Daily Archives: October 5, 2007

Journalists and their sources 3

First, and if you will allow me, a recap of some of the main points I raised on Ricky Carandang’s Big Picture program.

1. On Jarius Bondoc’s ethical dilemma: We try not to be judgmental, but we certainly need to be critical. I hope Jarius appreciates the difference.

2. I sympathize with his situation, I understand where he’s coming from; but I am not alone in thinking he made the wrong choice.

3. He is torn between his responsibilities as a journalist and as a citizen; in my view, he would have fulfilled his citizenship responsibilities by meeting his obligations as a journalist.

4. The journalistic privilege is indispensable to the free flow of information; Justice (now Chief Justice) Reynato Puno, in a stirring dissenting opinion in the landmark Jurado case, declared that “independent sources of information” must be protected, otherwise the press as the agent of the people won’t be able to meet its duty to inform.

5. Journalists must keep an open line with “insiders” in the government or other power centers; these sources must feel confident enough in the discretion of the journalists they deal with to continue talking to them.

Second, and I think you may find the following more interesting, a quick roundup of the things that did not get said on air, that were shared in the corridors of ABS-CBN or in the lulls between takes.

1. All of us, the three guests and host Ricky too, most definitely want the probe into the ZTE scandal to continue.

2. But we all agreed that there was a right way to do it; when journalists become part of the story, the issue becomes murky, muddled.

3. Vergel argued, and I agreed, that what Jarius could have done, in outing Romy Neri, was to write a news story, not an opinion piece —- in large part because more editors would have had a chance to vet the story, and because the discipline would have required a stricter accounting. (Actually, come to think of it, Vergel said this on air, too.)

4. Jarius aired his concern about Romy Neri being severely under duress —- but his decision to out him and reveal some of the information relayed in confidence surely placed Neri under more stress.

5. (In other conversations with other journalists) Romy Neri spoke to several other journalists, not just Jarius alone.

I don’t doubt that, if there had been more time, these too would have found their way to the public discussion.


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Journalists and their sources 2

Last night’s Big Picture talk show, hosted of course by Ricky Carandang, was “taped as live” at 6 pm, so I had the chance to watch it when it aired at 8 pm. My friend Deannie Bocobo watched it at the same time too, but apparently he was watching a different show. (Insert big smiley face here.)

A few facts, in no particular order.

1. The “shield law” Philippine journalists invoke to protect their sources is not RA 53, but RA 53 as amended (some 10 years after it became law) by RA 1477. The amendment is crucial, because the right of confidentiality was further qualified. The reminder that invoking the right was “Without prejudice to his liability under the civil and criminal laws” was made explicit. And revelation of sources could be forced only if the “security of the State” was at stake. This qualification considerably narrows the scope of legal compulsion, because originally the “interest of the State” was reason enough. I distinctly remember making this point sometime during the discussion, but perhaps Dean missed it.

2. Vergel Santos most definitely did not say that the Star should fire Jarius Bondoc. What he said was that Jarius asked him, before Jarius decided to out Romy Neri and a few more of Neri’s assertions, whether what he contemplated doing was a firing offense. Vergel said yes, it was or could be considered a firing offense, but whether the Star would fire him would depend on his newspaper’s appreciation of the issue. He definitely did not say that Jarius ought to be fired. Dean’s assertion, that “Vergel Santos opines that Jarius Bondoc ought to be fired for such breach of journalistic confidentiality by the Philippine Star,” makes sense only if, well, he was in fact watching a different show.

3. The words “stands by their story,” which Dean seems to attribute to me, was actually said, with some variation, by Juliet Javellana. Ricky asked me, “Does the Inquirer stand by her [Juliet]?”, to which I answered, “Yes, definitely.” (I know, I know. On this particular point, Dean got the essence of this particular exchange right, but journalism is a matter of details faithfully reported, yes?)

4. Nowhere in the discussion did any of Ricky’s three guests (Vergel, Juliet, and me) say anything about there being “no higher or more inviolable privilege than that of confidentiality between a journalist and his or her sources.” I do not think so; I doubt if the others think so. But we stuck to the matter at hand, and tried to analyze the concept of this journalistic privilege (so intimately related to the free flow of information) on its own merits. If by focusing on the subject matter we were invited to discuss Dean wants to commit (with eyes wide open!) the fallacy of emphasis, well, that is his own lookout. None of us had the chance to talk about other “codes of confidentiality” —- for instance, the lawyer-client privilege, or the privileged nature of communication between spouses, or the seal of confession.

I could go on, but Ricky’s show will be replayed at 1 pm, a few minutes from now. It occurs to me, maybe if I watch it again, I might finally catch that dang show Dean was watching!


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