IN THE DAILY RUSH to cover stories of disaster, conflict, or corruption, journalists must never forget that most basic tenet of journalism: Cause no harm to the victims.
This was the reminder delivered by multiawarded broadcast journalist CheChe Lazaro to more than a hundred students, teachers, and media professionals during the Jaime V. Ongpin Journalism Seminar in Makati City on Thursday.
Lazaro, one of six outstanding journalists chosen to sit in a panel to discuss the issue of Journalism and Accountability, was also awarded the 2014 Marshall McLuhan Fellowship award by the Embassy of Canada for her outstanding contributions to broadcast journalism.
“When disaster strikes, there is the adrenaline rush, the excited rush to the site. We all want to be the first. Our mental set is to get the story quickly, to get an exclusive,” Lazaro said. “In that attempt, we go for what can be ultimately sensational and not ethical.”
“One of the tenets (of journalism) is not to cause harm to the subjects of our stories or the people we interviewed,” Lazaro said.
Lazaro recalled an incident after the July 1990 earthquake, when reporters acted insensitively by interviewing a young child who was still trapped in the rubble of a collapsed building in Cabanatuan. The child would later die of her injuries.
“I want to caution all of us who are practitioners. I hope there will come a time, maybe not in our lifetime, when we move away from the sensational scoop mentality and the entertainment factor that we look for in our stories,” Lazaro added.
Joining her in the panel were five other journalists chosen for their outstanding work by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the organizer of the JVO Journalism Seminar and the Marshall McLuhan Fellowship. These were Nancy Carvajal of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Steve Dailisan of GMA Network, Joey Gabieta of the PDI, Miriam Grace Go of Rappler, and Jake Soriano, a freelance journalist.
Go noted how the news media often covers conflict only from the point of view of the warring groups, while ignoring the more difficult and complex story of the roots of the conflict. As well, Go pointed out that journalists should look into problems of governance and corruption in the conflict areas, because these are often the cause of poverty that breeds insurgency.
“Conflict coverage is not just about the firefights or the negotiations,” Go said. “It is a daily coverage where you try to make local authorities accountable.”
Go also said that while it was important to go into the detail of daily coverage, journalists should also learn to take a step back for a broader picture. For example, Go said that while the country was shocked by the depth and scale of the pork barrel scandal that was exposed by the series of stories written by Carvajal last year, the pieces of the puzzle could have been gleaned from the yearly reports published by the Commission on Audit.
“Every day you break the news, but at one point you need to step back and see a pattern and come up with an investigative or analytical report,” Go said.
Carvajal was also awarded the Certificate of the Most Outstanding Journalist of 2013 for her series of reports on the pork barrel scam.
“We compiled a list of journalists whose content and craft were cheered on the CMFR’s monitor,” explained Dean Luis V. Teodoro, member of the selection committee and CMFR deputy director. He added that CMFR monitors the major broadsheets, news and public affairs programs of TV networks and online news websites.
He said the initial list compiled by the CMFR staff this year had about a hundred journalists. On their first meeting, CMFR trimmed this list down to 40. On the second meeting, they trimmed the list down to a shortlist of 17 journalists, which they then submitted to the selection committee.
As a McLuhan fellow, Lázaro will go on a ten-day lecture tour in Canada.
Lázaro started her career in journalism working as a reporter for ABS-CBN. From July 1986 to December 1987, she served as the director and manager of the network’s public affairs department.
In 1988, she left ABS-CBN and created her own production company, Probe Productions. Under Probe Productions, she has produced several documentary programs: 5 and Up for then ABC 5, now TV5, The Probe Team, I-Witness, and Cheche Lázaro Presents for GMA Network.
It was when she was with GMA Network that she produced the award-winning documentary on the MV Doña Paz maritime tragedy.
From 1992 to 1995, Lázaro headed the broadcast department at the University of the Philippines. She is also a former member of the board advisor of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.
Lázaro has garnered numerous awards and citations from the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, Golden Dove Awards, Catholic Mass Media Awards, New York Festival and University of the Philippine’s ‘Gawad Plaridel Award.’ Cong B. Corrales