Travails with the Tribune
In reporting on the announcement of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) that “the destabilization plots by the anti-government forces, including a possible attempt at seizing power on Labor Day, have fizzled out” (“AFP crows: Destab plot fizzled out,” May 2), The Daily Tribune said that the announcement came after the AFP had “concocted” reports and “manufactured” docu-ments on alleged coup and destabi-lization plots. Where the information that the AFP “concocted” reports and “manufactured” documents came from, the Tribune did not say.

A few weeks later, the Tribune reported on an alleged government plan to “pin down” former President Joseph Estrada and some associates in a money-laundering case. The story was a take-off from the accusation of a US-based Filipina, Joelle Marie Henson Pelaez, that the ousted president laundered money through her bank account without her knowledge (“DOJ moves for Erap probe on launder charge,” May 16).
“Pelaez,” the paper reported, “is the daughter of Blanquita Pelaez, who had been tapped by Malacañang and then Intelligence Service of the Armed Forces of the Philippines (Isafp) chief Col. Victor Corpus, to manufacture evidence against Estrada and Sen. Panfilo Lacson, on charges of money laundering, claiming tens of millions in dirty money was deposited in accounts abroad, that were proved to be non-existent. Pelaez was also involved in the controversial handcuffs deal she sold to the police.”  Again, the paper again did not attribute the statement to any source.
On May 18, the Tribune said that the young Pelaez would be slapped with two lawsuits “for conveying malicious lies” together with the Manila Standard Today, which first came out with the story (“Erap to sue Pelaez in US, Standard in RP”).

The hardest job of all
If the Tribune seems to work like a propaganda machine for Estrada, Teledyaryo does the same job for President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo. The news program of the government television station does not only trumpet the President’s achievements and greet her repeatedly on her birthday, it tries to snip and cut its reports to hew to the government’s line.
On April 21, while almost all media outfits emphasized the constitutional violations committed by the administration as a result of Executive Order 464, Teledyaryo came out with the angle that the Supreme Court had affirmed the president’s “executive privilege” powers such as the right to order public officials not to attend congressional hearings.
Teledyaryo then got the views of Palace spokesperson Ignacio Bunye and Chief of Staff Michael Defensor who lauded the court’s decision and appealed to the opposition not to use the ruling to get back at the president. The report also quoted other government officials and Palace allies who echoed similar views. It did not get the reaction of the opposition.

Playing deaf
In another coverage, Teledyaryo downplayed the heckling incident involving a student of the Cavite State University where the President was the guest speaker at the graduation rites. The report focused on what President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo told the graduates about post-graduate scholarships and the global demand for nurses, nursing aides, and Filipinos who are English-proficient. It used the sound bite of a student who said that what the hecklers did was embarrassing. There was no attempt to seek an explanation from the protesters to hear out their side.

Comparing Cha-cha steps
The three-part series of the Philippine Center for Investi-gative Journalism (PCIJ) on the “uncanny similarities in the manner in which Ferdinand Marcos and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo have attempted to change the constitutions prevailing during their incumbency” deserves commendation. The report was written by Raissa Espinosa Robles, who also wrote a series in 1984 on the Marcos constitution for the defunct daily Business Day.
PCIJ had also posted online documents related to the ongoing initiatives to amend the 1987 Constitution. Among the documents made available on line were the revisions proposed by the Palace-created Consultative Commission and House of Representatives, and the 1997 SC ruling on a people’s initiative to revise the Constitution (“The Cha-Cha Files,”

Where’s the news?
Instead of going for the meat of the story, The Philippine Star and Malaya went for the spice and played up the personal attacks hurled by Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez and the Batasan Five against each other.
On May 9, the Star and Malaya bannered Gonzalez’s statement that the Batasan Five should “go back to the mountains” because “that’s where they belong.”
Two days later, both papers again carried Gonzalez’s challenge to the Batasan Five to take psychiatric tests to see who among them were insane. In its banner story last May 12, Malaya quoted a psychiatrist, who happened to be an official of Bayan Muna, as saying that Gonzalez’s “irrational behavior” must be the reason why the country has long been suffering.
And then Gonzalez turned to media and said: “You (the media) are the only ones making an issue out of it.”

