Serious charges, unidentified sources
By Eleenae Love Ayson, Joanna Martine Bayani, Erwin Colcol, Mary Joy Fernandez, Maverick Russel Flores/CMFR Interns
ON MARCH 5, the Bureau of Immigration and Deportation (BID) issued an order to deport an alleged Chinese crime lord named Wang Bo who is being sought by the International Criminal Police Organization and the Chinese government for allegedly embezzling $100 million.
However, on May 21, BID commissioner Siegfred Mison and deputy commissioners Abdullah Mangotara and Gilberto Repizo reversed the order and released Wang, saying that the documents submitted to them by the Chinese government were unofficial. The BID also claimed that Wang was still facing an estafa case in the Philippines and cannot be deported until it is heard.
But The Standard told a different story. In its report “Crime lord paid BBL ‘payola’?” published on June 1, the newspaper claimed that Wang bribed BID officials in order to delay his deportation. The report also claimed that the Wang bribed lawmakers to hasten the passage of the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law (BBL).
The controversial article spawned a number of news reports probing the identity of Wang. It also prompted the House of Representatives and the Department of Justice to hold hearings to prove the involvement of the BID officials and lawmakers in the case.
In an attempt to milk the story further, several news organizations resorted to using anonymous sources in their reportage, while failing to verify the information they already had from other sources and to provide context on the connection of the BBL to the issue.
Some news organizations were confident in using statements from sources who requested to conceal their identities in exchange for information. But however true these statements may be, these news organizations still failed to provide details that could prove the credibility of these sources.
The Standard was the first to use anonymous sources in their reports. In its June 1 report, the newspaper cited “a highly reliable source,” saying that BID officials had received at least P100 million in exchange for the release of Wang. Meanwhile, $10 million or P440 million, was supposedly allocated for some 292 lawmakers to speed up the passage of BBL. The source also claimed that the Aquino administration is also involved.
“Unknown to the lawmakers, the funds they are receiving from the Palace to change their votes and blindly pass the BBL came from the leader of a crime syndicate in China,” the source of the report said.
In addition, the report said “truckloads of money” were allegedly brought to the House. But the CCTV cameras in the rear entrance of the building, where the money was supposedly unloaded, had been “erased” and “overwritten,” another unnamed House official said.
Meanwhile, on June 5, The Standard reported that Mangotara had already tagged Repizo as “the one who cut a deal to order the release of suspected Chinese crime lord Wang Bo.” (“BI deputy tagged as payola scam brains“, The Standard)
Quoting “a highly placed source,” the report said: “Kumanta na si Mangotora. Nilaglag si Repizo na siya ang nakipag-meeting sa representative ni Wang (Mangotora has sung. He said it was Repizo who met with a representative of Wang.”)
The Standard continued to use the same anonymous sources in its subsequent reports.
The Manila Times also cited anonymous sources to further support the allegations against BID. In its report “Liberals linked to BI scandal”, which landed on the front page of its June 22 issue, The Times cited an unnamed source who had supposedly tagged BID executive director Eric Dimaculangan as the “point man” behind the delayed deportation of Wang Bo.
According to the source, Dimaculangan prepared the list of deportation cases, including Wang’s, which was used as a basis for reversing the initial order to deport him. The Times said their source gave them a copy of the document.
Citing the same source, the report also claimed that Dimaculangan is “being groomed by people close to President Benigno Aquino 3rd to replace Commissioner Siegfred Mison.” Efforts have already been made to “ease out” Mison, Mangotara and Repizo, and to prepare Dimaculangan for his appointment in July, the source said.
The Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility (CMFR) Ethics Manual, using the Steele-Tompkins criteria from The Poynter Institute, notes that “the unnamed source must have verifiable and first-hand knowledge of the story” and information from the source “must be proven true.”
However in these cases, the reports failed to supply information from other sources to prove the veracity of their anonymous sources’ claims.
The use of anonymous sources can have unforeseen consequences. Lawmakers called on Christine Herrera, who wrote the June 1 Standard report, to appear before the investigation panel to name and identify her sources, although journalists cannot be compelled to reveal their sources as long as there is no national security issue involved, as provided for in Republic Act 53, as amended by R.A. 1477.
