CEBU CITY — Going back to the basic tenets of good reporting, abiding by ethical standards, maintaining independence, and working hard are essential in upholding press freedom and serving the community.

These were the insights shared by a panel of Cebu journalists and a blogger during the “Honoring Responsible Journalism” forum held in St. Theresa’s College in Cebu City last Sept. 26. The forum was part of a series of activities to celebrate Cebu Press Freedom Week, which kicked off five days earlier, on Sept. 21.

Ador Mayol of Cebu Daily News, Linette Ramos of Sun.Star Cebu, Allan Domingo of GMA Network, Astra Logarta of radio DYHP, and blogger Nancy Cudis of made up the panel. With journalism students and teachers as their audience, the panelists shared their takes on a range of issues confronting those determined to practice responsible journalism today.

The panel members were all two-time awardees of the Globe Cebu Media Excellence Awards. PCIJ served as judge for the Investigative Story of the Year category, which was introduced for the first time this year, the awards’ third year.

PCIJ Multimedia Director Julius Mariveles acted as moderator at the forum.

PCIJ Training Director Che de los Reyes, in her opening speech, set the tone for the discussions when she brought up the challenges that journalists in the country have to contend with, such as media killings, and physical and verbal threats and intimidation.

“Journalists operate in a culture of fear, terrible working conditions, lack of job security, less than humane pay, libel, cyberlibel, the continued absence of a freedom of information law, and shorter audience attention spans,” De los Reyes said.

“Bbeing responsible is inherent to the practice of good journalism,” she said, and “good journalism operates within a framework of values and the standards of accuracy and fairness.”

Sun.Star’s Ramos later said that practicing responsible journalism necessitates going back to the basic values of good reporting. These values include being accurate, seeking the truth, being free from biases, and always checking the facts numerous times, she said.

Blogger Cudis, who started out as a print reporter before venturing into blogging, for her part shared that the values of accuracy, fairness, and verification — things that she learned during her stint in mainstream media — remained as her guiding posts in her blog.

GMA’s Domingo meanwhile observed that there is a lack of in-depth reporting in media today, resulting in news reports dominated by “talking heads.” He highlighted the need for journalists to go beyond the obvious — to go to the “soul” of the story.

Finding the soul of the story, however, precludes that a reporter is present at the scene of the story as it happens, said Logarta of DYHP. “You have to be disciplined enough to be there,” she said.

Cudis also advised the students to go the extra mile when trying to get all the necessary sides to a story. “Just because you cannot contact a source doesn’t mean you will give up,” she said. “You need to find other ways.”

Ramos, though, observed that making news sources understand the journalist’s job remains a challenge. For instance, while covering relief efforts in the aftermath of Yolanda, Ramos discovered that the reality on ground contradicted the accounts of government relief workers that there were no problems with storage and transport of relief goods. When her report came out, Ramos recounted, the relief workers became angry at her for “criticizing” them.

“Our role is to remind them that our job is to tell a story that can improve the lives of the people,” and “not necessarily to criticize,” said Ramos. This is even as she advised the audience to “get to know” their sources and “build rapport” while avoiding getting “too close” with them. Said Ramos: “When you have earned their trust, they will be the ones who will give you good stories; your job will become easier.”

Radio reporter Logarta agreed. “Signal to your news sources that they cannot just use you, that you are independent,” she said. Logarta also highlighted the importance of “separating commentary from news.”

Logarta, who said she originally went into radio reporting with the sole purpose of being a courtside reporter of basketball, added, “Maintaining one’s credibility and that of one’s media outfit will result in more listeners.”

The panel members also maintained that the exercise of press freedom cannot be separate from fulfilling the responsibilities attached to it.

“Responsible journalism can topple down presidents,” Domingo said, “but journalists should not forget that the exercise of press freedom comes with great responsibility.”

Cudis, for her part, said the principles of responsible journalism should also apply in blogging. “Opinion is nothing without facts — facts that are true, accurate, and verified,” she said. According to Cudis, it is it ironic that there are bloggers around the world who are “clamoring for freedom of speech” yet “they do not feel responsible for the things they write.”

Such practices by some bloggers — copying press releases directly on their blogs for instance — affect the entire blogging community, Cudis said.

The members of the panel then highlighted the importance of self-regulation to maintain independence.

“There are so many temptations in the field,” Mayol said. “You will certainly get offers of favor from politicians.” He revealed that he himself has received offers of cash from sources who wanted him to make them “look good.”

This is why, he said, “media self-regulation is very important.”

Indeed, maintaining media independence is one of the pillars of press freedom. And self-regulation, said Ramos, plays a key role in it. “We should police our ranks and make sure that we do our job responsibly,” she stressed.

One way to do it, said Domingo, is to put in place “regulations and ethical standards in our media outlets.”

In the end, the panel agreed that the ultimate goal of doing responsible journalism is to inspire readers to care about their community. This, the panelists said, would be their way of “giving back to the community.”

“The feeling of being able to contribute something to the community is irreplaceable,” said Mayol. “It’s something that cannot be bought by money.”

“Isn’t it if you care for someone, you want to give her the best?” he asked. Mayol then pointed out, “We care for the community. We don’t want to settle for mediocrity. We try to give them the best — our best stories.”

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