De Oro media indignant over “discrimination” in Feb. 21 Presidential Debate

CAGAYAN DE ORO CITY (MindaNews /14 Feb) – “A clear case of discrimination towards the province-based media.’

Journalists here are indignant over the issuance of a guideline by Manila-based organizers limiting the participation of the local press in the coverage of the Presidential Debate scheduled here on February 21.

In a “Statement of Indignation,” the Cagayan de Oro Press Club (COPC) said the guideline is “a clear case of discrimination towards the province-based media.”

“There have been many instances in the past when Manila-based media organizations have condescended on the provincial press. The Presidential Debate in the city is no (exception),” said the Statement issued Sunday night from a resolution passed during the COPC’s General Assembly last Saturday.

“Stop this discriminatory and condescending attitude towards the local press community,” the Statement signed by COPC President Msgr. Elmer Abacahin and immediate past president Jerry Orcullo, said.

The debate, which will be held at the Capitol University, is the first of the three-round Presidential and Vice Presidential Debates initiated by the Commission on Elections (Comelec) in partnership with media entities. Three venues had been chosen for the debates: Cagayan de Oro for Mindanao, Cebu for the Visayas and Manila for Luzon.

The Statement noted that only five slots will be alloted for Cagayan de Oro-based media — five for editors/ publishers as audience in the venue that can accommodate only 500 – and only five newspaper reporters will be allowed access to the event’s media center–a separate venue where a video monitor will broadcast feeds of the debate.

Capitol University and organizers have provided a bigger venue at the gym,  which can accommodate a crowd of about 5,000. It will also have a huge LCD screen for people to watch the debate.

“We are making a distinction between those who are invited as members of the debate audience basically a studio audience, from the general audience which will be.. inside the auditorium but not within the debate hall, meaning the stage area and audience area fronting it,” Rey Hulog of the Kapisanan ng Brodkasters ng Pilipinas (KBP) said in an e-mail to the Philippine Press Institute (PPI).

“We just want to make sure that we are inviting legitimate press members,” added Hulog.

Abacahin said it is an affront to the local press to be alloted a few slots and for the rest to be stifled into covering the event from a widescreen monitor.

He said it is not for the debate organizers or the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) to choose who to allow inside the debate area to ensure that participating journalists are “legit local press” because the media community in the city “would know better.”

“Why hold the debates here in the first place when the organizers can just as easily broadcast the debate from their studios in Manila?” the COPC asked.

PPI Executive Director Ariel Sebellino clarified that the PPI is not one of the organizers. He told MindaNews he was requested by KBP for a list of Cagayan de Oro media but he did not submit a list and instead asked PPI members in the city to confirm directly with the KBP.

Abacahin said the Presidential Debate is far too important to be handled by a few journalists and should be beyond corporate media’s quest for higher ratings and wider readership.

“Manila-based media entities should realize that they do not have the monopoly of serving public interest. The people’s right to know must weigh far heavier that any media entity’s exclusive rights to an event that is clearly of national interest. We are talking about the next possible President of the Republic. We are all stakeholders,” Abacahin

The COPC is asking Manila-based organizers to lift the “exclusive clause” and allow the full coverage for the local media.

”We still trust that, in the end, reason will prevail, and that the organizers would reconsider their position and right this wrong,” the Statement  read.

Calls to boycott the activity have been aired by several journalists.

“We hope reason will prevail otherwise the debate will be hit by local journalists,” Butch Enerio, a board member of the Cagayan de Oro Press Club, said. (MindaNews)