Does self-regulation have
a future in the Philippines?

The media are not only failing to regulate themselves; more importantly, some media organizations are actually depending on the government to intervene, in effect eroding the very principle of self-regulation itself.

The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines, KBP) Standards Authority released recently a decision on the Aug. 23, 2010 hostage-taking incident, which included the imposition of fines on member-networks for violating the KBP Broadcast Code. Before it issued the decision, the KBP also revised Article 6 (Crime and Crisis Situations) of its Broadcast Code to help media organizations avoid making the same mistakes they made during the Aug. 23 hostage taking incident should something similar happen in the future. (See Sidebar: “Approved Amendments to Article 6, Crime and Crisis Situations, KBP Broadcast Code”.)

On that date, Rolando Mendoza, a former police officer, took hostage 25 tourists from Hong Kong and some Filipino staff who were in a tourist bus about to leave Manila’s Fort Santiago for the Luneta Park. The incident ended with nine individuals, including Mendoza, dead.

The press, particularly the broadcast media, has been at least partly blamed for the bloody outcome of the hostage taking. Their ethical and professional lapses during the 11-hour coverage made the situation worse (“Covering the Aug. 23 hostage taking: Media lapses invite state intervention”, PJR Reports, September-October 2010). The government, recognizing the existence of the self-regulatory mechanisms of the press, asked the KBP to investigate the media violations and to impose appropriate sanctions.

The result

The KBP Standards Authority December 2010 decision declared that:

“The Authority finds cause to hold the following respondents liable for first offenses (against) certain provisions of the Broadcast Code, as follows:

“On respondents Radio Mindanao Network (Radyo Mo Nationwide, RMN), Michael Rogas, and Erwin Tulfo, for having violated Sec. 1, Art. 6, Part I of the Broadcast Code (Coverage of crimes in progress), the following penalties are hereby imposed: The sum of Thirty Thousand Pesos (P30,000.00) and censure on respondent Radio Mindanao Network; the sum of Fifteen Thousand Pesos (P15,000.00) and reprimand on respondent Michael Rogas; and the sum of Ten Thousand Pesos (P10,000.00) and reprimand on respondent Erwin Tulfo, all in accordance with the offense classification and range of penalties provided in Art. 4.1, Part III of the Broadcast Code.

“We, however, find no cause to hold Jesus J. Maderazo of RMN liable under the Broadcast Code.

“On respondent ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, for having violated Sec. 4, Art. 6, Part I of the Broadcast Code (Schedule of Penalties for Grave Offenses) , the following penalties are hereby imposed The sum of Thirty Thousand Pesos (P30,000.00) and censure, in accordance with the offense classification and range of penalties provided in Art. 4.2, Part III of the Broadcast Code.

“On respondent Associated Broadcasting Company (TV5), for having violated Sec. 4, Art. 6, Part I of the Broadcast Code, the following penalties are hereby imposed: The sum of Thirty Thousand Pesos (P30,000.00) and censure, in accordance with the offense classification and range of penalties provided in Art. 4.2, Part III of the Broadcast Code.”

The penalties do not seem to be commensurate to the wrongdoing.  Among its options, the KBP chose not to suspend Rogas and Tulfo for the major ethical offense of interviewing Mendoza during the most crucial stages of the crisis.

In the first place, however, the KBP decision, comparable to a mountain’s laboring to produce a mouse, had been almost a year in the making. In all that time, its Standards Authority simply decided not to include GMA Network Inc. (GMA-7) in its investigation because the network is not a KBP member.

Beyond ironic

And yet GMA-7 committed similarly egregious violations of the Broadcast Code as ABS-CBN 2 and TV5, among them that of reporting police and SWAT team movements in the afternoon of the 23rd. The KBP “solution” to this dilemma was to ask the government to get involved, in effect providing government a justification for media regulation in the name of self-regulation!

The KBP actually suggested that “the Office of the President, through the Office of the Executive Secretary, and with the assistance of the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC), support the KBP in establishing a system or mechanism by which the Broadcast Code is made to apply to all broadcast stations in the country, without exception, in the interest of promoting the principle of self-regulation (and accountability) in the country’s broadcast industry.”

The statement is beyond ironic. Media self-regulation means that media institutions themselves enforce ethical and professional standards among their members without intervention from the government or any other external agency. And yet here is one of the alleged mechanisms of self-regulation itself asking for government intervention—and in the name of self-regulation.

Although it does not have authority over non-members, there is nothing to stop KBP from reviewing and evaluating the performance of all broadcast media organizations.

ABS-CBN 2 paid the fine of P30,000 imposed on it for its lapses in the coverage of the Aug. 23 hostage taking, but neither agreed with, nor admitted any liability in connection with the KBP decision. On the other hand, TV5 appealed the decision, arguing that the police should have intervened in its coverage, again in effect arguing for government regulation by admitting its inability to itself decide, on the basis of media ethics and professional standards, how their reporters should have behaved. TV5 also argued that it was unfair that while it was being sanctioned, non-KBP members like GMA-7 “get away unscathed no matter what it does.” RMN similarly appealed the KBP decision, insisting that they had not violated any provisions of the broadcast code.

GMA-7’s withdrawal of membership from KBP has indeed prevented its being investigated by KBP and exempted it from whatever sanctions it may impose, in both the Aug. 23 hostage-taking incident as well as others. And yet the KBP could have looked into GMA-7’s coverage despite its non-membership, and cited it for the lapses in its coverage without imposing such sanctions as fining it the paltry sum of P30,000. Non-KBP membership, as TV5 correctly argued, should not be a license for any media organization to commit ethical and professional lapses that help make things worse rather than better during crisis situations.

KBP needs to review its mindset as far as non-KBP members are concerned.  It needs to affirm that it has the option to evaluate GMA-7’s and other non-KBP members’ performance, if for no other reason than the fact that public interest requires it.

Of equal concern for KBP, however, should be the lesson it is imparting to both its members and non-members otherwise: If non-members can “get away unscathed”, as TV5 complains, what is to stop KBP members from taking the same path of resigning their membership as GMA-7, and eventually scuttling the entire self-regulatory imperative in Philippine broadcast media?