Editor’s Note: Elections and acts of terror
By Chit Estella
April 6, 2007
ELECTIONS HAVE always turned the spotlight on politicians, particularly the candidates. What they do—and what they don’t do—is the stuff that journalists write about. This issue of the PJR Reports will do that, too, but in a different way. It will show how politicians deal with journalists during their campaigns. It will also show how media organizations handle stories related to the campaigns.
For the first task, PJR Reports asked three reporters who are following the campaign trail to write about how the candidates treated members of media. Some of their stories are funny, others sad. All are instructive, but only if we care to do something about them.
For the second task, that of showing how media organizations are handling stories on the campaigns, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) mobilized a battalion (or what seems like a battalion when inside the CMFR office) of journalism students to monitor the country’s three biggest newspapers and four television stations. Combining judgment and diligence, the students of the University of the Philippines, along with CMFR deputy director Prof. Luis V. Teodoro, Prof. Danilo Arao, and the CMFR staff, have painstakingly come up with a study that would trace a pattern, if any, in the leading news organizations’ handling of election-related stories. The first two parts of the monitor are produced in this issue.
But even as the nation prepares for the polls, events continue to happen that cause us to stop in our tracks. When Armando Ducat Jr. held 26 of his own pupils and four teachers hostage inside a bus, even Filipinos wondered if what they were seeing was really happening. Here, after all, was a man who said that all he wanted was to make sure that the children get an education. Adding to the mystery was the respect that the hostage taker seemed to command from those who knew him, including the children’s parents. Now, how was the media to make sense out of all that?
But if making sense out of an event isn’t immediately possible, perhaps minimizing the confusion is. Recounting how news organizations reported the Ducat affair should show, even in hindsight, how members of media could have better comported themselves.
And this brings us to the question: does talking with a hostage taker constitute a violation of the Human Security Act (HSA)? If so, should the journalists and candidates who spoke with Ducat as he was holding two grenades and a sub-machine gun start worrying?
Signed into law last month, the Act gives a broad definition of what constitutes acts of terror. All citizens stand to be adversely affected by this new law but journalists would appear to be the most vulnerable of the lot. A story on HSA 2007 in this issue explains why.
Even without the anti-terror law, members of media are already being terrorized into submission by libel suits. Much has been written about the cases filed by the President’s husband but a lesser-known case, filed by a congressman against a Mindanao broadcaster, has shown just what a libel case can do. Alex Adonis is languishing in jail after being convicted of the charge. The circumstances that led to his imprisonment are a heart-breaking tale of the condition that many Filipino journalists find themselves in.
In the midst of all this agony and despair, has anyone noticed anything missing? Philippine Daily Inquirer copy editor Elvira Mata has—it’s Kris Aquino. While much of the speculation about the latest episode in the life of the former President’s daughter has died down (largely because she has kept herself away from the limelight), the public seems to be realizing one thing. We miss Kris. Or do we?