Part 1: A painful topic - media corruption

Exclusive, By Raïssa Robles

Posted at Dec 01 2012 10:59 AM | Updated as of Dec 01 2012 11:00 PM

OK, I’m biting the bullet.

I will talk about media corruption as I’ve seen it and felt it and faced it.

If there are reporters who are corrupt, it is because the editors tolerate them or are on the take themselves. The industry is really quite small. Tongues are loose. Talk is cheap. The giver boasts and the taker often splurges.

Those who are on the take are known in the industry. And some are pretty big names.

Will I disclose who they are? No.

There is one main reason why readers do not get a complete understanding of the corruption in mass media – the people in the industry don’t want to talk about it. The reason? it involves colleagues, friends, people you see and work with everyday. Apart from this, it’s hard to give names for the simple reason that there is no documentary proof. It’s the kind of practice where people don’t keep records, for obvious reasons.

To understand what I’m talking about, let me explain first the process of producing news in newspapers.

News reporters are usually assigned “beats”. Sometimes the beat is topical like “justice” or “foreign affairs”. Many times it is locational. For instance, someone covers the Quezon Circle area – that would include the government agencies there like the Department of Environment and Natural Resources, the Department of Agriculture, the Philippine Coconut Authority, sometimes even the Quezon City government.

The reporter is responsible for all the news in that beat. Every beat competes with all other beats for space on the newspaper front page. Sometimes, there are special pages devoted to that beat.

Now, this is something most people outside journalism NEVER understand. This work comes with a time constraint — a deadline. Stories have to be submitted by a certain time each day. This puts pressure on reporters — and correspondents (who are not full-time employees and are paid less than reporters, usually on a flat rate basis — to produce. This happens everyday. Nowadays most journalists get two days off. In my time we got one. And in my time you didn’t have a choice when that day off would be – it could be the weekend or the middle of the week.

And almost always, Christmas was a working day for me.

Why do people put up with that? I don’t know. Why do people become doctors? Or tax accountants? I guess part of the reason is that working to a frantic deadline creates a rush, which you become addicted to if you keep doing it long enough.

Anyway going back to the process of news writing: a reporter’s copy passes through an editor who has the complete license to edit, rewrite, re-angle, destroy and rebuild any story that is published. The editor also creates the title (the head)and is usually responsible for the first paragraph (the lead).

So even if a reporter is in the pocket of a politician, an editor’s eagle eyes would be able to spot the trend, the slant, the frequency of copy about a specific politician. Unless the editor is untrained or also in the pay of the same politician or told by “higher-ups”.

It is also an editor’s job to make sure all sides of the news are covered. When I was working at the Philippine Star desk, when an important side was missing in a story and the reporter could not be reached, I called up a source that would give me that side.

So if a side is missing, blame it on the reporter and on the editor who allowed that to be published. If the reporter or editor really made the effort to get an important missing side but the source was unavailable or would not talk, this information also has to be written into the story.

What I’m saying is, corruption is not just the problem. Lack of training and sloppiness are also problems that others might mistake for corruption.

Corruption in different kinds of media reporting

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.