The shape of the world

Although certainly an odd belief if it is one that she really actually holds, ABS-CBN reporter Ina Reformina’s alleged thoughts on the flatness of the Earth should not necessarily mean she is not a credible journalist.

At least not about things that have nothing to do with the shape of the planet that we live in.

In the first place, she isn’t assigned to the Shape of the Earth beat.

She’s a Justice reporter and most, if not all of them, confine their reporting to what is in the court decision or other legal document they are doing a story on.

That she professes to believe in scripture more than science should not really be an issue in her professional life, although the fact that she does is not exempt from criticism outside of her work.

The worry, it seems, is that that belief could color her reportage on issues where science (or government policy) and religion clash — one example given was the Reproductive Health bill, which the Supreme Court has already ruled on anyway.

We can certainly call her out when that happens, but it does not seem to have happened yet.

And something like that is not supposed to happen anyway. That’s what you have an editor (or broadcasting equivalent) for, hopefully one who believes the shape of the Earth is not up for debate.

[A rejoinder to that point here]

My direct boss is a devout Catholic and she reports to a devout Christian.

Although this has led to awkward moments at impromptu office Christmas party current affairs pop quizzes, it has not led to either of them declaring that something should be reported a certain way because the Bible says so.

If anything, it has led to a more nuanced reporting on current issues. For example, on one congressman’s silly argument that a child who is old enough to receive communion has enough discernment to be held liable for breaking the law.

The media industry is made up of all sorts of people — atheists, theists, leftists, anti-vaxxers, people from everywhere on the political spectrum — operating within the same broad set of rules*.

Although I wish we could be more united — as the recent Rappler case shows, we are far from it — I am more than a little uncomfortable at the proposition that we should all think the same way.

I think the differences in our opinions, biases and personal experiences are an informal check on us as a profession and help inform our reporting.

It is difficult to think of how flat-earthers can help do that, but the general principle should hold.

*Like, for example, don’t make shit up.

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Andami Kong Alam: Medyo cheatsheet on the Rappler cyber libel case

The National Press Club of the Philippines, the largest and oldest group of press clubs in the country, on Thursday acknowledged that the arrest of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa on a cyber libel case after office hours earlier in the week was an inconvenience for her — she could not post bail until the next day — and “smacks of bad taste.”*

It asserted though, that the arrest was not an attack on press freedom or a form of political harassment. “Ms. Ressa’s experience has been the experience of many in the media profession. It can be a great ‘inconvenience’ but, not something that should relegate someone to the altar of press freedom for ‘martyrdom’,” it says in a press statement.

It adds:

“The NPC maintains that to inject something that is not there and thus politicize a strictly judicial process involving a legal dispute between two private parties—the private complainant on the one hand and, Rappler, a private media outfit, on the other—does not, and will not, serve the end of justice, which was the aim of the complaint to begin with.”

That is in stark contrast to the position held by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, of which I am a member and that calls the arrest as well as other cases against Rappler and Ressa as “part of the administration’s obsession to shut Rappler down and intimidate the rest of the independent Philippine media into toeing the lines.”

It is clear, NUJP says, “that the Department of Justice perverted the law by charging Maria for an offense allegedly committed before it actually became an offense under the law.”

I am hesitant to call out those who have been in the business long before me** but two things are clear to me: a line has been drawn–maybe that line has always been there and this issue only brought it to the fore–and where we stand now will help define how we do our jobs moving forward.

I have instead compiled a list of resources to help us decide either way. For brevity, the initial list includes only resources I have personally read and that are from within the community.

Explainers

FAQs: What you need to know about Rappler’s cyber libel case (Rappler)

A look at the cyber libel charge vs Rappler, Maria Ressa (Philstar.com)

EXPLAINER: Why is the Philippine government accused of going after media? (ABS-CBN)

Former Supreme Court spokesperson Theodore Te, now back to teaching Law at the University of the Philippines, discusses the Department of Justice’s theory of “continuing publication” in the cyber libel case (Puma Podcast)

That would be an implication, that there would be virtually no prescriptive period for libel, or cyber libel

https://open.spotify.com/embed/episode/3AmBsPkExhOR2UNXt2uCnR

Statements

STATEMENT of Mr. Wilfredo D. Keng on the Cybercrime of Libel criminal case filed against Reynaldo Santos, Jr., and Maria Angelita Ressa, of Rappler, Inc. (via MindaNews)

“Rappler, Ressa and [Reynaldo Jr.] Santos continue to hold themselves high above any accountability to provide credible and justifiable reason for why they continue to harass an ordinary private citizen and businessman despite having absolutely no basis for their claims. What is their motive? With one click of a button, they destroyed my reputation and endangered my life.”

Rappler statement on Maria Ressa’s arrest

This is a dangerous precedent that puts anyone – not just the media – who publishes anything online perennially in danger of being charged with libel. It can be an effective tool of harassment and intimidation to silence critical reporting on the part of the media. No one is safe.

