When I was Secretary of Tourism, I flew to Japan to work out ways to bring in more tourists from there. My counterpart told me they were having a hard time promoting the country.
Our local media, he said, loved to sensationalise stories, particularly crime and scandal stories, complete with screaming headlines and photos, oftentimes with tentative details and speculations, never accurate that people could really learn from. And when the story dies out, he said that somehow the press recycles it and noted that they liked to pit people against each other. Very divisive practice he said. Bad for nation-building.
Our local news is picked up by the international press. And if the stories are irresponsible – devoid of professionalism, prudence and circumspection – the impact on foreigners is negative. He said the Japanese were fearful to come here because of it. In Japan, he said the papers would report their crime stories in the middle pages, sans gory pictures, sensational headlines and only reported the basics – who, what, where, how, how many, why, etc.
That was way back in 1991. A few years later, I sued a national daily with natural tabloid instincts for placing on their front page headline story that I was responsible for the release of a notorious killer in Mindanao. I was shocked out of my chair because I didn’t know the fellow at all. I checked the inclusive dates when that supposedly happened, and saw the glaring mistake immediately. It took place when I was blissfully working in the private sector selling to the local textile industry and Philippine goods abroad. I was not in government. I was mistaken for somebody else.
I asked Atty Rene Cayetano, father of Sen. Alan Peter, to lawyer for me. He succeeded to have that paper recognise and acknowledge its gross mistake. But you know how it recanted and apologised a year later? Surely, it was not in the front page with equally eye-grabbing headlines. It was buried at the corner of a page somewhere in the middle of the paper in small print. So much for ethics, decency and fair play. And you know what the cavalier response was on the side? “Don’t worry, in the future we will also print your side?” What? After the damage is done? What kind of responsible journalism is that?
25 years later today, 2016, has anything changed? Do we have a responsible, professional press? Does it deliver informative news that enable the cause of nation-building? Is it development oriented? Is it sober, reliable and trustworthy? These are questions that require deep reflection. And if the answer is no, something has to be done. We cannot go on like this open-ended like a bunch of uncaring nitwits.