My beef against Local News on TV, or Why I think Pinoy Primetime News has become too big for its britches

Pinoy anchor persons have this strange, unnatural way of speaking. Is it for emphasis? Is it to attract attention? Is this taught in Journalism or MassCom classes? BBC and CNN anchormen and women speak in normal tones, with emphasis on keywords, attracting attention to the news rather than at themselves. Pinoys have Mike Enriquez. Even the female anchors are starting to follow suit. And there was even Kabayan Noli way back when he was still doing MGB. Hearing Mike Enriquez’s irritating monotone makes me scramble for the remote to frantically change the channel or turn the tv off. I have every right to decide who can invade my viewing space and turn me into an idiot.

Reporters insinuate themselves into places where they shouldn’t be, if they had any ethics at all. Just recently, in the height of the cassava poisoning tragedy in Bohol, a tv reporter interviewed Ana Luyong on camera, asking her how she felt about what had happened to the children. Ana Luyong is the cassava vendor who also fell sick after eating her own products, and was confined in the ICU of the Gov. Celestino Gallares Memorial Hospital. The woman was in the Intensive Care Unit, with oxygen tubes up her nose, sick with poisoning and stress and perhaps a conscience that was troubled no end, and a reporter was asking her how she felt. Why didn’t the doctors keep the reporter and cameraman out? The doctors had every obligation to do so! But this is the media, and the public has this mistaken notion that primetime news reporters have the right to be everywhere. They don’t.

The average Pinoy, in his eternal gratitude to Media for bringing to us LIVE the various incarnations of EDSA, the downfall of former President Marcos, the impeachment of Erap, the discontinued saga of Ping vs. Jose Pidal, has granted primetime news the right to show people in the height of distress, emotional pain and sorrow. We see the stricken families of the poisoned children of Bohol, drenched in tears and wailing in their sorrow, on primetime news. Do we really need to invade the privacy of their grief? Does the Pinoy viewing public have a comprehension of the situation so piddling that distraught families need to be caught on camera to drive the point home?

Minimize harm. Act with compassion.
Portray subjects as human beings deserving respect, not merely as means to your journalistic ends.

from Ethical Issues in Investigative Reporting, from the PCIJ Training Desk

Journalists should:
* Show compassion for those who may be affected adversely by news coverage. Use special sensitivity when dealing with children and inexperienced sources or subjects.
* Be sensitive when seeking or using interviews or photographs of those affected by tragedy or grief.

Society of Professional Journalists, Code of Ethics

Some mediamen think that “LIVE, On Camera” is the only way to go. On the morning of October 18, 2004 an apparently distracted Althea Jane Catacutan walked onto the railroad track in Los Banos, Laguna and was run over by a train. Witnesses said Ms. Catacutan was intently texting on her celfone that she did not notice the rush of the oncoming train nor its blaring horns. She died on the spot, her body mutilated by the impact. As her neighbors also said that Althea was on her way to see her brother T/Sgt. Carmelito Catacutan, GMA-7 news pounced on this information and quickly had Mike Enriquez “Live” on the telephone with the poor Sgt. Catacutan, telling him that his sister has been run over by a train. There was the hapless Sgt. Catacutan, being informed of his sister’s death in front of thousands of viewers on GMA Balita. This is a scoop! This is LIVE and ON THE AIR!

This is pure unmitigated b.s. The same interview was posted on GMA-7’s website as streaming media on that day. I had written a letter of protest through a contact form on the same website, but unfortunately, not everyone can be a Jorge Q. Concepcion. I got no replies for my trouble.

And it goes on, this tabloid mentality presented LIVE on television. I see reporters interviewing kids who have been molested by their parents, women who have been battered by their partners, taking persistent videos of GRO’s who have been caught in a raid. There is something that guards against this in the Code Of Ethics of the Philippine Press Institute, but this guideline is for news in print. If there is any such code for television (there is none in the KBP code), it is clearly not being followed.

6. The identities and photographs of children and women who figure in the news as victims of sexual abuse (i.e. rape, incest, sexual harassment, prostitution, battering, etc.) must not be printed, and details about their personal circumstances and identities must be withheld. In the case of incest victims, the identities of the accused and immediate family members must also be protected. Disclosure of the identities of victims of sexual abuse-but not their photographs- may be allowed only in cases when the adult victim (above 18 years old) has decided to file a case in court.

