POSTSCRIPT / December 9, 2007 / Sunday


Philippine STAR Columnist

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Media need not cover too close all the time

KEEP DISTANCE: Addendum to what I have written on coverage of potentially violent situations:

One rule in the asphalt jungle is to keep a safe distance from the vehicle in front. Others improve on that and strive to maintain a safe buffer not only in front but also all around.

We can adopt the same principle in media coverage of situations with potentials for violence that may endanger human lives.

With improvements in photographic equipment allowing shots from a distance, cameramen and coverage teams need not stick too close to their subjects. There are also hyper-sensitive microphones that can pick up far-away sounds.

There are satellites, aircraft, mobile units, cranes and such equipment and gadgets that allow us to cover hard-to-reach and potentially violent situations from a safe distance.

Such equipment enhance the safety and efficiency of media. They also improve security (such as of the President who can talk with media without having to be engulfed by them), or the picking up of distant sounds (such as the conversation of coup plotters playing golf).

* * *

BLOCKOUT: Will this mean the exclusion of reporters, photographers and other media workers improvising with their crude equipment? Maybe, but we cannot hold progress for the laggards.

We have witnessed events where the view was blocked by photographers and reporters crowding around the scene or clambering up the stage unconcerned about obstructing the view.

We have seen reporters cornering a news personality and sticking mikes, tape recorders and cellphones to his face, making it difficult to take any decent shot of the interviewee or conduct an intelligent dialogue.

Had the press encounter been better managed and the media better equipped and behaved, there would have been space and time for everyone and a more fruitful coverage.

 * * *

NO PULLOUT: In the short-lived Trillanes Tralala at the Manila Peninsula last Nov. 29, TV viewers had a hard time locating the main personalities because the media who outnumbered the rebels were all over and up too close.

The media were literally covering the action — that is, they covered it from view.

And when the media got in the way of the authorities, thereby obstructing justice, and were advised repeatedly to pull out at the critical moment, they refused.

In my view, among the reasons why they refused to budge were that (1) some of them had gotten emotionally involved in their subject, and (2) they were afraid that if they leave, the competition would scoop them.

* * *

COVERAGE RULES: There is an urgent need for sorting out things. For our own safety and sanity, we have to lay down clear, reasonable and enforceable rules of coverage.

These are not rules of engagement, because media are supposed to be out of the fray. Note that we use the term “coverage” to refer to our work, because we are outside of it, not enmeshed in it.

The reporter who gets caught up in his subject may be opening himself to emotional (aside from physical) involvement. He may lose his balance once he allows himself to become part of the story he is covering.

That is bad coverage. It is as bad as asking leading and misleading questions meant to make personalities say something that would validate the reporter’s preconceived angle, bias or partisanship.

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TOOLS & WEAPONS: Talking of bias, the industry has a basic problem. Some of us in media — including some of our bosses and even the network owners — have personal agenda.

It is unfortunate that some media owners succumb to the temptation of using their print and broadcast empires as economic tools and political weapons.

Unfortunately, the bias at the top seeps down to the managers, the editors and on to the working press.

The end result is that the poor reporters, photographers and the media ants on the ground reap the ire of the public, the police and others who feel violated when the coverage fouls up.

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PSEUDO-NEWSMEN: After the rules are laid down and formally adopted by all parties, the big question is who will enforce them.

These rules are not laws that the police and the court can enforce like statutes. They are merely the understanding among parties who drafted them.

Btw, in the police-media dialogues on coverage rules, how come the National Union of Journalists and not the National Press Club is the entity talking for the press?

This is a slap on the pseudo-newsmen who had taken over the NPC. They should be rooted out, in the same way that the fake newsmen who swarmed to the Manila Pen (and complicated the coverage problem) should be exposed.

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MEDIA MOGULS: Coverage rules are useless if the media owners are not involved in their drafting and formal adoption. The owners should be the main enforcers among their personnel.

The working press is not the industry. We the working ants are more numerous, but there are the queens ensconced deep inside the anthill presiding over the industry and, to a large extent, deciding the content and the direction of the news.

The media moguls, the queen ants, should come out and, if only to show concern for their workers who get trampled in the confusion, help lay down the basis for safer and saner coverage.

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(First published in the Philippine STAR of December 9, 2007)

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