HOW do journalists spot for bias when covering conflicts? How do they maintain objectivity and avoid being fed propaganda by the protagonists in an ongoing war?

For the fourth session of the PCIJ-Newsbreak seminar on “Reporting on Conflict and Peace: The Story of Mindanao,” Ed Lingao, manager for news operations of ABC TV5, dealt on the ethical dilemmas and problematic situations that journalists assigned to report on conflicts and wars regularly face.

Using examples from both local and foreign media’s coverage of recent wars, Lingao advised journalists against the dangers of embedding, falling into the “drama trap” and being drip-fed selected information by spin doctors, and oversimplifying the reportage of conflicts, among others.

Listen to Lingao’s talk on Ethical Dilemmas and Problematic Situations:

  • Part 1
    Length: 00:28:51
    Language: English and Filipino
    File size: 26.4 MB
  • Part 2
    Length: 00:35:22
    Language: English and Filipino
    File size: 32.3 MB

Public information officers, whether from the military or rebels’ side, Lingao said, have become sophisticated in that they now know what the media and their audiences want — elements of drama, action, and violence. Journalists therefore have to be wary not to let them set the agenda or the direction of their stories.

Embedding, while it allows journalists to get close to the action and to the players, presents a “very narrow field of vision,” said Lingao. Often, he pointed out, journalists fail to put in the big picture. At the same time, by unconsciously going through the things the soldiers or rebels go through, journalists get very sympathetic that could somehow “color” how they report on them.

Those who do not go out to the battlefield may have the time to provide context and perspective and cross-check facts to conflict stories, but Lingao reminded that the information they get in this case are “heavily tinted” that there could also be a tendency by journalists to take these hook, line and sinker.

Lingao also warned about the tendency to oversimplify the treatment of news about conflicts by portraying these as mere battles between good and evil, and resorting to “reaction” and “blotter reporting” that miss out on the whys and hows of the conflict.

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