Code of Ethics, Philippine Press Institute, Part III – Writing the Story

Lest I be accused of pointing a finger at reporters who are only doing their jobs, let me say this. Although there may actually be reporters who are guilty of insensitivity, the final responsibility rests on the people who send them out to find news to report. These days primetime news is no longer a matter of bringing the latest developments to television viewers. It is a race for ratings, viewership and advertisement contracts. News networks no longer care about the privacy of mourning. It is all a matter of how many victims of disasters can you show on videotape, of how many grieving families can be laid naked to the public. While some may counter that such videos spur charitable persons and institutions to action, is not the report that almost 30 children have died of food poisoning enough to work toward the same end?

Apparently not. Not if primetime media has its way.

Let me end this with a last quote from the PCIJ document.

Journalists who face ethical dilemmas are reminded to ask themselves …
What should we do in cases like this?
Who will be hurt and who will be helped?

Can I justify this to other people or to the public?

from Ethical Issues in Investigative Reporting, from the PCIJ Training Desk

Sensationalism vs Common Sense

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12 thoughts on “Sensationalism vs Common Sense

  1. I know what you mean. “Responsible Journalism” seems oxymoronic now that “Infotainment” is the norm, news reports presented in MTV style aimed at those with Attention Deficit Disorder. Just like in everything else in this strange world of ours, “ethics” seem to be a dying concept. For our sakes I hope it isn’t.

    Well, your reminds me of an old joke…I also read this on a strip of “Pugad Baboy” once….

    Reporter: (Facing TV camera) “Nandito po tayo ngayon sa harap ng tahanan ni Gng. Cruz, na kasalukuyang nagliliyab at nagresulta sa pagkamatay ng buo niyang pamilya. Atin pong kunan ng panayam…”

    “Magandang gabi po Gng. Cruz….”

    As if there’s something still good about it…:-) Hahaha. Great post…

  2. exactly the reasons why i threw away four years of being a mass communications major…

    philippine media appears to be beyond redemption.

  3. ronallan: I always thought Pol Medina Jr. had the inside on the pinoy psyche. I’d been a fan of the strip since the mid-80s and was so gratified to find that he had a website One of my fondest wishes for myself is to have at least one of the books listed on his site (sige lang, one of these days makakahanap rin ako ng copy). And I do prefer following the adventures of Polgas than listening to Mike Enriquez and his ilk.

  4. salbaje: i do wish that the keyword is “appears” so that there may still be hope. or am i being too optimistic?

  5. Reading this makes me think that perhaps everything really is for sale these days — including (especially?) a person’s self-respect. So sad.

    OK I’m hooked too. May I add you to my blog list, please? 🙂

  6. Gigi, re: everything really is for sale–parang kakalungkot ano or if you’re someone like me, nakakainis, nakakaloka, nakaka asar!

    re: linking–yes yes yes! 😀

  7. where and how do i even start?… you know what, i will just email you privately. my fellow broadcast journalists might read more into what i’m trying to say than keep an open mind….. thanks for discovering my obscure blog page. you have a great site too… and for now here’s my view: support news programs that try to adhere to what is right and ethical, because if people won’t support them, sooner or later, they will have to go the way of the others who rate but are not necessarily ethical. MORE POWER!

  8. support news programs that try to adhere to what is right and ethical, because if people won’t support them, sooner or later, they will have to go the way of the others who rate but are not necessarily ethical.

    Bravo Jove Francisco! As you may have noticed, ABC-5 did not merit special mention in my post, as they are indeed one of the level-headed ones. You’re right, Jove. We still have a choice when it comes to primetime news programming, and we must choose well while we still have that choice. Thanks for honoring my invitation!

  9. Media is sensitive to the dynamics of power, this i heard once from noted journalist Randy David. Now, i guess its not only the powers that be that sometimes influences how media should tell their news but also the products that their owners sell or supports.

    The problem of ethics in media was mostly emphasized in the tragedy of Lady Diana, and we have not learned from it so far.

  10. Hi Major Tom, the same media is turning the screws on the memory of Lady Diana, now that the woman of the hour is now she who used to be the villainess. It’s things like this that make me want to retreat to my cave and stick to watching my pirata dvd’s …

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