From out of the blue
Last May 18, National Security Adviser Norberto Gonzales claimed that there was a CPP-NPA (Communist Party of the Philippines-New People’s Army) assassination plot against President Arroyo and a Cabinet member. 24 Oras and Saksi picked up the story. The Star had the same report last May 19 (“Gonzales bares communist plan to assassinate GMA”).  In all instances, the reports did not say where Gonzales got his story. Didn’t anyone ask?

Gloria’s mouthpiece?

IBC Express Balita leaves no doubt that it is being aired over a sequestered government station.
In its April 21 report, the program’s headline, “Poverty will be fully addressed if Cha-cha will push through!” did not have any attribution at all. It merely said that the current Constitution strictly limits foreign ownership of land and businesses even though Filipinos are having a hard time raising capital to fund their own projects. Mimicking the administration line, the report concluded that Cha-cha would be beneficial to the economy: “Tiyak na aagos ang puhunan, sisipa ang Gross Domestic Product, at sisigla na ang ating ekonomiya.”

Hearing things
Reporting on President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s decision to commute the death sentences of convicts, the BusinessMirror said Michel Doucin, the French ambassador for human rights, added his voice to the chorus of praises for Mrs. Arroyo (“More praises for death verdict commutation,” April 24). Where the chorus came from, the report did not say.

VAT’s the difference
Saksi failed to make a distinction between the terms EVAT and RVAT, which were used interchangeably in its April 26 report. There is a difference between the two, besides their first letters. EVAT (the expanded value-added tax) provided for a 10-percent increase in tax for a wider range of goods that were initially listed in the original VAT (value-added tax). On the other hand, RVAT (reformed value-added tax) further raised the original 10-percent VAT to 12 percent.

Now that’s information
BusinessMirror and BusinessWorld went beyond getting the usual reactions from the different sectors to the increase in petroleum prices and probed into the mechanisms of the oil business. In its editorial (“Cynical politics takes command,” April 26), BusinessMirror showed the importance of sticking to a policy (and how this applies with respect to oil prices). It also cited instances when the government vacillated from one position to another.
BusinessWorld ran an analysis by Agence France-Presse (“What is causing high futures crude prices?” April 24) as well as a sidebar story that featured the “Evolution of oil prices since 1970.”  The Manila Times also published another analysis by AFP, “Geopolitics cause of Philippine oil woes on April 25.”  Malaya even included a helpful graph of yearly averages of oil prices from 1973.

The Daily Tribune looked into the implications of labor groups’ demand for an across-the-board wage increase (“Workers’ wage demand becomes urgent,” April 30). In the article, research think tank Ibon Foundation compared wages in different regions in the Philippines. It said the government has kept wages low to attract more investors. The feature also explained other wage-related issues such the cost of living allowance, electricity prices, minimum wage, and the daily cost of living.

Amid the rising prices of commodities, the Philippine Daily Inquirer gave voice to small retailers. Sari-sari store owners were interviewed (“Sari-sari stores bear brunt of oil price, VAT hikes,” May 2) and a follow-up story was published (“Coping with the oil price hike: Vendors raise prices of basic good in ‘palengke’,” May 5).  The table on the prices of select goods in Metro Manila was helpful to consumers.

Darn those typos!
From an honorable official of the country’s business district, Makati City Vice Mayor Ernesto Mercado was turned into a drug pusher because of a proofreading error.
In The Philippine Star article (“Six drug pushers receive life terms,” April 21), it was written: “Mercado he was arrested after selling 23 grams of shabu to a MADAC operative during a buy-bust operation at a hotel in Guadalupe, Makati three years ago.” The drug dealer referred to in the story was actually Ceferino Dy.

