COMMENT: There Must Be a ?Twelfth?

It consists of eleven principles.  In brief: truthful reporting (I), respect of confidentiality (II), propriety in gathering news (III), respect of privacy (IV), professional integrity (V), originality or intellectual honesty (VI), respect for other persons (VII), upholding the presumption of innocence of the accused and protecting the reputation of minors and women (VIII), fair play among fellow journalists (IX), primacy of conscience (X), and personal decency toward professional dignity (XI).

Practicing journalists may not be all members of NUJP; but for their own good and that of the profession, non-NUJP members should strictly observe the Code.

Loyalty to Truth

There should be a twelfth principle, Loyalty to Truth, which may be stated: I shall be beholden to truth alone, never to the powerful and their spinmasters of lies and half-truth.  I shall not be intimidated from adhering to it.

This is a timely response to the tendency and attempts of the Arroyo regime to control the media. Anywhere, anytime that freedom of the press is curtailed, truth is the ultimate victim.

In February last year, following the imposition of Presidential Proclamation 1017, Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez proposed to discuss with media executives media guidelines under the state of emergency, reminiscent of the Marcos martial law rule. Had the media executives obliged, truth would have been the ultimate victim.

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo wants to impose on media her definition of positive

and negative news, exhorting them to publish only the positive.  Should media succumb, truth will be the ultimate victim.

When President Arroyo walked out of the press interview with the Inquirer she herself had called in Malacañang last February 9, her anger in public was intimidating, telling the Inquirer reporter that asking for the whole truth was being negative.

She has been bragging about the country’s spectacular economic growth, yet the benefits have not trickled down to the poor. She stated a contradiction. What’s the truth? She refused to explain.

With the next question, implying the truth of the “spectacular economic growth” – that the billionaires have remained billionaires while the poor have remained poor – her anger flared up; she rudely left the conference, hence, hushing up the truth.

 

Be Adversarial

 

The Twelfth Principle is a constant reminder that without truth journalism loses its meaning and purpose; when that happens, journalists become irrelevant. It commands the journalist to be adversarial. 

To be adversarial is not to be negative. It is nothing more than showing the other side of the coin. When the veracity of statements and facts are doubtful, challenge it. That should be the attitude of an adversarial journalist.

Public officials, or anybody else, with skeletons in their closets, tend to hide the truth and there are many ways of hiding it. When a reporter smells the skeletons, he should do his best to pry the closet open to expose them – the other half of the truth.

Even the honestly transparent – in whatever circumstance they are – are not expected to be perfectly truthful. Facts can skip their memory. Within the scope of their knowledge and resources, they may believe as fully true that which is not. Prying questions helps crystallize the truth and should not be mistaken for being negative.

 

Constraints

 

Adversarial journalists should be wary about constraints. There are many. They may be imposed, incidental or circumstantial.

In some press conferences, journalists are asked to submit questions hours or even days ahead, purportedly for the resource person to study. Sounds reasonable! But by implication, the conference will be confined to the questions submitted. That may constrain reporters from asking new – aside from follow-up – questions.

In that press conference of President Arroyo with the Inquirer, Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye strictly ordered that no political questions should be asked but to limit them to the President’s elaboration of her policies and economic accomplishments.

The constraint proved to be the fuse to Arroyo’s temper. She did not like the Inquirer to inquire into the social and political aspects of her policies and economic gains. How can the whole picture of the economy be fully appreciated if the political and social are excluded from the economic when the three are essentials of the integral whole?

What transpired was this: Arroyo: “Just publish the economic boom.” Inquirer: “But, Ma’am, how does the boom benefit the poor?” She flared up. She was hiding skeletons in her closet.

She would not talk about her frustrations in the economy – only “about blessings”. But when asked why the “blessings” are only for the rich, not the poor, she dismissed the socioeconomic question as “political”.

 

Editor’s Option

 

Not only authoritarian rule can suppress truth. Intimidating, arrogant and unpredictable personalities, hazardous circumstances, and many more can constrain or frustrate even the most adversarial journalist. The Twelfth Principle should factor into the editor’s option.

During the 14-year Marcos martial law regime, most Filipino journalists toed the Marcos media guidelines and editors and publishers went on with their business under the supervision of the Publishers Association of the Philippines Inc.(PAPI); the broadcast counterpart, under the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP).

The journalists who could not compromise the Twelfth Principle opted to: (1) take a leave from the journalism business; (2) take the risk of publishing underground what later became the “mosquito press”.

At present, while President Arroyo and her government want to control media, the Twelfth Principle – call it also the 12th Media Commandment – should remain the beacon of Filipino journalists.

(“Comment" is Mr. Patricio P. Diaz' column for MindaViews, the opinion section of MindaNews. Mr. Diaz is the recipient of a “Lifetime Achievement Award” from the Titus Brandsma for his "commitment to education and public information to Mindanawons as Journalist, Educator and Peace Advocate." You may e-mail your comments to [email protected]).

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