It was a no-holds-barred match between Inquirer columnist Solita Collas-Monsod and Philippine Star columnist Carmen Pedrosa on ANC talk show Media in Focus.
The show, which aired Thursday at six pm, was hosted by veteran journalist Luchi Cruz-Valdes for Cheche Lazaro.
The show began as a discussion over the Inquirer’s March 9 banner story, that claimed that Eduardo Mañalac, former president of the Philippine National Oil Corporation (PNOC) would testify on the alleged kickbacks resulting from the $329 million NBN deal.
Mañalac himself called the story “a complete falsehood,” prompting a public apology from the paper. Inquirer publisher Isagani Yambot, who was a guest along with Monsod in the earlier part of the episode, explained that Inquirer reporter Tony Begornia had written the story based on a tip from a source. That tip was validated by the source of a more senior editor. Two other senior editors were against the story’s publication, but were overruled.
Valdes asked about the reporter’s failure to verify the story with Mañalac.
“We faulted the reporter on that point,” Yambot said. Bergonia had apparently assumed Mañalac was already in a safe house and was incommunicado.
Pedrosa, who joined the discussion via phone patch, said that she “cannot for the life of me think he was in a safe house, because he is a very straightforward person.” She further said that she herself easily managed to contact Mañalac with one phone call.
Yambot admitted it was a major lapse, and one that is currently being investigated.
Promoting the President’s ouster
Valdes then brought up Pedrosa’s March 15 column published in the Philippine Star. The column said the Mañalac story was “a deliberate attempt” by the Inquirer “to mislead the reading public.” Yambot said it was “one instance when we goofed and goofed big,” but he assured the reading public that PDI “had no intention of misleading the public.”
Asked what political motives she ascribed to the Inquirer, Pedrosa claimed there really was no need to say it. “I mean, the Inquirer has been consistent in promoting a certain agenda which is really behind anything that can bring down this government and oust the President.”
Monsod, who had not spoken during the entire discussion, burst into laughter.
“I’d like to disabuse your mind,” Yambot said, “that we have any agenda, whether open or secret, to bring down this government. We are just reporting what we get.”
Who has agenda?
Valdes then turned the spotlight on Monsod, who once wrote for the Star.
“And I quit the Philippine Star,” announced Monsod. “Between a newspaper that has no sacred cows—and I firmly believe that the Inquirer doesn’t care who it is, they just hit when they think a person should be hit, whether it’s administration or opposition or whatever—and a newspaper that has a sacred cow and is protecting somebody and is going to great lengths to protect somebody who happens to be an owner or shareholder—I will always side with the newspaper that has no, shall I say, axes to grind.”
According to Monsod, she wouldn’t be writing for Inquirer if she felt there was an agenda. “I have never been censored by the Inquirer the way I was censored by the Philippine Star.”
Valdes then asked Pedrosa if she could similarly vouch for the Star’s “lack of agenda.”
Pedrosa paused. “I’m not saying that.”
“All I’m saying,” she said, “is that the Philippine (Daily) Inquirer does have an agenda, and it’s not me who’s saying it. There’s a whole public out there reading newspapers and they know.”
“You know,” Monsod said, “there are a lot of people who criticize the Inquirer—“
“Exactly, exactly!” said Pedrosa.
“—in the same way that there are a lot of people who criticize the Star. Monsod said the most objective way to determine “whether the Star or Inquirer is doing badly” is the size of its readership. As the Inquirer readership seems to be very large, “it means that the public is willing to take the Inquirer, warts and all.”
What is important, she said, was that the Inquirer apologized, and that they are conducting an investigation. She agreed it was a “glaring mistake,” and added that “heads should roll.”
Take it to the courts
Pedrosa said it was fine to have an apology, but it would be better to bring the case to court, and discuss “the whole issue of the role of a newspaper in society.”
Valdes asked if Pedrosa felt Mañalac should sue the Inquirer for libel. Pedrosa said she suggested it in her column.
As to whether she believed the article was libelous and therefore malicious, she said “I’m not a court.” But she believes there is a basis for libel.
Talking about inaccuracies
“Within the past two months,” said Monsod, “there was a big story in the Star about somebody who had left his wife or her husband and was supposed to have gotten millions of peso—and it turned out it was a totally wrong story.”
“Excuse me Ms Monsod,” Pedrosa cut in, “I am not referring to the story written by Star. I am referring to a specific story that came out in the Inquirer.”
Both women began talking at once. Monsod said her point was that the Inquirer is not the only paper that makes mistakes. Pedrosa retorted that Monsod’s point was not relevant.
“And between the Inquirer and the Star,” concluded Monsod, “I'll take the Inquirer.” Monsod laughed, prompting Pedrosa to pause and ask what was so funny.
“What I don’t like,” said Monsod, “is the holier-than-thou attitude.”
“No, no,” returned Pedrosa. “You’re not reasoning properly.”
Monsod said she was in favor of transparency and accountability.
“On the other hand, I object to rubbing your face in the mud before you have a chance to find out what went wrong. There are any number of newspapers that have made the same mistake.”
“But, by golly, that’s something you should take comfort in,” she told Yambot. “The Inquirer is so big that when it makes a mistake, everyone wants to feed on it.”
Pedrosa, on her part, believes that in the Mañalac case, “here was an opportunity to educate the public on what they should demand from the media.”
Yambot said the Inquirer had learned “a very painful lesson,” from the Mañalac story, and that he hoped they would not forget it.
“Absolutely,” said Monsod. “That’s the way forward.”