Maria Ressa was accused of cyber libel allegedly because she was the editor of the story that was published. She was not.

Press freedom ‘alive and well’ in PH: PCOO chief (PNA)***

“The impulsive conclusion that their non-exemption from the judicial process constitutes a blanket attack on press freedom in the Philippines is a blatant disregard for the earnest efforts of the very stakeholders to come up with programs aimed at safeguarding it”

National Press Club

“To politicize a legal recourse available to everyone who feels aggrieved by the media with the objective of soliciting sympathy from a public largely ignorant of the details of the dispute that gave rise to the complaint is not only to twist the facts of the case.”

National Union of Journalists of the Philippines

“This government, led by a man who has proven averse to criticism and dissent, now proves it will go to ridiculous lengths to forcibly silence a critical media and stifle free expression and thought.”

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility

“An attack on the freedom of one journalist or one news organization weakens the capacity of the entire institution to report the truth and is an attack on all of us and on democracy itself.”

Consortium on Democracy and Disinformation

“This is state harassment of a crucial news source, one that has reported deeply on the extrajudicial killings caused by an extremely violent campaign against illegal drugs, provided incontrovertible proof of organized disinformation in the digital space, and fact-checked dubious pro-administration claims on Facebook.”

Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines (via MindaNews)

We in FOCAP will always stand against any move, explicit or otherwise, that is designed to undermine the freedoms that are a lifeline to truly free, relevant and courageous journalism.

We will continue to hold those in power led by President Rodrigo Duterte or any other leader and their administrations accountable every time we need to.

Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines

That the Duterte administration chose to selectively apply the law to a media outfit that has been critical of its governance is an indication of the lengths it will go to silence criticism.

Opinions

First they came for the journalists (Philippine Daily Inquirer)

“Targeting journalists is tick box No. 1 in the authoritarian playbook, as the German philosopher Hannah Arendt warned in 1974: “The moment we no longer have a free press, anything can happen. What makes it possible for a totalitarian or any other dictatorship to rule is that people are not informed; how can you have an opinion if you are not informed?”

Seares: Why some journalists don’t get riled over arrest of Rappler’s Maria Ressa (Sun.Star)

“Ressa and Rappler are not without critics among journalists who were hurt by its stories, turned off by its manner of reporting, envied the recognition heaped on her by much of the rest of the world, or just didn’t like the way Ressa looks or speaks.

And there are those, of course, who clash with her views on government conduct, anti-Ressa sentiment genuinely driven or induced by fear or favor.”

Ressa spits on our laws and on the truth, and then invokes press freedom (Manila Times)

This cyberlibel case isn’t the first time that Ressa and Rappler have spat on our laws, and when called to account, claimed that press freedom is being suppressed in the Philippines.

The National Press Club’s strange notion of justice (Inday Espina-Varona on Medium)

When the NPC equates defense of press freedom to conferring colleagues the status of martyr, it isn’t shaming colleagues and other advocates. It is shaming itself.

This list will be updated, but likely not regularly


*Like, I imagine, showing up at a wedding in jeans and boots or taking the last piece of chicken at a working lunch.

** In truth, I’m a “pay your dues” kind of guy and believe I am still paying those dues. Also, I would have drowned in my first years in news if not for older journalists, many of whom are from the National Press Club, who helped me along the way.

*** Technically a news report, but from a statement

The Sagay killings don’t make sense as a plot to discredit government

Hacienda Nene in Sagay City, Negros Occidental. Handout photo from National Fact-Finding Mission

By now, everyone whom the Philippine National Police has accused of being behind the killing of nine sugar workers in Sagay City in Negros Occidental two Saturdays ago as part of a communist campaign to discredit the government has denied it.

Continue reading “The Sagay killings don’t make sense as a plot to discredit government”

The plot chickens

It is easy, almost reflexive even, to equate questions about the government’s claim of a “Red October” plot hatched by communist rebels — depending on who’s making the claim, with the optional participation of the pro-military Magdalo group and the Liberal Party — with unwitting or even intentional support for Communist Party of the Philippines propaganda.

Continue reading “The plot chickens”

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Nonthaburi, South of Somewhere

In Thailand for a short work trip and thinking about how this job takes you places without necessarily letting you see much.

Not, at least, with the typical tight schedules and budgets of most working journalists.*

Sometimes, you’re lucky to even have a chance to wander around a few blocks near were you’re staying.

And that’s fine. We’re paid to report, not to be tourists — unless you are one of the lucky few to get to report about being a tourist.

This came up on a recent personal trip when, as is probably normal as people get older, differences in travel habits caused some tension.

A friend was wondering why I hadn’t bothered doing research on interesting tourist spots and this was the best explanation of why it didn’t even occur to me to do it: For most of my adult life, I’m somewhere for work and where I am is the interesting spot.**

I try my best to wander down side streets and get responsibly lost in new cities but, as always in this job and when on the job, I am not the hero of the story.

* There is nothing wrong with, and nobody will stop you from, exploring on your own time. The smart thing, really, is to extend your stay for a day or two for personal trips if you can afford to — I clearly cannot.