Section 1 of R.A. No. 53 states that:
“The publisher, editor or duly accredited reporter of any newspaper, magazine or periodical of general circulation cannot be compelled to reveal the source of any news-report or information appearing in said publication which was related in confidence to such publisher, editor or reporter, unless the court or a House or committee of Congress finds that such revelation is demanded by the security of the State.”
“He said, she said”
The media’s lack of effort to look for other sources, conduct separate investigations and analyze facts on their own led to an unbalanced and incomplete reportage of Wang Bo’s case, thus undermining the principles of accuracy and fairness in journalism.
Several news organizations multiplied the error by relying only on The Standard’s anonymous reports in most of the details they provided in their own reports.
The Philippine Daily Inquirer published a report on June 9 which used almost all information from The Standard’s June 1 article without even including additional details from other sources to prove the claims (“De Lima fumes over allegation Wang Bo gave money for her campaign kitty“, June 16, 2015).
“The newspaper [The Standard] report said the funds came from Wang Bo who paid the Bureau of Immigration (BI) P100 million to secure his release after the BI initially ordered his deportation, and another P400 million for the lawmakers,” the Inquirer said in its report.
GMA News Online also mentioned in its June 16 report the same information from The Standard article, but there was no attempt to provide new information on the case aside from what had been previously reported (“Wang Bo denies involvement in BBL payola controversy“, June 16, 2015).
Some news organizations settled for getting the “other side” of the story, including statements from the BID officials, justice secretary Leila De Lima, and members of the House of Representatives. They fell short, however, of airing Wang’s side.
The Times, for example, reported on how some congressmen “pointed fingers” at each other on who was really involved in the Wang case (“Finger-pointing on BBL payola starts“, June 2, 2015). The report mainly focused on the statements of the lawmakers in an almost quote by quote manner, but failed to go deeper into the essentials of the case.
The report quoted statements such as:
“It’s Mison who made the deal with Wang,” [Oriental Mindoro Gov. Alfredo] Umali said, referring to Immigration Commissioner Siegfred Mison. “He turned the story around when the deal was discovered. Mison panicked.”
“I will reveal the truth that it was Chinese Embassy officials who officially relayed to me that Deputy Commissioner Repizo and other Immigration officials met with a representative of Wang and after that meeting, they pushed for the issuance of a release order,” Mison said.
Kovach and Rosenstiel state in “The Elements of Journalism” that there is a difference between “getting the facts straight and making sense of facts.” In this case, the news organizations simply presented the various sides of the issue, but did not provide substantial context and analysis.
Lack of context
Some media organizations underestimated the importance of providing context on BBL.
The BBL draft aims to create a new Bangsamoro political entity that would replace the current Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM). If passed, the law is expected to bring lasting peace and end the conflict between the government and the armed Bangsamoro people.
In its June 2 report, the Inquirer published an article titled, “De Lima on BBL bribery: ‘Ridiculous,’ ‘fairy tale’” which reported on De Lima’s rejecting claims that the Liberal Party used funds from Wang Bo to bribe lawmakers for the swift passage of BBL.
The report did not explain what the BBL is, its purpose and significance. Although it has been in the news for months, every reference to it requires a description of what it is as well as contextualization on the assumption that not all readers may have read previous articles on it.
For its part InterAksyon released an article, “House leaders lead move to probe alleged bribery to pass BBL with extorted money.”
Despite saying that the alleged bribe to the lawmakers was to “influence the outcome of the deliberations of the House ad hoc committee that deliberated on and approved the proposed Bangsamoro Basic Law, or what critics say was Malacanang’s version of the draft legislation,” the article did not explain the contents of the BBL and the difference of the Malacanang version from the other drafts of the BBL that the critics wanted.
However, even though most reports failed to give background information on the BBL, both the Manila Bulletin and GMA News Online, on its June 16 and June 1 report respectively, provided context on the bill, saying that BBL seeks to establish a new Bangsamoro judicial entity to replace ARMM.