Washing of The Hands

Some media practitioners went berserk when President Arroyo’s election lawyer Romy Macalintal slammed the media for criticizing the president’s moral standing. National Press Club president Benny Antiporda said Macalintal was diverting the issue of the P1 million Le Cirque dinner to media entitities’ airing and publication of political ads. Macalintal should have concentrated on clearing the president’s name, said Antiporda, instead of diverting the issue and making it look like she had something to hide.

As the days passed, more people have been involved, with administration allies trying to salvage what should have been an image-boosting trip for the president and her critics condemning her for lacking transparency. Journalists will continue to report it, like Macalintal’s statement never made a difference.

That doesn’t mean Macalintal did not have a point. He was right when he said the media was not a pristine institution. Even Antiporda admitted that was true.

Political ads are not the end of it. Conflicts of interest come in different packages, just like the gifts some media practitioners receive. Even journalism practitioners admit that the field is replete with bribes. The incentive does not just come from the government officials and their PR people, but sometimes the journalists themselves ask for favors.

Some journalists offer protection to government officials for a fee. If they refuse to give it, these journalists threaten to release bad news about them. Practitioners refer to this practice as ACDC—no, not the band and, no, not the electronics term. In journalism, the acronym has gained a new meaning: Attack, collect, defend, collect.

Sensationalism is still a bane of the profession. The president’s breast implants warranted more coverage than the conflict in Mindanao, and Hayden Kho’s sex scandals blew to epic proportions beyond the showbiz page, where that kind of story rightfully belongs. The media believe that these stories sell. Of course that conclusion is questionable.

Whether the media are right or wrong is not the point. Even if most people would prefer a story on Katrina Halili than a comprehensive report on the global financial crisis, it is still the moral duty of the media to inform the public so that they can make informed decisions.

The same mantra applies to any coverage. Ethical journalists do not allow themselves to be swayed by personal gains.

Nor should ethical journalists back down on the truth when they are criticized for their colleagues who blatantly disregard the rules.

Let people like Macalintal say what they want. Flashing the spotlight on any sign of anomaly is the moral duty of the media. To give in to Macalintal’s statement is to promote the lack of ethics he accuses the media of.

If Macalintal’s statement was just a diversionary tactic—and most likely it was—the argument was ridiculously faulty, especially since it came from a lawyer.

The media cannot pull off a Pontius Pilate. It cannot wash its hands of the corruption that plagues the field. But it will make another mistake by cowering to critics saying it does not deserve its esteemed status as the bastion of the truth.