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FEEDBACK: From a DOJ reporter | CMFR

FEEDBACK: From a DOJ reporter

Dear PJR Reports editors,

I am a reporter of Malaya covering the Department of Justice (DOJ), Supreme Court (SC), and Court of Appeals beat. I take strong exception to the many inaccuracies and malicious issues raised by your writer in your July 2006 report (“The DOJ: 2 press corps and an ‘injustice’ secretary” by Rosario Joy E. Flores).

Sometime April or May, two girls who identified themselves as nieces of Alex Lactao, DOJ public information officer, went to JUCRA saying that they were students doing a thesis in journalism. They did not identify themselves as interns of PJR Reports doing research job on reporters. They were accompanied by Lactao, who confirmed that they were his nieces and asked that they be allowed to observe. As far as I can remember, these two girls just sat on the couch, silently watching everyone go about their own way, probably asking a few questions and then at the end of their visit took some snapshots of us. Rather than properly representing themselves, Ms. Flores and her companion, in sheer bad faith, set out to deliberately and maliciously mislead us in their true purpose of confirming whatever preconceived notions that they have about reporters. The fact that she misrepresented herself already erodes her moral ascendancy to report on work ethics.

In the first paragraph of her report, Ms. Flores mentioned that “except when there are big stories, reporters spend most of the day in the press rooms waiting for memoranda and Supreme Court decisions.”  For one thing, the Supreme Court is a highly secured (or insecure) institution. Since late last year, certain middle-rank officials of the court have started questioning the number of reporters asking for a copy of certain documents, and so among ourselves, we decided to designate three persons who would get decisions or resolutions from the en banc or from the PIO. This task fell on me and two other reporters since we’ve been regularly doing the rounds of scouring both the SC and the Court of Appeals for stories. So while it is true that some reporters do stay inside the press office, we could have explained to her, if she’d only bothered to ask, that some news sources in this beat are not exactly as cooperative with media as she probably thought. Then again, there are days when we are required to stake out
as late as 9 p.m. or sometimes until well past midnight (usually during oral arguments at the SC) but Ms. Flores couldn’t have known that because she did not ask.

Ms. Flores also said in the fourth paragraph that “at the DOJ, reporters need only wait for faxed stories that usually arrive at 12 noon.” False. In this beat, press releases are almost less than useless. The DOJ rarely ever issues a press release. The SC feeds its Court News on cases that it had resolved, but most of the time we’ve already filed them the day or several days before, or sometimes they arrive as late as 5 or 6 p.m. As for the CA, it is far less a sophisticated office than the SC that it doesn’t have even a website or a credible media relations office that would fax any releases whatsoever. That’s why any resolution, decision, or order would have to be personally picked up by the reporters from their respective sources.

Your writer also quoted Lactao as saying that some reporters accept the DOJ-issued meal stubs out of “pakikisama” while those who do not are “suplado.” This is a rather erroneous account coming from Lactao who must have conveniently forgotten to tell his wards that the issuance of these stubs was an initiative of the DOJ as part of its concession agreement with the people manning the DOJ canteen. When I started on this beat, I mentally questioned the propriety of accepting such a favor from the DOJ but I decided that the jury is still out on the matter and made a non-issue of it since I hardly think that a P50-stub could eat away at my impartiality.

Ms. Flores said that in JUCRA, reporters assign a “ponente.” I take exception to her insinuation that I was covering the beat by simply asking my colleagues for stories. Her statement where I supposedly teased a certain “Gerry” if he will be the ponente that time, is definitely erroneous and maliciously out of line because as far as I know Gerry, whom the writer identified as a certain Gerry Baldo of another daily, is not covering, and has never covered, the DOJ beat.

Ms. Flores’ erroneous assessment of me in her article has placed me in a compromising situation with my office and earned me the ridicule of my colleagues, mockery of some, especially those who do not know me and my true work ethics. I can survive in this beat without anyone feeding me their stories. As for those who instructed her to snoop on reporters, I think one week is too short a time to make an accurate assessment of reporters on the field. In a realistic set-up, reporters do get accustomed to one another, although not necessarily accustomed enough to share stories. But, it’s not uncommon to share details either. I’d like to think that there is still some healthy competition in the beat, especially when it comes to looking for a more striking angle of a story even though reporters make use of the same set of facts or details.

Salamat po,
Evangeline C. De Vera

Reply: PJR Reports sent Ms. Flores and several other journalism students to various beats to observe the culture of reporters in those places. In each beat, PJR Reports formally sought the permission of the information officers and informed them of what the interns would be doing. Ms. Flores says she introduced herself to DOJ reporters as an intern of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the organization that publishes PJR Reports.

The students were instructed to observe how reporters worked and the environment in which they did their jobs. One week was certainly not enough to get the complete picture of any beat. It would be fair to say that the results would have been more comprehensive had more time been given but it would be hasty to conclude that these would have been kinder.

On the identification of one reporter as Mr. Gerry Baldo, Ms. Flores says that was the name given to her by the information officer, Mr. Alejandro Lactao, and the other reporters.—Ed.

Wrong name
Hi! I regularly buy and read PJR Reports and your publication is very helpful to a practitioner like me.

I just want to correct a name in Hanna Mahalet Antolin’s article (“The Philippine Stock Exchange: Rubbing elbows with the rich”). The Manila Times reporter’s name is Cai Ordinario, not Ugrino.

Likha Cuevas
The Manila Times

PJR Reports regrets the error and apologizes to Ms. Ordinario.—Ed.

(Letters to PJR Reports are edited for reasons of space and style.)

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