UP prof defends media coverage of mishaps in SEA Games preps

Willard Cheng, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Nov 28 2019 03:39 PM | Updated as of Nov 28 2019 04:15 PM

MANILA (UPDATE) – University of the Philippines journalism professor Danilo Arao on Thursday defended media’s coverage of mishaps involving preparations for the Philippine hosting of the Southeast Asian Games.

Speaking at a forum on media freedom and responsibility, Arao said journalists cannot be expected to report only about positive developments as this would constitute spin-doctoring, a component of advertising and public relations. He added there is news value in reporting oddities such as poor preparedness for the Games. 

“Journalists cannot be asked to present only the positive side of certain realities like the Southeast Asian Games preparation because that would constitute spin-doctoring already,” Arao said. 

“The news media should be allowed to do their job in terms of looking at the different elements of news, one of them is oddity.”

Arao said media should not be faulted for covering problems that some athletes experienced, referring to a statement earlier issued by the Philippine Southeast Asian Games Organizing Committee (PHISGOC) that said there were 75 international arrivals “that have gone off without a hitch” except for “incidents” with two teams. 

“Media should pound on those two or three instances. Why? Because of the element of oddity. Can you imagine a situation where a plane landing safely figures in the headline of your favorite newspaper. What does that imply? It implies that it’s odd for a plane to land safely... That’s why we report plane crashes. Why? Because it’s odd, in the same plane that we report on mishaps in the Southeast Asian Games because we don’t see them as normal,” Arao said. 

He compared it to the need for media to cover malfunctions of the MRT and LRT, saying “the new normal” of transport problems should not be accepted. He stressed the need for media’s adversarial function to remain. 

“We cannot allow the malfunctioning LRT to be the new normal... The new normal is unacceptable in journalism because we cannot give the value that things are so bad that we have just to live with it and just embrace that particular reality,” Arao said. 

“The adversarial function of media should always be there. That’s why in journalism we cannot afford to do spin-doctoring, most especially for governments, or this particular government.”

Arao was one of the speakers in the forum organized by the UP College of Mass Communication Foundation Inc. and the British Embassy in Manila 

The British Embassy in Manila is visiting universities to increase awareness on media freedom issues and media literacy in the Philippines as part of UK’s global #DefendMediaFreedom campaign.

UK Ambassador Daniel Pruce said the forum is part of efforts to “shine a global spotlight on media freedom.”

“This campaign is not anti-government, it is not anti-business, it is not anti- any single individual or political party. It is pro-media freedom. It will strengthen the global consensus that defends, every day and in every country, the right of journalists to do their jobs free of harassment, threats and intimidation. And it is promoting and will continue to promote, and celebrate, the highest standards of professional journalism,” he said.

Speaking in Filipino, Pruce said no society is free if media is not. 

“Ang kalayaan ng media ay ang ating kalayaan,” Pruce said. 

(Media freedom is our freedom.)

 Foreign correspondents denounce PHISGOC claim of media bribery 

In a statement, the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines hit the Games' organizers for "blaming the media partly for reporting on negative for the flurry of negative reports on logistical issues that were raised publicly by Philippine and Southeast Asian athletes and officials themselves."
"Independent journalists report problems and issues imbued with public interest as they happen and become evident and do not delay the time to press for accountability. We report defeats and victories, failures and triumphs," FOCAP said. 

It also took exception to the Games' lead organizer House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano's claim of bribery attempts on the media "to malign the Philippines’ hosting."

"Such sweeping accusations, without a shred of evidence and laced with threats of libel suits, are totally unacceptable and tend to intimidate journalists from reporting irregularities objectively," FOCAP said. 

It added that appeals by organizers for journalists to only report the good news from the Games "betray our bedrock mandate of providing the public with truthful information that is at the heart of the basic freedoms guaranteed by the Constitution." 
"Doing their work diligently and honestly would be the best way for independent journalists to show love for country and people in this jubilant season of sportsmanship. Anything less would be tantamount to cheating that is so detested in athletics," the foreign correspondents' group said.