Unverified, sensationalized reporting (UPDATED)

JEERS TO ABS-CBN 2’s Bandila for blatantly violating the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas’ (KBP) Broadcast Code of the Philippines and the network’s own internal “Standards Ethics Manual” in a report about an alleged ‘flesh-eating’ disease that the same report said was “slowly spreading” (unti-unting kumakalat)  in the province of Pangasinan.

The first of a two- part ABS-CBN special report tagged #MisteryosongSakitsaBandila aired 24 February 2014 reported two cases of people with supposedly ‘mysterious’ (misteryoso) “skin and flesh-eating” diseases.

Bandila’s anchor Julius Babao in his spiel prior to the report proper said, “Isang misteryosong sakit ang unti-unting kumakalat ngayon sa Pangasinan, isang sakit na tila umano’y kumakain ng balat at laman ng tao … (A mysterious disease is slowly spreading in Pangasinan, a disease allegedly eating people’s skin and flesh)”

Bandila reporter Jasmin Romero was shown wearing medical scrubs, mask and gloves while interviewing two patients from the town of Sta Barbara and Villasis, Pangasinan.  According to the report, doctors could not tell what the patients’ ailments were.

Family members of the patients were interviewed. A medical official was also interviewed about the condition of a patient from Villasis town, who, among other statements, said the patient’s ailment was not psoriasis.

Bandila’s report was deliberately sensationalized, and the reporter did not interview any other source.   The result was panic among Netizens that spread to other people around the country.

The story was in violation of ABS-CBN’s own “Standards Ethics Manual” Responsibilities to the Public Sections, which declare that the news must “(i) avoid needless pain and offense; (iv) Avoid sensationalism and hype; (v.) Seek clear, unambiguous accounts of facts; and, (vi) Be on alert for spin and other forms of media manipulation.”

The report also violates the KBP’s 2007 Broadcast Code of the Philippines, Article 1 Section 9.c of which states that “The presentation of news and commentaries must not be done in a way that would create unnecessary panic or alarm.”

Hours after the report was aired, Netizens began sharing pictures of different bacterial skin diseases on Facebook, and the issue soon trended on Twitter.

Some Netizens connected the report to a so-called “prophecy” by a self-proclaimed Indian prophet from the Voice of Jesus Ministry last April 2013, who said that a flesh-eating disease will originate from Pangasinan and will spread around the world. The same “prophet” was said to have predicted that a typhoon would devastate Samar and Leyte, which some Netizens  interpreted as having been validated by super typhoon Yolanda’s smashing into the Visayas last November.  Videos of the said “prophecy” had begun to surface over YouTube last year after typhoon Yolanda hit.

The Department of Health (DOH) later said that the report was a hoax. The provincial health officer and the Secretary of Health said that the two patients do not have a mysterious disease, and that one has psoriasis, while the other has leprosy. Health Undersecretary Teodoro Herbosa added that “responsible journalism is important” so as not to spread panic.

Part two of the Bandila special report was supposed to connect the story to the “prophecy,” with interviews from medical experts and religious organizations on the coming of the “flesh-eating disease.”  But it was never aired, apparently because of the DOH disclaimer.

ABS-CBN did not acknowledge its mistake—if mistake it was and not deliberate sensationalism. Instead Bandila anchor Julius Babao on February 25 claimed that the program did not mean to scare the public, but was just reporting.

Article 5 of the KBP 2007 Broadcast Code of the Philippines states that “When a mistake has been broadcast, it must be acknowledged and rectified as soon as possible by stating the mistake and making corrections.”

(Bandila issued February 27 a statement apologizing for “the unintended fear and panic” its story caused. Its statement follows:

Humihingi po ng paumanhin kung ang ulat naming tungkol sa dalawang magkaibang kasong sakit sa balat ay nagdulot ng takot o pangamba lalo na sa lalawigan ng Pangasinan. Iniimbestigahan na ngayon ng ABS-CBN Office of the Network Ombudsman [ONO] ang mga pangyayari sa naturang ulat [Bandila apologizes for the unintended fear and panic caused by its report on the cases of skin diseases in two towns in Pangasinan. In accordance with internal standard procedures, ABS-CBN’s Office of the Network Ombudsman is currently investigating the circumstances that led to the airing of the report. ABS-CBN News will take the appropriate actions based on the findings of the Network Ombudsman].”)