Up close and sensational
IBC Express Balita went for sensational reporting last May 16 when it showed the bloodied body of a hit-and-run victim. Not only did it forget to blur out the gory video, it went for a close-up of the victim’s head.

An echo in the story

Precious airtime was wasted by IBC Express Balita on May 19 when a reporter repeated the sound bite of the news source. The story was about Sen. Jamby Madrigal’s motion for recognizance to help Pacific Plan holders, and the reporter said: “Laban daw kasi ito ng maliliit na tao sa malaking negosyo.” The next video of the story had Madrigal saying, “Ito ay laban ng maliliit na tao sa malalaking…big business.”
Was there nothing else to be said?
Another thing, this time from the senator: malaki na, big pa.

Slip of the tongue
24 Oras news anchor Mike Enriquez confused viewers with his opening spiel for the program’s story on the one-week respite on oil price increases. He said: “Pero mga kapuso, mukhang wala pa rin po tayong dapat ipagsaya dahil sa darating na buwan ng Mayo, posible raw na umabot sa apat na piso kada litro ang dagdag sweldo.”
Enriquez corrected himself after the report and clarified that the four-peso increase he was referring to was for oil and petroleum products. He added: “’Yung suweldo nga hanggang ngayon walang dagdag na pinag-uusapan.”

One-sided argument
The Philippine Star reported on the sentiments of small-town lottery (STL) employees in Angeles City against Church leaders in the area (“STL workers wary of church interference,” April 26). The STL workers felt that the Church was meddling and endangering their livelihood by issuing press releases to media. But it was not clear in the report what the Church was saying against the STL. The Star also did not bother to get the side of the Church leaders.

A refreshing change
24 Oras did a good job when it deviated from the usual media coverage of Labor Day rallies and instead focused on the individual stories of some labor group members. This gave workers an opportunity to air their grievances and reasons for joining the protests, and the public, the chance to listen and understand protesters’ concerns.

Victimized again

The Philippine Star report on a rape and killing incident in Butuan City had too many unnecessary details (“Butuan City teenager gang-raped, stabbed dead,” May 4). It identified the victim (a no-no in reporting rape), said that the victim had been joining several local beauty contests, and noted that it was the third time that a local beauty queen had been raped and killed. Is the Star implying that it was the victim’s fault she was raped and killed because she has been joining many beauty contests?

Did he or didn’t he?
An April 29 article in the Manila Bulletin had the headline, “Pacman bows to Roach, agrees to train in US.”  But the story that followed said: “Manny Pacquiao doesn’t take orders from anyone—not even from Freddie Roach.”  If Pacquiao does not listen to anyone, why did he “bow” to Roach? Was this a case of a wrong head or a wrong lead?

Mining an issue

Who says that TV news programs can’t do good special reports?
The Insider on May 3 helped viewers understand the complex Lafayette mining controversy in Albay by coming up with a comprehensive report on the groups for and against the continuation of the company’s mining operations in the province. The program stressed the importance of the Palace decision on the issue, saying that this would serve as a test case for future mining operations in the country.

Good morning, viewers!
The May 1 late-night news program Saksi of GMA-7 was aired May 2 since it was telecast past midnight, after the network sitcom Lagot ka, Lagot ka. This was also the case with ABS-CBN’s Insider.
Apparently, television stations, specifically Channels 2 and 7, give more importance to sitcoms and Asianovelas than to news programs.

