For the first time since its founding almost a decade ago, MediaNation, a network that holds regular dialogues to address pressing industry issues, has signed a covenant against media corruption.
The network sees the May 2013 elections as an opportunity to engage media stakeholders and their publics in repairing “the great damage” corruption has done to Philippines society. It invited individual politicians and representatives of political parties and party-list groups for the initial signing rites at the Edsa Shangri-la Hotel. Among the news organizations represented were ABS-CBN, GMA, TV5, the Inquirer Group, Rappler and Newsbreak, BusinessWorld and the Center for Community Journalism and Development.
Former senators Jun Magsaysay, and Ernesto Maceda, Rep. Mike Romero of the LDP, Rep. Mel Sarmiento of the Liberal Party, representatives for Rep. Mark Villar of the Nacionalista Party and Rep. Jack Enrile, and Bayan Muna Rep. Teddy Casino represented political groups.
“We recognize that there are political candidates and media practitioners who uphold the highest ethical standards, but we also realize the problem is real,” the covenant states.
The signatories from both sides pledged “not to tolerate the practice of ‘envelopmental’ journalism, whether payment for media favors or soliciting the same.
The media framers of the covenant covered “journalists and other media practitioners and their principals,” since the sale of “news packages” is often initiated by owners of news companies.
Casino stressed that corruption isn’t limited to individual journalists. An activist, Casino said is used to “free publicity.”
But, “rules have suddenly changed. Kandidato ka na. May bayad ka na. And this is company policy, not some lone corrupt journalist.”
The signatories pledged to report instances of corruption in the media on both sides. The covenant clearly excludes “legitimate advertising.”
Political and media signatories agreed on the need to protect those who report corruption in media. But they also stressed the need for formal complaints and submission of evidence.
“This Covenant is just a single step in the larger process to root out corruption, itself a complex problem. But solutions begin with the acknowledgement and discussion of the problem,” the covenant notes.
MediaNation participants also plan to launch a website documenting corruption in the industry. Representatives from different news organizations will be meeting to discuss the mechanics of reporting and feedback.
The network wants the public to join the campaign.
ABS-CBN integrated news head, Ging Reyes, said journalists “would need each other’s support, as well as the help of the public in ensuring that we hold ourselves accountable and that we remain true to our word.”
Howie Severino of GMA said civic society is already assertive and pockets of critics can be found on social media networks.
“We may not always agree with them,” Severino said, “but criticism is welcome.”
Businessworld Publisher and Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility leader, Vergel Santos, said media groups would ensure that the anti-corruption website would be managed with professional journalism standards.
Politicians responded favorably to the covenant.
“It’s a step in the right direction. It may not immediately lead to a solution, but it’s a right step,” Romero said. “The word ‘envelopmental’ covers everything.”
Magsaysay said media should address the problem of corruption not only during elections, “but also consistently”. He called corruption “a social cancer” eating away at the fabric of the nation.
Sarmiento said the LP would cascade the covenant down to towns and cities next week. While representatives of the political parties could not guarantee cooperation of all their members, Sarmiento said any formal report alleging attempts to bribe media would be investigated by the party.
Bart Guingona, convenor of Media Nation said the network intends to expand its anti-corruption campaign to other practices other than actual exchange of money. Rappler’s Maria Ressa said the crucial first step was to make it easier for those who want to be clean.
The move has its critics. Former publisher and congressman Teddy Boy Locsin pointed out the covenant left out other forms of corruption, including biased reportage and turning a blind eye to the wrongdoings of friends of journalists and their employers.
Other critics called the campaign self-righteous. But Severino said the goal is a society where honesty is the norm instead of a rarity, a day when displays of honesty among journalists, or taxi drivers or politicians are no longer considered news. #30