By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
◘ Media’s Public related article: “PNoy’s bully pulpit, Noli’s news comment,” Aug. 4, 2012
Last July 27, during the 25th anniversary celebration of ABS-CBN, President Noynoy Aquino lashed at Noli de Castro, anchor of its flagship program “Balita Patrol,” accusing him of negativism and baseless speculation in off-the-cuff remarks in the news show.
This week, Korina Sanchez in her radio program on dzMM said “small, dark, and malignant spirits” were interested in the post of interior & local government secretary. Vice President Jojo Binay felt alluded to by the comment and his camp filed a letter-complaint with ABS-CBN and the broadcasters association KBP.
Both cases raise the issue of conflict of interest and the need for self-inhibition.
Ties that bind
De Castro is former vice president, identified with then president Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s Lakas-Kampi-CMD party. His being a politician, though retired for now, casts doubt if he could be fair and non-partisan. PNoy thinks Noli couldn’t be, as shown by his opinions that often criticize, though obliquely, the Aquino administration.
Aside from the dubious practice of mixing news with opinion, there’s the matter of interests clashing: his prejudices as GMA ally and Aquino foe (which the R&R from politics apparently couldn’t keep in check) and his obligation to journalism standards.
Korina Sanchez is married to Transportation & Communication Secretary and presidential wannabe Mar Roxas who’ll probably face off with VP Binay in 2016.
Conflict of interest is sharper and more visible in Korina who must wave the Roxas flag and lunge at Mar’s rival when she could and yet must be as professional a journalist as she should. Her “maligno” description of Binay tells us which has prevailed.
What produces conflict of interest?
In Korina, it is “family ties or special friendship” which “personal interest,” under Sun.Star’s Code of Standards and Ethics (Sec. 8, Part IV of Sun.Star Cebu’s Code of Standards & Ethics of 1991 as amended in 2005) “is likely to affect the journalist’s professional judgment.”
By George, Korina is married to Mar and presumably they share bed and board.
The conflict here is even more intense than what an outside employment can make. A newspaper columnist who works, say, at City Hall is torn between his loyalty to the mayor who gave him a job and his duty to journalism. How can a talk show host or a news anchor be fair if at the same time he wants to protect his party, she wants to defend her spouse, and both want to bash their enemies?
In de Castro, it’s his long alliance with the politicians and the party that put him in power then. How else could his carping against the administration be viewed? PNoy saw it not just as violation of the rule against diluting news with opinion but as a malicious attack by a hostile ex-politician.
Korina and Noli may need to stop all forms of political commentary in their programs. But since neither they nor their network would do that, they could inhibit themselves from any and all topics where present and past alliances would bear on their views.
That’s tough to enforce, especially when news managers think their journalists should be free to talk about anything except those that would drive advertisers away. Conflict of interest that matters to most owners is that which clashes with the interest of those who spend money in their newspaper or broadcast station.
Policies and enforcement in newsrooms are uneven. An ABS-CBN executive, for example, said PNoy’s tirade against the network proved that it’s not an administration cheerleader.
More than they’d care to publicly admit though is that even before the PNoy blast came, news managers cautioned their star personalities about conflict of interest and the sensible rule of self-inhibition.