We are journalists first—Maria Ressa
In the past week, several people have alluded to Lopez control of the news agenda on ABS-CBN. On May 14, Secretary Eduardo Ermita hinted that an ABS-CBN story on the NBN-ZTE deal was being used as a "diversionary tactic" by the Lopezes, who are also the majority shareholders of Meralco. He said, "it is highly probable given players of issue which is electricity." That was followed by strong words by presidential son and Congressman Mikey Arroyo effectively questioning the integrity of ABS-CBN News. Over the weekend, the Philippine Daily Inquirer ran a quote from an anonymous source who said that the prize for a dialogue between President Arroyo and Meralco Chairman & CEO Manuel Lopez would be "ABS-CBN’s cooperation." How independent is ABS-CBN News & Current Affairs?
It is a good time to be an ABS-CBN journalist because times like these define a news organization and tell us much about our society. A lot is now being said about the role ABS-CBN plays in the power struggle over Meralco.
Many believe the Arroyo government is out to silence ABS-CBN by harassing the Lopez family. President Arroyo’s allies, on the other hand, accuse ABS-CBN of reporting on the new NBN-ZTE witness to divert attention from Meralco. They say they are afraid to go against the Lopezes because of possible retaliation by ABS-CBN.
That’s not what the facts show. On April 29, ABS-CBN’s online news team broke the story of the brewing battle between Meralco’s majority stakeholder, the Lopez family, and its harshest critic, GSIS chairman Winston Garcia. At that point, neither Garcia nor the Lopezes were comfortable with us because we exposed what had been going on behind the scenes.
After the first story, Garcia said he was convinced of our impartiality and became a frequent guest on ANC, ABS-CBN and a news source of abs-cbnnews.com.
As for the Lopez family, they know where we stand. My mandate is to create a professional news group with world-class standards. Yet, in our polarized society, the idea that the Lopezes would not "use" ABS-CBN for its vested interests seems hard to believe. I believe that is a reflection of the mindset, customs and corrupt practices today rather than a reflection of the reality we at ABS-CBN live through daily.
Again, I point to our track record: let’s look at our coverage of the Ultra Stampede. On that day, our reporters asked us, "How do we handle the people angry with ABS-CBN? How do we deal with those who are grieving and blaming ABS-CBN?" I said, "put them on air." We asked our journalists to go after the most critical voices and to get the worst evidence against ABS-CBN they could find. Treat the story as if we aren’t ABS-CBN because we are journalists first.
So how do I manage the interests of the Lopezes? It’s simple: I don’t manage them because they are not the interests of the newsroom. We are a newsroom run by journalists, and our end goal is to hold the government and the private sector accountable for the public good.
In order to do that, we journalists have to first hold ourselves accountable, making sure we protect no vested interests. If we do our jobs well, all Filipinos will benefit. If we do our jobs well, we will help build a better nation with more transparent processes.
Two years ago in a Lopez company forum, patriarch Oscar Lopez lauded our Standards & Ethics Manual. Manolo Lopez asked us to "stop being so critical" because he said that the Arroyo administration takes it out on Meralco.
I said we report what we see and could not tailor the news to fit any vested interests. If what he said was true, I asked, why not come out with it publicly? He told me, "Maria, you just don’t understand."
Last Friday, he finally said it publicly – that he believed the reason why Meralco was being targeted was because the government wanted to control ABS-CBN. He also admitted he has never been able to control ABS-CBN News.
When President Arroyo asked me why ABS-CBN was "critical," I said that we do not consider ourselves "critical" of the government. We believe we demand accountability because that is our role as journalists.
We also reflect reality. After all, 76% of Filipinos in Metro Manila say they distrust President Arroyo (according to Pulse Asia’s March 2008 Ulat ng Bayan). We have no other motive than to do our jobs well. Again, my answer to the President is the same as my answer to the Lopezes: if we do our jobs well, all Filipinos will benefit because we will help build a better nation with more transparent processes.
If you watch our newscasts, you’ll see that our coverage of the Meralco issue is extensive and fair. ANC aired, live and in full, the joint congressional hearing on Meralco. Our interest is to get to the Truth because we are responsible to the people. Whether we’re reporting on the Ultra stampede, the Manila Peninsula siege, the NBN-ZTE scandal or the issue of high electricity rates, we hold nothing back.
If you don’t like the news, don’t shoot the messenger. If you have no agenda, you cannot accuse ABS-CBN News & Current Affairs of taking sides.
saludo ako as kanya. in my last year in college (which was not so long ago), our dear professor Kane Choa gave us lots of readings about the whole history of ABSCBN and the Marcoses and the rest of the Philippine TV Network... and yes, what Maria Ressa is saying is right. saludo.
with the Meralco issue... dati, as in dati, mga Christmas Season, natanong ko sa sarili ko kung sinong nagbabayad ng kuryente ng Meralco after seeing the office of Meralco covered with hundreds of Christmas lights. Biruin niyo yun, after ilang months lang, sila na nga ang naging issue. Wahaha!!!