TV’s ‘big’ story

How does television evaluate stories?  ABS-CBN’s treatment of the estafa case against Phillip Salvador gives a clear answer.
TV Patrol World’s first three stories on April 21 focused on the decision of the Makati regional trial court to put Salvador behind bars for up to 20 years and ordering the actor to pay the complainant, ex-girlfriend Cristina Decena, the $100,000 that he allegedly got from her. The three reports, which included the reactions of  both parties and Salvador’s friends as well as Decena’s background, took the program’s eight minutes. That’s not all. TV Patrol World’s showbiz segment had the reaction of Salvador’s niece, ABS-CBN teen actress Maja Salvador.
In the late night news, the first two reports of ABS-CBN’s Insider, which went on for more than 10 minutes, were also about the Salvador estafa case. The station even sent a reporter to do a long live interview with Salvador and his actor-turned-politician friends, Senators Ramon Revilla Jr. and Jinggoy Estrada.
Sure, Salvador is a celebrity. But does that make his estafa case a bigger event than, say, Chief Justice Artemio Panganiban’s reply to allegations of political pressure regarding Supreme Court deliberations on Executive Order 464?  Or rising oil prices? Or even the protesters who heckled President Arroyo during the graduation rites at the Cavite State University? All these happened on the same day that Salvador’s estafa case was reported.

There’s hope

The Philippine Daily Inquirer story on former women rebels of the Moro National Liberation Front was a welcome break from reports coming from strife-torn Mindanao.
The report noted the big income earned by the erstwhile amazons from Matalam, North Cotabato, from diversified crops almost a decade after signing the peace agreement with the government. Readers now know that there is life for former rebels (“The amazons of Mindanao: Women who fought a war, now farm the land,” April 23).

Beyond whips and chains
Hype can lead to education.
Responding to the public’s curiosity because of the controversy generated by the film “The Da Vinci Code,” the Philippine Daily Inquirer did a two-part series on May 18 and 19 on the Opus Dei group in the Philippines.
The report traced the beginnings of Opus Dei in the country and the group’s allied institutions. It also featured some members of the organization and their lifestyles.

Where’s the editor? The proofreader?
The Daily Tribune had an article on May 7 about the AFP’s admission that it was “still clueless” regarding the whereabouts of former senator Gregorio “Gringo” Honasan. Its headline: “AFP still at lost on Gringo’s whereabouts”.

So 2 decades ago—or 3

Using slang in delivering the news is bad enough, but using outdated slang is even worse.  In her interview on May 12 with Southern Leyte Gov. Rosette Lerias about the landslides that hit her province, Mel Tiangco, anchor of GMA-7’s 24 Oras, said, “Paliwanag ninyo nga ho sa madlang pipol dito ’pagkat maraming nagsasabi na ang mga landslide daw ay dahil sa logging.”
Madlang pipol? Wasn’t that a throwback to the 1980s? Or is it the ’70s?

The missing question

So The Philippine Star’s article (“Police recover P4 million worth of stolen steel plates,” April 23) got the who, what, where, and how of the incident. But where’s the when? Two days later, a follow-up article finally revealed that the police seized the contraband on April 21 (“Cops in P4-M cargo hijack working undercover,” April 25).

It’s a numbers story

The Philippine Daily Inquirer on April 30 published the results of a readership survey on the three major dailies in the country. Conducted by the Nielsen Media Research, the results showed the Inquirer leading the pack and The Philippine Star, one of the three major dailies in the study, “a far third.” The other paper in the study was the Manila Bulletin (“Inquirer still no. 1, survey affirms,” p. A1) which placed second.
Three days later, the Star came out with the article, “Biggest news dealers say ‘STAR is a best seller,’” and said this “debunked” the claims of the Nielsen readership survey that the Inquirer was the top newspaper in the country.
The Star could have sounded more convincing if it cited figures to back up its claim. Furthermore, just what did the “biggest news dealers” mean when they said the newspaper is “a best seller”? Note that they didn’t say “the best seller.” How many news dealers were interviewed?