** The alternative answer is I am lazy. Also, interesting is relative and, in my case, is influenced by the desire to stay employed. A provincial disaster response operations center, for example, would not be top of mind for most travelers.

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Slow news on indigenous peoples’ education

Most of the time, the stories I work on — when I get to work on any of my own — are really just prompted by my wondering about something and asking questions about these things.

The president’s threat to bomb Lumad schools — community-run schools in indigenous peoples’ communities in Mindanao — in July 2017, for example, had been bothering me for months.

Why would you threaten to bomb a school? Why, even without the threat, were these schools and the communities they are in reporting militarization and allegations of abuse by soldiers? What is so wrong in teaching people to read, write, and tend to their crops better?

Several months of thinking it over and of on-and-off online exchanges and interviews led to this piece of “slow news” — Australian journalist John Pilger defines it as stories that take longer to develop, are not tied to the daily grind, and that are rarely reported — that I hope can help explain the Lumad situation better.

An excerpt:

Often set up in what the Department of Education calls Geographically Isolated and Disadvantaged Areas that government schools may not be able to reach, the Lumad schools provide lessons in numeracy, literacy and skills like carpentry, sewing and agriculture.

“Don’t fool me. You teach nothing there but socialism and killings,” the president said in July 2017 before the Armed Forces of the Philippines said it would not take the statement as an order.

But indigenous peoples’ education—or the Lumad schools—is not new, nor necessarily a form of rebellion. It requires, however, a shift in perspective that is, in a way, a revolution away from a one-size-fits-all curriculum.

Full story here

Days after that story came out, but not because of it, residents of Lumad communities in Surigao del Sur left their homes, saying they did not feel safe with soldiers — deployed to the area to guard against the communist New People’s Army — in their communities.

Aside from the allegations of abuse and of the disruption of their daily lives since a military detachment was put up in June, the villagers are still recovering from the murders of indigenous Manobo leaders and the director of a Lumad school in 2015.

The allegations are just the latest in what human rights group Karapatan says is “a systemic, brutal and cruel persecution of an entire community [defending] of their ancestral land.

Datelines and punchlines

The pier in Ormoc City, which is nice but doesn’t really have anything to do with this post. It’s nice, though.

I am not sure how it happened but in the years that I have been working a desk, I have always ended up editing most of the newsroom’s regional stories.

Part of it, I guess, is a bias for community news because one of the first news organizations to give me a shot was based in Cebu and we were encouraged to consider how national news we covered would affect readers in urban centers outside Manila.

I have always believed, but very rarely say, that it is the supposedly small stories (like, for example, the provincial governor visiting a remote island that was finally connected to the power grid) that are actually of significance to the people we supposedly write the news for.

That has translated to being more patient with regional stories, not because the copy can be quite a challenge, but because I may be missing the importance of it for being in Imperial Manila.

Giving stories from the provinces as much prominence (or at least priority on my to-do list) became more difficult when GMA cut its regional staff for business reasons that were above my paygrade but we still made it work.

We picked up stories from MindaNews and other regional news organizations, but the Philippine News Agency* was always my go-to source for stories from the provinces. Maybe they tended to praise the LGU a little much but I was at least sure that the basic information was there.

That has carried over to the newsroom that I work in now and while I am glad that we have more actual regional partners now, I have always believed in PNA as a reliable, if controversy averse, source for stories from the provinces.

That changed this month after the agency made bad calls on two stories (that we know about).

Since the first bad call, when PNA apparently misrepresented statements made at the UN Human Rights Council’s review of the human rights situation in the Philippines and quoted a government official who later said he didn’t say what he reportedly said, we have been wary of relying on PNA reports.

That is really just more of a challenge for us. We have subscriptions to international wire agencies and have counterparts in the newspaper from whom we can sometimes get details and leads.

It may be a bigger problem when the flow of information goes the other way. Regional organizations like the Romblon News Network in Odiongan do not have the resources that we do and its partnership with PNA for national news was supposed to fill that gap.

Other community news organizations in other provinces probably have the same arrangement with the state-run agency or get their stories from the Philippine Information Agency, which performs a similar function.

They can, of course, write the stories themselves from press releases and documents just like we do here. But that takes time away from letting them do what they do best, which is report on what is happening in their own communities.

They can, and will likely have to, keep picking up stories from PNA — to be fair, the agency has apologized for the lapses and has promised to review its reporting process but this isn’t even the first time that the office that handles it has made rookie mistakes — but desk people in the provinces will have to deal with a little more of the nagging doubt that hounds all editors for some time.

That, I feel, is the greater loss in this whole thing, that regional news organizations will also have to worry about the reliability of their national news. Or, they can not worry and unwittingly serve their readers inaccurate news because why would your own government mislead you?

That, I feel, is where Imperial Manila failed the regions again.

* It used to be called Philippines News Agency but it got renamed to Philippine News Agency just as I managed to convince people that this was so.