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Pinoy shorthand

“Kalapating mababa ang lipad” translates loosely into rooftop-skimming pigeons. It is Filipino shorthand for harlot. The axiom resonated at the Philippine Press Institute’s conference Monday.

“Attempts at self-regulation are failing,” Luis Teodoro of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) warned. Media’s ethical lapses court heavy-handed government interference.

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This threat emerges in spillover from the August 2010 coverage of eight Hong Kong tourists and a hostage-taker killed at Luneta, CMFR said. Reporters and istambays jostled with cops for vantage posts in the 10-hour standoff. From initial denial, networks argued that the police didn’t set the limits of media coverage, Teodoro noted.

Journalism ethics stipulates care to prevent harm. Was this beyond networks, once ratings and ad revenues are involved, CMFR asked. Belatedly, networks argued: government did not set limits of coverage. In so doing, they jettisoned self-regulation. Yet, this is the only option for a democratic society.

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As late as August 2011, Radyo Mo Nationwide (RMN) insisted: They were “just doing (our) job.” “We are sometimes factually reckless,” Washington Post’s Meg Greenfield once said. On other instances, “we’re morally smug. On our worst days, we can be both.”

Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas slapped a P30,000-fine on ABS-CBN’s Channel 2, RMN and TV5. They leaked operational details and compromised rescue efforts. RMN staff butted into the negotiations. “Slap on the wrist,” critics scoffed.

“The press is free, like the air,” UK Prime Minister William Pitt (1759-1806) once sneered. “It is a chartered libertine.” In today’s English, that would read “constitutionally protected prostitute.”

Kalapating mababa ang lipad becomes more problematic as the Internet, cell phone and Facebook, etc. move truth—or falsehood—at “warp speed.” In the past, a scoop stood until the next edition. Today it lasts only until the next click of a mouse.

“News organizations are abandoning the race to be the first to break the news,” the Economist noted. “[They’re] focusing instead on being the best at verifying.” The need is for more, not less, of hard-nosed reporting of facts and commentaries anchored on values.

CMFR’s paper did not include print’s experience with self-regulation. It is longer but just as mixed as that of broadcast.

Recall the 1965 Philippine Press Council. One of its first rulings skewered the yearly awards to “Ten Outstanding Congressmen,” by journalists on the House of Representatives beat. Business reporters quietly junked similar awards on their beat.

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“It was the first significant attempt to establish a system of professional control…” notes the book, “Marcos and Martial Law” (Cornell University). But “the Council had only a brief history… Complaints were few.” And martial law aborted this initiative.

After People Power 1, a Press Council was reconstituted. But it didn’t command similar broad support from publishers, as did the earlier council. Some members ignored a council request: Publish rejoinders by Marian School academic supervisor Antonio Calipjo Go to criticisms for his campaign against flawed public school textbooks.

“A cabal of columnists (went) hammer and tongs against Go after his campaign… resulted in the Department of Education banning (some) materials,” Inquirer’s Fernando del Mundo recalled. “The torrent of invectives in op-ed pages… came in the midst of the re-filing of an alleged extortion case that a court dismissed earlier….”

Most criticisms didn’t rebut textbook errors. Instead, they zapped Go’s bona fides. “The columnists’ campaign to shoot the messenger… killed [Go’s] message,” Del Mundo wrote. “Defective textbooks are one of the root causes of the decline in Philippine education.”

President Aquino and Education Secretary Armin Luistro publicly supported Go. By then, the  kalapating mababa ang lipad had  strangled Manila’s post-Edsa press council.

Only Cebu has a functioning press council today. Organized in 2011, Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) acts on complaints against media. It addressed issues ranging from coverage of minors in conflict with the law, anti-obscenity, decriminalization of libel, etc. CCPC protested against mandatory—and unconstitutional—“right of reply” four years before SB 2150 and HB 3306 almost slipped through Congress.

Is an oversized kalapati roost finally being dismantled at the Bureau of Customs (BOC)?

“Our membership lists remain porous,” a 2004 Press Freedom Week editorial admitted: “We still have to flush out hao-shiaos who flash oversize self-printed press cards or blocktime microphones… notably in Customs.”

Commissioner Ruffy Biazon signed this year   Memorandum Order 37 to ferret out “fake journalists who engage in illicit activities” in Customs. BOC issued 55 IDs to legitimate media persons. It rejected almost double that number, mostly from tabloids or radio block-timers.

Those shut out asked the Supreme Court to (a) zap Biazon with a temporary restraining order; and (b) strike down MO 37. Reason? “It curtailed press freedom.”

“A claim of press freedom is tainted when the right to information is misused for personal requests or sleaze,” Sun Star’s Public Standards editor Pachico Seares snapped. “Access to information is unimpeded. It’s only the number of people covering BOC that is reduced…”

No TRO has been issued. Apparently, the Court doesn’t see “clear and imminent danger to press freedom.” That liberty can be used as a “last refuge for scoundrels.” Or if you prefer: kalapati.

(Email: [email protected] )

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