New Covenant to Curb Media Corruption in Philippines Ahead of Midterm Elections
January 30, 2013
Ahead of May 2013 midterm elections in the Philippines, media organizations and political parties signed last week the “Covenant Against Media Corruption 2013,” an agreement that marks a significant step toward curbing rampant corruption in the media. Veteran journalist Marites Vitug of Rappler, called the covenant a “milestone in itself in contemporary media history.”
The covenant commits the signatories – both media practitioners and political parties and candidates – to reject engaging in acts that contribute to corruption in the media, which has consistently marred Philippine elections. This is welcome news, as corruption has significantly damaged Philippine society by creating a culture of impunity whereby corrupt officials are not prosecuted and media practitioners turn a blind eye or do not expose corrupt practices. To date, the media, considered the gatekeepers of information, have not had to adhere to the highest ethical and journalistic standards and have typically assumed the roles of publicists and spin doctors for politicians and candidates. Information, which is supposedly accessible to the public, becomes a commodity and is sold to the highest bidder, particularly during election season. In the Philippines, there are well-known accounts of politicians and candidates keeping a “media payroll” especially during election seasons to secure favorable coverage from reporters. There have also been instances when radio broadcasters, particularly based in the provinces, sell airtime to politicians to augment their income.
Looking at the 2013 elections as an opportunity to change these practices and eventually help define the landscape of Philippine media and its ethical standards, Media Nation focused on the issue of corruption at its ninth annual gathering, organized by Pagbabago@Pilipinas, in November. For almost 10 years, Media Nation has served as an annual gathering and retreat for the media to discuss various issues that persistently hound their work and profession, from the challenges of political reportage, and violence against journalists, to the media’s role in nation-building. More significantly, the annual event provides an opportunity for them to reflect on their mission, revisit their role as gatekeeper of information, and renew their commitment to public service. The Asia Foundation has helped convene the event since the very first Media Nation 1 in 2004.
Of course, the issue of corruption is nothing new in the media: the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) published two editions of a book, News for Sale, in 1998 and 2004, tackling the pervasive and deep-rooted issue of corruption in the Philippine media taking place most particularly during election years and campaign periods. In response to reported incidence of media corruption, media outlets have tried to address the issue through strict guidelines and policies which are enforced through Codes of Conduct and Ethical Standards. For instance, major networks such as ABS CBN and GMA 7 provide a cap or limit to the amount or value of gifts that can be received by a reporter or journalist. But these codes of conduct and ethical standards are clearly not adequate in addressing media corruption.
The covenant signing was the first time that media practitioners and organizations have come together with people from opposite sides of the fence – candidates and political parties – to clean up their ranks to bring greater accountability in the Philippine media. And, steps are already being taken. On the heels of the signing, the Secretary General of one of the major parties issued a memo announcing their support, explaining the covenant, and encouraging the cooperation of all their local candidates.
Maribel Buenaobra is The Asia Foundation’s director of Programs and Jerryll Reyes is a program officer, both in the Philippines. They can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com, respectively. The views and opinions expressed here are those of the individual authors and not those of The Asia Foundation.
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