Noting an irony

In the midst of reports about alleged rampant human rights violations and killings, the comprehensive report of The Manila Times on the Philippines’ inclusion in the new United Nation’s Commission on Human Rights council was very timely.
The May 11 report detailed how Philippine officials lobbied and convinced other nations to vote for the country. It noted that the Philippines was criticized for “alleged human rights abuses, particularly against the media.”
Several countries with histories of human rights violations—China, Cuba, Pakistan, Russia, and Tunisia—also won seats in the council.
United States Ambassador to the UN John Bolton voiced his disapproval over the new composition of the UN body.

Sidestepping ‘Da Vinci’

By all indications, The Manila Times story on Malacañang’s position in the Da Vinci Code controversy (“Palace sidesteps ‘Da Vinci’ storm,” May 10) was a stretch. The report actually dealt more with the statements issued by the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of the Philippines and Movie and Television Review and Classification Board. In contrast, it had only two paragraphs for Malacañang’s statement which was buried in the last part of the report.

Spoiling ‘good news’

Merrill Lynch Inc.’s plan to send officials to the Philippines to evaluate the country as a potential investment site was a piece of good news in the May 2 issue of The Manila Times.
However, the Times weakened its own story. The paper failed to tell the readers that Merrill Lynch Inc. is one of the world’s leading financial management and advisory companies with offices in 36 countries and territories as of the end of 2004.
According to the report, 10 high-profile companies from the United States and United Kingdom would participate in the trade mission. Not one of the “high-profile” companies was named in the article.

A one-source story

The Manila Standard Today report on the statement of Sen. Miriam Defensor Santiago that “the government would save over P 1 billion a year or over P5 billion until 2010” is a useful example of how not to write a story (“Billions to be saved if Senate goes—Miriam,” May 16).
Aside from the quote from the senator, there was nothing else that could make the story stand. How and where exactly the savings will come from were not explained. The story instead detailed the possibility of the Senate and the House of Representatives voting as one body to amend the Constitution.

A no-source story

The Manila Standard Today’s May 9 report, “Parliament shift gains more steam”, appeared to have come straight from the public relations agents of Charter Change advocates.
Without quoting any source, the article explained why the present government structure is supposedly counterproductive to the country’s development. It went on to say: “Earlier, Union of the Local Authorities of the Philippines’s first week of nationwide consultations yielded close to 6,400 converts to Luzon and Visayas to the proposed adoption of a unicameral system in place of our US-style bicameral presidential system, which for decades has undercut political and economic growth.”
Very telling in the unattributed quote was the use of the word “our” which suggested the reporter’s bias for a unicameral system of government. The article would have passed for an opinion piece, not a news story.

There’s something in a name
Attention, reporters—and editors. There is a difference between a presidential proclamation, an executive order, an administrative order, and a memorandum circular.
The Manila Standard Today’s May 4 headline read: “EO 1017 unconstitutional”. Problem is, there is no Executive Order 1017—at least not the presidential order that placed the country under a state of emergency. It’s a presidential proclamation (PP)  which, as the Standard Today and other papers correctly reported, was declared unconstitutional by the Supreme Court on May 3.
EOs and PPs are not inter-changeable. According to the one source, PPs are used for either ceremonial statements or general policy statements while EOs are presidential determinations, usually issued under statutory authority and directed to government officers.
The mistake was committed twice by the Standard Today. In a report the following day, the paper again used EO 1017.

Not funny at all
ABC-5 compared the suicide attempt of an alleged mentally unstable man to the exploits of comic book character Spiderman. The reporter cooked up the Spiderman angle in his May 5 report because the man tried to jump off a building and was seen hanging on to a pole.
Cute? Or insensitive?

Pinoy angle missing
The Big News’s May 2 report on the “No Immigrants Day” demonstrations in the United States sorely lacked a Filipino perspective.
The protest rallies were organized to oppose the US federal govern-ment’s plan to criminalize over-staying and undocumented aliens in the country.
The rallies were organized mostly by US Latinos. There was no mention of the estimated 12 million undocu-mented Filipino immigrants in the US who would be affected if the new law were passed.

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