Seares: DRUG TEST ON JOURNALISTS. Not necessary to ensure or measure competence in work. But local beat reporters showed they’re drug-free

WHEN “Washington Post” joined other respected U.S. newsrooms in April 1998 in adopting pre-employment drug testing, its management said, “We simply wanted to support a drug-free and alcohol-free workplace.”

In the U.S. then, there were employer-employee disputes that sometimes reached the courts over legality of requiring drug test before hiring and during period of employment. American Civil Liberties Union (Aclu) and U.S. Newspaper Guild cited intrusion into privacy and unreasonable search and seizure. Newspaper owners cited right to protect the workplace and their business.

In Cebu, that has not been a management-labor issue, at least no case has been publicized about a journalist complaining he was not hired or was fired because he was into drugs.

Cebu drug test

When 27 Cebu police-military beat reporters submitted to a drug test last week, the visiting PNP chief was pleased and he thanked the journalists for the show of support to the “war against illegal drugs.” And many people agreed, how nice of the hard-boiled reporters to submit to what some drug-test opposers in the U.S. would call a fascistic requirement. Only three reporters weren’t tested and it wasn’t known why they refused.

Why the drug test was not objectionable: it was not imposed. The guys volunteered.

That might be seen, of course, as pandering which some journalists tend to shun. But it was civic involvement and credentials-waving exercise: “we report on drug pushers and users, we must show we are not ourselves also drug pushers and users.”

Not a newsroom issue

Drug test has not been an issue in Cebu newsrooms for decades now. Obviously, media owners have reserved, through their HR departments and in signed contracts of employment, to test employees before hiring or during their tenure and to refuse or fire anyone tested positive of drugs. And apparently journalists have accepted that as a reasonable condition for employment and keeping the job.

Would newspaper owners exercise their right to drug-test? They’re expected to when a drug case comes up, similarly as they deal with other form of misbehavior by any company employee.

If the drug test has not been as widely and frequently made as in government offices and among law enforcers, it must be this:

A drug test is not necessary to ensure and measure competence of the journalist. An editor, writing in 1970, asked: “Why would a newspaper drug test its employees? In an environment characterized by firm deadline and intense public exposure and scrutiny, how on earth are drug tests necessary to ensure competence? Really, what could be more frivolous than drug testing people whose competence is easily measured?”

It’s in the work

Evidence of incompetence, which may or may not be brought on by drugs, is in the work of the writer, editor or columnist. That work is examined and recorded, in a tedious process of vetting in so many layers. A journalist can be fired even without a drug test.

The employer though may use the drug test as additional proof in case the journalist goes to the labor department to complain. Otherwise, evidence of incompetence will suffice.

Same thing with booze. Most newsrooms are alcohol-free, a condition required by the nature of the work, especially in evaluating the news and making tough decisions on display and focus. Scenes of hard-drinking journalists, romanticized in U.S. plays and movies which depicted reporters drinking liquor as they pounded the typewriter, are rarely played in local newsrooms.

Free press

Alcholism that affects the journalist’s work, resulting in a major mistakes or disruption of deadline, justifies dismissal, without the need of an alcohol test.

And no journalist hooked on drugs or drink can claim violation of free press. Bad and sloppy work is enough to strip one of his employment.

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

*****

‘Seismic shift in media world’

News icon quits amid furor over sexual harassment

Roger Ailes, Fox News co-founder and CEO, resigned Friday amid charges of sexual harassment filed by Gretchen Carlson, former host of “Fox and Friends” who left the company last month when her contract was not renewed. More than a dozen other women, including Megyn Kelley who famously tangled with Donald Trump, also complained against Ailes.

Ailes, 76, one of the most powerful figures in U.S. journalism and earned $2.3 billion for Fox News last year, denied the charges. He said he resigned because of the “distraction.” Rupert Murdock, 85, will take over Ailes’s job in the top-rated cable company. Ailes will leave the post he held for 20 years with a $40 million exit package.

A lawyer for Carlson called the development “a seismic shift in the media world.” It’s a warning, he said, to all businesses that women will not tolerate sexual harassment and neither will reputable companies shield the offender.

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