Cebu media take part in dubious police “rescue”

Screengrab from a video by the Save Our Schools Network.

JEERS TO some Cebu-based journalists for joining the police team in the latter’s supposed “rescue” of young Lumad students from the Talamban campus of the University of San Carlos (USC).

The result was uncritical coverage that was practically assured by the reporters’ accepting the police invitation for them to join the convoy. The reports by CDN Digital, The Freeman, Superbalita Cebu and other Cebu-based media organizations on their Facebook accounts showed live the Lumad students’ refusal to go with the police, who were nevertheless forcibly carried away and taken into custody.

The reporters involved described the event exactly as the police called it: “a rescue” operation. Their failure to ask whether the police had the required warrants and coordinated with university authorities was indication enough that they had compromised their independence, and thus had identified themselves with the police and the consequent violations of human rights and due process.

Later coverage by the same media groups included reports on the press conferences and statements by other sources, the USC and church officials, the networks of indigenous peoples, and the CHR who all said that the students were sheltered by the archdiocese of Cebu as part of a bakwit (evacuee) school program – as police continued to claim that they were asked by the students’ parents to “rescue” the children from being indoctrinated with communist ideology.

But there was no reference to the misrepresentation in their initial accounts on Facebook, or any indication that they had verified police claims and corrected their failure to provide any context to the incident. Anyone who caught the live coverage of the raid-like operation would have seen only the police version. When they make such an egregious error, media should at least be ready to correct the error and set the record straight. The tendency of some reporters to cozy up to the police for privileged access to information has a price: they end up telling the story as their patrons prefer.