MANILA, Philippines?The biggest story on Monday did not come out the next day in the Philippine Daily Inquirer (parent company of INQUIRER.net) or in any of its competitors.
But broadcasting giant ABS-CBN Tuesday maintained it had good reason to hold the story on the abduction of its senior correspondent Ces Drilon and her crew in Sulu by armed men said to be members of the Abu Sayyaf, and to ask other media outfits to do the same.
Bong Osorio, head of ABS-CBN corporate communications, said the network made a ?gentle request? to other news agencies to ?embargo? the story.
?The request was made primarily for the security and safety of Ces and her companions. At that time (Monday), we did not know what their situation was. We didn?t want to speculate on any information that would jeopardize their safety,? he said.
Osorio thanked the media outfits ?who allowed the request to happen,? but said the network thought it was ?okay? that others did not heed it.
?They got the stories from interviews with other sources. That?s OK. We are just sticking to our official statement on the matter,? he said.
He added that making such a request to other media agencies would not be a company policy and would be made ?on a case-by-case basis.?
ABS-CBN news and current affairs head Maria Ressa appealed for a news blackout on the reported kidnapping of Drilon and company so as not to jeopardize their safety.
?In deference to the safety of Ces Drilon and her crew, the Inquirer decided to hold the story for just one day,? said Inquirer newspaper editor in chief Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc.
Ressa phoned the Inquirer on Monday to appeal for a news blackout until 6 a.m. Tuesday while negotiations for the release of the ABS-CBN team were ongoing.
She told Magsanoc that reporting the abduction would pose a danger to the lives of Drilon, Jimmy Encarnacion and Angelo Valderama.
Ressa said the news blackout was important because the network was afraid that other extremist groups in the area might take advantage of the situation.
In response to Magsanoc?s reservations about the news blackout, Ressa said she had also appealed to other newspapers, ABS-CBN?s rival network GMA 7, the wire service agencies and the Foreign Correspondents Association of the Philippines to observe a news blackout.
The Inquirer editor in chief initially suggested that the blackout last only until midnight of Monday, but Ressa appealed for up to 6 a.m. of the next day. She said one of the network?s news executives would be flying to Sulu to help in the negotiations.
Malacańang and House Speaker Prospero Nograles have also called for a news blackout on the kidnapping.
Even the military is tight-lipped on the matter, with its spokesperson, Lt. Col. Ernesto Torres, stressing that the Philippine National Police was the lead agency on the case.
Torres said the military had been monitoring police operations to rescue Drilon and company upon the instructions of Armed Forces Chief of Staff Lt. Gen. Alexander Yano.
?We are carefully gathering information so as not to jeopardize the ongoing efforts of the PNP and other sectors to release Ms Ces Drilon safely,? Torres told reporters.
Nonetheless, the military will be ready to provide support if needed, he said.
In phone interviews, veteran journalists expressed differing opinions on ABS-CBN?s embargo request.
Vergel Santos said the request was ?actually an attempt to manage the news.?
?It was a sensitive story but public interest was already there. It should not have been managed,? Santos said.
He said coming out with the story would have alerted people in Sulu of what was really happening.
?People there can be lulled into a false sense of security. The complete story had to be given to cover all possibilities and lessen speculation,? he said.
Santos said other media outfits should not have heeded the embargo request and ?should have come out with the story with a special sense of responsibility.?
?And everything should have been confirmed first,? he added.
But Luis V. Teodoro, journalism professor at the University of the Philippines and himself a columnist and media critic, disagreed.
Teodoro said ABS-CBN was well within its rights to ?protect its own reporters.?
He said the abduction of Drilon and company was not imbued with ?public interest, at least for now.?
?Let?s see what happens,? Teodoro said, adding:
?The question is: Did the media do the right thing in heeding the request? I think that would have been an individual call of the editors. I think their decision [to hold the story] was correct.?
Teodoro also said coming out with the story might have put Drilon and her crew in more danger.
Jose Torres, chair of the National Union for Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), said his group supported the news blackout on the abduction of Drilon and company.
?If that story came out, it might have angered the abductors and the captors could have been harmed,? said Torres, who has written a book on the Abu Sayyaf kidnappings titled ?Into the Mountains.?
But Torres hastened to add that heeding the embargo request should have been good for the ?initial hours? after the abduction.
?There was some confusion on who was really responsible. Anyone could have taken advantage of the situation,? he said.
Torres, who is also chief of GMANews.tv, agreed with Santos in saying that people in the area should have been informed of the events for their own safety.
?If the information is all clear, then that should have been the time the story should have been out,? he said. ?It?s really a question of balance on the part of the editors and a question of ethics. Lives and the people?s right to be informed should be balanced.?
With media outfits heeding the request of ABS-CBN, Torres said he hoped that in future abductions, the network would also heed requests from victims? families to hold the story to safeguard lives.
?After all, reporters aren?t any special than everyone else. We are all also workers and employees,? he said.
Speaker Nograles also called for a news blackout on the matter.
?If we keep on speculating, we are in fact going to jeopardize the safety of these people. It?s best to have a news blackout about it, and stop talking about it, and just hope for the best,? he told reporters.
Nograles said he and other leaders from Mindanao were ?worried? about Drilon and company as well as the implication of their kidnapping on the Philippines? image.
Press Secretary Ignacio Bunye was mum on the actions being taken by Malacańang regarding the abduction.
?We hope for [Drilon?s] safety and that of her crew,? Bunye said in a statement. ?Likewise, we appeal for caution and restraint in media reportage as not to unduly hamper efforts to rescue them.? With reports from Juliet Labog-Javellana, TJ Burgonio, Nikko Dizon and Christine O. Avendańo