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Wasteland operators

10:23 AM December 17, 2013

Inquirer’s headline summed the festering issue: “Some journalists had it coming, probers say.” They referred to the December killings of three Mindanao–No, not journalists – but “block-timers”.
“(He) berated targets like they were the worst animals on earth, cocked his gun on the air, challenging (them) to a gunfight.” Who did? Probers wouldn’t say. But that style fits Joas Dignos, ambushed in Valencia, Bukidnon.
Others slain include Michael Milo in Tandag, Surigao del Sur and Rogelio Butalid in Tagum, Davao del Norte. A faction of the squabbling  Davao del Norte Electric Cooperative paid the tab for Butalid’s radio program. He slammed their  opponents within the same coop.
The victims “had donors that were rivals of those they attacked,” the probers noted. Isn’t that prohibited by the Journalists’ Code of Ethics?
Of course, said Msgr. Elmer Abacahin who heads Cagayan de Oro’s  media group. He confirmed the investigators’ findings but added: This was “not sufficient reason to kill the victims.”
The dictionary included the word “journalist” in 1693. This meant “a writer or editor for a news medium… who aims at a mass audience.” Since then, radio and television came on stream. The Internet burst into the scene in the mid-1980s. Advent of the new and social media resulted in an explosion of  the so-called “citizen journalists.”
Radio and TV stations in Europe or the US don’t have ”block-timers” then. Neither do Asean countries. Here, “walk-in customers”  can  plunk  cash for airtime on the over 952 radio stations which the National Telecommunications Commission oversees with a shaky hand. That excludes “pirate stations” like the ones in South Triangle, Quezon City.
With no questions asked, many blocktimers broadcast – what? News and comment, they claim. Character assassination or praise for a price, critics counter. They “give us the opinion of the uneducated that brings us in touch with the ignorance of the community,” Oscar Wilde wrote.
Print media indicates what is a “paid ad.” This is published distinct from editorial matter. Block-timers don’t own up who pays  the tab for their programs. But those praised –  or shellacked – give a fair idea of who pays. Stations wash their hands, muttering: “the program does not reflect  the management’s view.”
“Pinabili lang ng suka sa kanto, pagbalik, journalist na!” (“Told to buy vinegar at the corner store, he trotted back a journalist!”) That put-down reflects a key concern of “Crimes and Unpunishment: The Killing of Filipino Journalists.” The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization and the Asian Institute of Journalism launched the book last December.
There were 408 “journalists” covering the Bureau of Customs in the Arroyo administration. That “equalled 408 provincial newspapers (32 are dailies). The mob was about seven times foreign and local reporters accredited to Malacañang.
“Most people claiming to represent media are anything but,” columnist Boo Chanco snapped… “Many are from tabloids that have no circulation and moonlight as  ‘fixers’. Past officials tolerated outsized numbers because they hid dirt.” Publishers of major papers and network managers should help sift out those shams.
* * *
Today, the customs press corps is less 97. And Finance Undersecretary John “Sunny” Sevilla, named by  President Benigno Aquino III as officer-in-charge,  can tighten this  loophole  further.
At the new customs port in Sasa, Davao, “Friday boys” are known as warik-warik. They “list media men for funding,” Jun Ledesma of Sun.Star Davao wrote. I “was also told some can even facilitate release of shipments.”
Most “block-timers” operate in a moral wasteland, where facts are few and comments bear a price tag, Viewpoint noted in 2009. “Where the carcass is, there the vultures gather.” Electronic gunslinging is abuse. “Power without responsibility has been the prerogative of the harlot through the ages,” Irish statesman Stanley Baldwin wrote.
“Block-timing is a primary fund-generator for provincial radio stations,” Melinda de Jesus of Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) noted  earlier. This proved to be the emerging problem for the Kapisanan ng mga  Brodkasters sa Pilipinas (KBP). Programs with little accountability proliferate in a country that  works by the revised “Golden Rule”: “He who has the gold, rules.”
A CMFR study found lack of training and, even more significant, ethical sense. A quarter finished high school while 13 percent “had no record of educational attainment.” There’s little, by way of training on objectivity, balance, fairness– and avoidance of conflict of interest, as journalism code of ethics provide.
KBP found fault with the no-rules-hold coverage in the Luneta hostage crisis. Eight Hong Kong tourists died. And the Philippines today still copes with  diplomatic spillover, as China presses for  reparations. Fines were imposed on major networks.
Still, this was a 180-degree turn for KBP from the Chavez versus National Telecommunications case  of  Feb. 2008. In that en banc decision, the Supreme Court lashed KBP for playing footsie with  the Macapagal-Arroyo regime’s gags  on the “Hello Garci” tapes.
KBP’s Radio Code now prohibits open-ended contracts for “block-timers.” Identifying sponsors of block time programs will increase transparency. But implementation of existing measures – from certification that the “block timer” adheres to KBP’s code to monthly reports – has been spotty.
Indeed  “our membership lists remain porous,” observed a Cebu Press Freedom Week editorial. “We’ve still to flush out ‘hao-shiaos’ who flaunt press cards or block time microphones.”

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