Notes on CMFR’s Media Monitor
In monitoring media coverage, CMFR reviews the text/broadcast output of the media organization. CMFR’s critique focuses on the news “product” or text. We do not normally look at the process that resulted in the product; we assume that that product is the result of editing/vetting processes in the news organization, as demanded by professional standards. That is why our media monitor section and monitor-based analyses in our flagship publication PJR Reports (PJRR) focus on what is finally printed, broadcast, or posted. CMFR checks, among others, for accuracy, balance, fairness, clarity, context, and the multiplicity of sources and perspectives.
CMFR has long encouraged academic and civil society engagement with the press community as well as within the press community itself to discuss professional and ethical standards and issues. In PJRR, CMFR has sought journalists for their insights on various issues, as a cursory check of PJRR content over the last 21 years should confirm.
But our 22-year experience of press monitoring (CMFR began monitoring the media in 1990) has led us to conclude that too many journalists are averse to the idea of media monitoring or the concept of media as a beat, despite the reality that journalism communities in more advanced societies have long understood and appreciated the importance of monitoring media performance through self-regulation and self-criticism in furtherance of the press function of delivering the information citizens need in a democracy and would-be democracies.
In more controversial/problematic cases, CMFR has received explanations from news executives themselves as to the bases for their decisions. But in those instances when news executives or journalists are not willing to discuss the process behind their organization’s coverage, we engage independent sources for information and background.
As has been explained in PJRR, CMFR based its evaluation of the media coverage of the Aug. 23, 2010 hostage taking incident on internationally recognized ethical and professional standards as developed in the press and media of countries where, we might point out, the processes of editing and gate keeping are basically the same, but where those processes have never been used as an excuse for bad coverage or as the basis for appeals to “understanding” and lower standards. Those standards have a sound basis and are not as difficult to appreciate as some journalists have argued. For example, the prohibition against live coverage of hostage taking, terrorism and similar incidents is based on three easily understandable reasons: live coverage can spin out of control of the media organization; the hostage taker or terrorist can use live access to the media to communicate with his or her accomplices; and such live coverage is almost inevitably one-sided and therefore in violation of the rule of fairness and balance.
In the aftermath of the hostage incident, CMFR released and posted online a number of statements, stories, and analyses on the press coverage and the lessons to be gained from it.
To review: A few days after the hostage-taking incident, CMFR also invited top news executives as well as reporters to a roundtable discussion to discuss the professional and ethical issues relevant to hostage-taking and other crisis situations. CMFR sent out about 50 invitations to the news organizations to share insights with each other in our Sept. 8, 2010 roundtable discussion where representatives from the Philippine Press Institute and the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas were present. Only 11 of the executives from the media organizations invited attended (from GMA-7, TV5, BusinessWorld, the Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Manila Times, The Philippine Star, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, VERA Files, and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines). We posted a story on that event online, which may be accessed here. It’s all very well to complain that there’s not enough engagement among media organizations, academics, civil society organizations, etc. But what we have found is that it is CSOs and academics who usually attend attempts to bring media and other sectors together. Much of media are usually noticeable for their absence.
The press being a public service, every citizen has the right to express his or her opinions on media and press performance, regardless of whether they’ve been to journalism school and/or worked in the media or not at all. It’s a truth many journalists either don’t remember, or have never quite understood.