“Gusto ko happy ka.” — SEN. JUAN PONCE ENRILE’S campaign slogan in 2008
By Alex P. Vidal
Full-time media practitioners who wish to be part of the campaign team of certain candidates for the forthcoming elections should take a leave of absence or resign from their media outlets. They cannot serve two masters or ride on two horses at the same time.
They will compromise their objectivity and fairness if they continue to practice their profession while at the same time acting as mouthpieces of certain political aspirants; they will destroy their credibility if they will criticize certain candidates and heap praises on the candidates’ rivals in a mind-boggling variety and fashion.
This is basically the call of the management of certain media outlets. If a news writer, editor, anchorman, commentator, columnist or even beat reporter show some tell tale sign of biases and bellicose attitude in the way they handle their news and commentaries, you can be sure the management knows how and when to unleash the guillotine of disciplinary action.
Politicians don’t have to hire the services of full-time media practitioners to gain inroads in their campaign. The Commission on Elections (Comelec) gives them avenue to play fair and square; the poll body allows them to buy air time and newspaper space to promote their programs and plans once elected. This is where the so-called “blocktimers” come in for radio programs. Blocktimers don’t have to be necessarily active or full-time media practitioners. Since the job is primarily classified as “seasonal,” there are always available slots for semi-retired broadcast personalities and part time media strategists to handle the task.
Politicians who encroach on the job prescription of active media practitioners are in cahoots in the breach of the journalists’ code of ethics. Active media practitioners who cavort with these politicians are guilty of selling the sacredness of their profession and surrendering the sanctity of their independence and aptitude; and their union is no different from a transaction between buyer and seller in the flesh trade.
In covering elections, the Code of Professional and Ethical Conduct of the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) cautions journalists to “pay your way.”
“The newspaper must cover the cost of coverage during the election campaign and count, including dining out sources for stories, the airfare, hotel accommodation, per diem and operation expenses of staff members assigned to political parties and candidates,” read the Code.
“No staff member shall be allowed to work on a part-time, full-time or contractual basis with any political party or candidate.”
Staff members shall be discouraged from inviting candidates to stand as godparents in baptism, weddings and other church rites, or as padrinos in the employment of relatives or friends.”
Media ethics remains an intractable issue to most journalists. It is always deemed taboo to talk about which journalist or newspaper is committing breaches, except in whispers in little, private circles.
“For why indeed must the mighty media admit to its own weaknesses, its own ugliness?” asked former Manila Times editor Malou Mangahas.