

There may be reasons:

The news source thinks the reporter does poor work, often getting the facts or context wrong, or gives a “knife job,” building the story to hype up an angle least supported by the facts and injurious to the news source.

If the reporter has carved a reputation of sloppy or unfair work, a news source tends to avoid him and pick somebody else for sensitive stories.

The news source thinks that by avoiding the reporter and his news outlet he won’t be helping its owners whom he considers his enemies in business or politics.

A Cebu politician did that to Sun.Star for a number of years, shunning its coverage and favoring the paper’s competition until he realized Sun.Star has been fair most of the time or his efforts to hurt the news organization or its owners have been futile.

Sun.Star didn’t publicly complain; instead it used other means to get information and views from the politician’s camp. At one time, it reached the silly point that the politician allowed, ha ha, the paper’s tape recorder into the press-con but not its reporter (somebody else carried the recorder).

Trade-off between source, news outlet

It could be the result of a trade-off, which some journalists and news sources do: a news outfit or reporter would agree to put off a story until a later day in exchange for exclusive release.

That happens when the news source needs time to set up its response and defense to a damaging story and the news outlet thinks the concession won’t impair public interest and benefit the paper’s stature.

What may hurt public good

A scheming news source might employ his “favors” to a news outlet or journalist to tame the press.

“Give me a good press and I’ll give you special treatment. Attack me and I’ll shun you and favor your rivals.”

A kind of carrot-and-stick treatment but not used to exact fairness but to get a bland and benign coverage, not the close scrutiny of excellent journalism. A kind of extortion, applied with savvy and gumption.

Concession to CNN by the government could be viewed as a wish to please an international news group. CNN’s report of the extent of devastation after all helped bring in world-wide relief efforts.

But its criticism of the slow response of Malacañang to the disaster also tainted the administration’s image, which drew the unfortunate defense-cum-attack by talk show host Korina Sanchez, the local government secretary’s wife.

Which also seemed to tell CNN, “you don’t get a favor without returning it,” an instructive point missed or ignored by CNN.

(The writer is executive director of Cebu Citizens-Press Council or CCPC but his views here are solely his unless otherwise specified.)

[publicandstandards@sunstar.com.ph]