Journalist’s Killing Fields

The Philippines has experienced a lot of publicized killings recently. The most common nowadays are politicians and journalists.

Let me focus this blog on the journalists since we bloggers may be counted as “one of them” already…

Why are they being killed in record numbers today?

I believe this phenomenon is a function of two things, namely:

1. The journalists are getting reckless. In the Philippines, there are two things that are not protected by the constitutional right to free speech. One is pornography, the other libelous (or slanderous) remarks.

Some journalists use their venues to malign and viciously attack characters, taking advantage of our “slap on the wrist” libel laws (though you can ask for a lot of damages) and our slow-grinding justice system (believe me, you’ll be frustrated just how terribly slow it can be). Also, choose your words wisely and you can beat our libel laws but deliver the same malicious message to the public about someone.

I think that some journalists have styled their operations akin to “showbiz” or “entertainment” journalists. You simply cannot do that in serious matter, especially when the targets can retaliate in a major way, rather that just cry and issue counterstatements or denials.

Whoever said that “Sticks and stones…” quote may not have experienced having their persons or reputations savagely attacked in the airwaves or in print. Launching such an attack will surely be taken as an act of war. And with the justice system here, these recipients of such bad publicity may resort to taking the law into their hands. Some of them already did.

Did you know that if you’re a police officer here, you get an instant “show cause” memo the moment your name gets mentioned in any one of the tabloids? In the Philippine National Police, get you’re name into these columns, you are already presumed guilty until proven innocent. Believe me, I know, for this is first hand information.

Also, if you’re a government official, any bad press you get is enough to trigger an Ombudsman investigation. If the Office of the Ombudsman accepts anonymous letters, what more the words journalists spew out?

Moreover, I’ve seen the demeanor of some hosts of this “tele-entrapment” shows prevalent now. When they don’t have anything anomalous to report, they stir something up by provoking fights with security guards. When these guards fight back, they use the law pounce of these legally defenseless ones. How low can you go? Pick on someone your own size…

To these journalists, Sun Tsu said, “Know your enemy and know yourself.” Those who managed to get themselves killed apparently did not listen to this golden advise. Of course they can always say,”if I’m killed, you know who did it.” Really? And if we do know, you’re still dead and your family suffers your loss…

Just remember this: Walk and talk like you’re untouchable and someone is bound to test your arrogance… and succeed.

2. There is a perceived lack of effectiveness in our police. While indeed, the actual killers have been apprehended, their masterminds have been elusive. Also, I think the police are less visible now than with the last police chief.

With less police visibility, there will be a perception that you can get away with murder. And that’s how this killers and their employer’s think.

With these two factors, I believe the solution is two-fold:

1. While the government cannot regulate journalists for obvious constitutional reasons, the journalists themselves should regulate their own ranks. They have to draw the line at some point, a balance between delivering the truth and merely assassinating characters.

If you’re a reporter, stick to reporting. There is a phenomenon here that even reporters already inject opinions into their reports. Their editors should be vigilant of this.

If you want to comment on the news, make it clear from the very start that it is merely your opinion. If you can’t but still want to express your opinion, just blog, get a column or a talk show. But blogging is the most accessible for you. Of course libelous remarks are easier proven in print (even e-print) than in radio. Just be mindful of that so pick your words very carefully.

Also, try to practice some professionalism in your trade. Treat every person the way you want to be treated. You know, there is a reason why The Golden Rule is called golden. (No, it is not the rule that says: “He who has gold, rules!”)

2. To the law enforcers, be visible and erase this perception that you can get away with murder these days. But do not resort to mindless arrests because we will skin you alive in court and before your superiors when you loose your badges and get thrown in jail with the ones you put there.

My two cents on the matter.

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6 Comments

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6 responses to “Journalist’s Killing Fields

  1. I’m so glad wala nang kuneksyon ang asawa ko sa media…wala na sya dun…hehehe…ingat kayo dyan mga kapatid at kababayan na nasa media!

    READ ABOUT THE LATEST NEWS: http://story.news.yahoo.com/news?tmpl=story&cid=574&ncid=574&e=4&u=/nm/20050502/wl_nm/media_murder_dc

    panimula ng balita: “A study tracking work-related deaths of members of the media since January 1, 2000 found that the Philippines was the most murderous country, followed by Iraq, Colombia, Bangladesh and Russia, the CPJ report found.”

    INGAT KA DYAN LAGI, PUNZI!

  2. Anonymous

    Hey Atty. Punzi,

    I agree with your two cents. However, do you have any statistics on the cases solved and given justice? Taking the life of a person evenif it’s libelious is not right. Life is precious and mere words cannot just take it away. This has been a way of life in our country … an eye for an eye. Esperat and other journalists brave to cross the line to expose corruption. As a lawyer, you know justice is important in unifying society. Our nation is suffering from internal war… war that has been going on since Martial Law. Our own countrymen’s greed, dishonesty and duplicity kill generation after generation of Filipinos.

  3. I’ve seen advertisements that say in 8 out of 10 media killings, the killers remain free. But that’s a world statistic. With this and our title as one of the most murderous countries for journalists, I think we are maybe slightly above this average (perhaps an 8.5 upwards).

    I know where you’re coming from and you’re right, it is not fair. We Filipinos are an emotional and impulsive bunch. All I’m saying is that this is also an opportune time for the media here to look at themselves also and how they operate so they can address the causes of media killings they can control and shift to someone else…

  4. Oops, I’m sorry, NOT shift to someone else…

  5. Anonymous

    Hey Atty. Punzi,

    These people know that they can die from what they are doing. Justice is elusive that this why they want to let people know the TRUTH. The thing about our country is that TRUTH depends on who is powerful. Even the most sensational death like Ninoy Aquino remain unsolved. More and more corruption charges are being exposed because aids coming from international community is big business. Law-makers and big government officials all want to dip into the pot of gold. There is no accountability. We remain poor – aids come in but where are they? We become a commodity. Our government can make loans from the World Bank, make ghost projects like the Nuclear Plant on a earthquake fault line yet, just try to check Westinghouse website – “they say they care for the environment” and we have to pay for our government’s corruption. I am even puzzled by the death of Mr. Punongbayan to tell you the truth because that other journalists – Agustin is from Dingalan. You see how relief goods become a business.

  6. Anonymous:

    That’s a good angle. Have not thought about that one.

    Someone told me a theory about who was the mastermind in Ninoy’s killing and that one jived with the reason why Cory, even when President, did not (or chose not) to know who the mastermind was. But I’m not saying it here, of course. Just tsismis.

    regards

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