What If Your Correspondent is on the Payroll of the News Subject?

This is a valid question especially where the news reports call for an objective narration of what exactly happened in an event that comes close to the heart of the press: the death of a broadcaster.

There is no denying the fact that, true, media practitioners must unite as a show of strength, but there are strands of rivalry or competition among these media men. Personal animosities sometimes even run deep among them. Under these circumstances, and due to some economic reasons, a few of these journalists gravitate with some local personalities and on the side take care of the latter’s public relations. The gravitation becomes apparent if one looks at the pattern of the releases of the correspondent. If the news report is adverse to one local personality, the question to be asked is is it favourable to the patron of the writer. One national newspaper carries the odium, as it turned out thru the years, as one big press release bulletin board. Understandably so because the newspaper appears to be just a medium to play up with the egoistical nature of some public officials, the politicians more especially. The more it features these Neanderthals (Larry Henares’ favourite word), the more business the magnate gets.

The issue on being identified with local politicians, when we are talking about provincial correspondents, should put on some kind of caveat to the desk of national newspapers aware as we are that a great number of these local newsmen are financially challenged.

This is what happens to the treatment of the assassination of Polly Pobeda in Lucena City. His death on May 17, 2003 at 6 a.m. failed to merit a space in the Philippine Daily Inquirer on May 18, 2003. Was that a wait and see? This is very curious because the correspondent of PDI is known thereabouts as a close friend of Mayor Ramon Talaga. The deceased, on the other hand is the number one critic of the mayor, not to mention the fact that the TV and radio station where Polly worked was ordered shut by the local official. It was only after several broadsheets and tabloids blazed the killing that the local correspondent of PDI followed suit, but with very patent slant favourable to his patron by playing up the initial reaction of the local official that the late broadcaster, in the course of his job, had created lots of foes. As in circumstantial evidence pursuit, who has the most compelling motive? Not to mention the other two: who has the means; and the opportunity? The order of the day is for the reporter to demolish at once these doubts.

Because of the high significance of the murder, AFP made a very objective follow-up story in the PDI. Notice that the AFP story did not mention the Quezon correspondent as a source. Thereafter, when an indignation rally was held, where the remains of Polly Pobeda was brought to his hometown in Padre Burgos, Quezon, the PDI correspondent gratuitously called it a “political rally” against the Lucena city mayor mostly allegedly attended by the political opponents of the mayor. The major owner of Polly Pobeda’s radio station, Tito Ojeda, hails from Mulanay, Quezon, a good 160 km south of Lucena! Ojeda is a politician all right being a three-term mayor of Mulanay and he ran unsuccessfully against the now Congresswoman Aleta Suarez. Whereas Vice Mayor Dondon Alcala, it is of public knowledge is not keen on running for city mayor, as he is only on his first term as vice mayor. True, Congresswoman Lynnette Punzalan was there only because Polly Pobeda was prior to his death a resident of Lucena City, and therefore her constituent. Polly Pobeda was never a staunch critic of the mayor’s son, Romano, (although in one of his programs he expressed his dislike against any dynasty in Quezon which has no history of one), who already has announced his intention of running against Punzalan.

After the AFP story came out, the local correspondent wired a follow-up, May 27, 2003, this time unabashedly pro-Mayor Talaga where he reported that the evidence against the suspects appears weak quoting mostly his patron, the mayor. In that news story, the correspondent quoted the mayor as saying that the suspects were not members of his security personnel but mere political supporters, when it is known thereabouts that they are high-profiled as his son’s security force. The news report is meant to counter the TV reports in Channel 7’s “The Correspondents” and Channel 2’s “Magandang Gabi Bayan” where there were admissions from Mayor Talaga that they were a part of his security, what with the New People’s Army’s threat against him even prior to Polly Pobeda’s death. He said to the effect that regardless of their connection to him, if they are guilty, then so be it. It becomes therefore a tug of war in public opinion, one camp shielding the suspects rather than straight reporting, and PDI at that, a very credible newspaper. We go back to the old aphorism, “who will report the reporter?”

In fine, the local correspondent has done or is doing a difficult one man’s job of propping up his patron in his lonesome. This is not chicken feed.

Quezon, incidentally, is a jueteng paradise. This is true to most Southern Luzon provinces. Local officials here look the other way when jueteng is talked about. Don’t you know that they have the cheek to brag that jueteng since time past has never been an issue in any election here? And so when water just springs from the ground without you digging, quenching thirst is no problem, that is, it’s easy to create stories. As we say here in Quezon, “mas maiging magpaliwanag, kaysa pagpaliwanagan”. Try correlating a newsman’s death with jueteng, and there is a one-to-one correspondence, no pun meant. There’s the irony, it’s the journalist’s duty to expose illegal gambling, but it’s jueteng money that invariably killed him. After 38 lives, jueteng still thrives. Jueteng money corrupts absolutely, not only that it makes the recipient mad. The mood swing is surprising, from stoic to weeping.

Polly Pobeda is dead and buried last Tuesday in Agdangan, Quezon, and his father’s hometown. Your favourite newspaper’s local correspondent here is trying very, very hard to explain why Polly Pobeda died, and he is laughing all the way to ……his iPad!

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