“OUR biggest problem is not media killings. Our problem is what is killing us softly...Today, they are killing the credibility of media in general because of recklessness, because of some sector of media’s irresponsibility...Soon no one would believe media anymore...Irresponsible media are very dangerous to our society.”

--Anthony Taberna of ABS-CBN

IT WASN’T Janet Napoles, who got most of the pillory in the pork barrel scandal, or the three senators, who were the frequently bashed lawmakers.

Not President Aquino, who has struck at media every good chance he gets, and right in media’s face.

No, the louder and shriller complainants against being included in the list of those who profited from the fruits of Napoles’s alleged crime, were journalists themselves.

Why, because they know the business and the craft and, we’re not surprised, are wounded more deeply when they are the ones attacked, instead of the ones attacking.

‘What kind of media?’

Anthony Taberna, male Broadcast Journalist of the Year at the 2014 Rotary Club of Manila journalism awards, said: “Think about it. A government employee says you gave this person money, and without any corroboration or evidence, some newspaper prints this. What kind of media are we today?”

That sounded more angry and bitter in Tagalog but you get the drift and tenor.

Taberna must refer to the “Philippine Daily Inquirer,” which won Rotary’s Newspaper of the Year award, whose publisher Raul Pangalangan told the young broadcaster, “if you were referring to the Inquirer, we didn’t name you.”

Taberna must have referred to “Inquirer,” just as TV5’s news and information chief Luchi Cruz-Valdes meant the same paper when she called the inclusion of her name in the list, culled from whistleblower Benhur Luy’s records, as “reckless,” “with no legal leg to stand on,” “wanton libel,” “irresponsibly taking fact so lightly,” and “full of claims (that) cannot be proved.”

‘Violent’ reaction

The “Inquirer” list mentioned, among others, Korina Sanchez of ABS-CBN, Mike Enriquez of GMA, Deo Macalma of dzRH, Erwin Tulfo of TV5 and another broadcaster, Carmelo del Prado Magdurulang.

And many of them reacted “violently,” especially in their respective media outlets where they’re most comfortable and righteous. Their statements in print were a bit restrained but harped on the same cause of indignation: why the paper publicized still-unverified material.

Journalists are not known to sue; they’d rather hit back. After all, their right to retaliate has no specific limit and is a lot quicker and easier (especially broadcast) than litigation. But Tulfo, picking the news source’s weapon of choice, went to court.

Only that the people he’s dragging to legal battle are his own colleagues in the industry.

Which may amuse usual media adversaries: public officials and politicians who engage journalists in a never-ending exercise of concealing or burnishing the truth from truth-seekers.

Editorial judgment

“Inquirer” exercised editorial judgment in publishing the Luy records, justifying it in the name of public good. (You know, transparency, right to know, etc.)

Pangalangan impliedly admitted they didn’t give everyone opportunity to air his side, which is “the newspaper’s policy,” since they couldn’t “cut and paste and edit because the moment we do that, we make ourselves vulnerable to editing the list.”

One supposes that it’s also the reason for printing claims and allegations that were unverified, hearsays and possible half-remembered facts, which good journalism traditionally abhors.

But why did the paper not name a TV-radio personality who was given P2 million purportedly to silence his criticism against a government agency? No evidence against him yet, its report said.

Is there evidence against most others who were hit by the shotgun blast? Was there at least supporting basis as to the other media persons named in the Luy list? Did the entry that one Mon Arroyo received money for Luchi or Korina, which Arroyo and the broadcasters deny, already suffice?

Media loses

Each side of the press camps arguing over what to publish or when to exercise caution can talk to death at a forum over textbooks principles and best practices in the coverage of the Napoles and pork barrel scandal.

What they have aired so far are addressed to their own audience or readership, to whom they owe the explanation, and to the general public, before whom the battle for sympathy is waged.

Nobody wins but media somehow loses something.

Every doubt about a media person’s integrity or a news entity’s decision unfailingly erodes public trust in the press as an institution and takes away some glint in the halo of a media personality.

I agree with Taberna on the effect of media behavior, individually or by institution, but a slow death or being killed softly, until “no one believes in media anymore,” is melodrama that media, faced with multi-crises, may do well not to indulge in.

But here’s a question to media persons who’re griping: Had they not at one time or another -- some more frequently and with more meanness than others – broadcast baseless or unverified accusations against people who, like them now, could also be innocent?

[publicandstandards@sunstar.com.ph or paseares@gmail.com]