Rooting out media corruption during elections

By Paul Henson, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Jan 22 2013 07:49 PM | Updated as of Jan 23 2013 09:07 AM

MANILA - In 3 weeks time, the “circus” that is called the campaign period for senatorial and party-list candidates in the 2013 elections officially begins.  But it appears operators of corrupt media practices have had a headstart, according to activist-lawmaker Teddy Casino, who is running for senator under the independent Makabayan Party Coalition.

Media Nation, a network that holds regular dialogues to address issues in Philippine journalism, signed a covenant against media corruption on Tuesday. Among the news organizations represented were ABS-CBN, GMA, TV5, the Inquirer Group, Rappler and Newsbreak, BusinessWorld, and the Center for Community Journalism and Development. -- Photo by Paul Henson, ABS-CBN News

“Dati sanay akong ini-interview nang libre.  Walang bayad. Ngayong kandidato na ako, hindi na raw pwede tulad ng dati.  Uso na ang ‘package.’  Kapag may media ad placement ka, may kasamang interview at exposure,” Casino revealed before media bosses, journalists, some candidates, political party representatives and civil society members at the Media Nation Summit at the Edsa Shangrila Hotel. 

As to who made the offer, Casino declined to elaborate.

These incidents of corruption are what Media Nation wants to stop.  And their first step is to bring the summit participants to sign a document entitled “Covenant Against Media Corruption 2013.”

The covenant zeroes in on a specific issue: envelopmental journalism. 

Signatories commit “not [to] offer journalists and other media practitioners and their principals any payment or form of compensation for favors; the media signatories also publicly commit that they will neither accept nor solicit any such payment or form of compensation for favors.”

Political party representatives were quick to throw in their support.

“We have to isolate those advocating envelopmental journalism.  We’re off to a good start.  (Kami sa UNA) never kami nagbigay.  Never kami magbibigay,” said UNA secretary general Rep. Toby Tiangco. 

Rep. Mel Sarmiento, Liberal Party secretary general, for his part, said they are very “supportive, it is time to walk the talk.”

But discussions among the summit participants revealed shades of grey on this issue. 

Number one: how do you expand the covenant to cover a wider web of stakeholders?  Are political party heads ready to hold their candidates accountable to this covenant down to the barangay level?  How can the provincial and community press be included?  Are media owners willing to embrace the covenant? 

Number two: how to establish an encompassing definition of corruption?  Is it just the offer and acceptance of money in exchange for positive media exposure?  How about free snacks and drinks during a candidate’s press conference?  How about gifts?  Media organizations have different limits as to the acceptable monetary value of presents.  How about friendships and social relations with candidates like being a "ninong o ninang sa binyag at kasal?”  Is this corruption?

Number three: how do you translate the covenant from paper to action?  Convenors propose a whistle-blowing website against corruption by way of crowd sourcing. 

But several participants raised the question of mechanics.  How do you protect the whistle-blower? When an anonymous tip is received, how do you ensure there is due process both for the media practitioner and politician being accused of corruption? 

For now, the covenant says this is just “a single step in a larger process to root out corruption… But solutions begin with the acknowledgment and discussion of the problem.”