(Editor's note:This article is contributed by a group of Mass Communication students from the University of San Jose-Recoletos as part of their course requirement.)
Journalists locally, nationally and internationally experience occupational hazards especially in news gathering. They tend to go deep in every investigation they undertake to acquire the accurate information that their readers or co listeners want to know. As watchdogs of the society, journalists provide transparency and clear presentation of facts which include revealing of anomalies of people with authority. Journalists are aware of their social responsibility; however, they have little awareness on how exceeding of limitations might affect their lives. One might see threats as part of their daily encounters, but one must also realize that experiencing such is not normal and must be put into an end before bigger problems entailing lives occur.
An article entitled “Media Ethics” from Merinews, an online Journalism news portal states that in an established democratic country such as ours, journalists are sometimes physically attacked or even killed as a consequence of their work. Another article entitled “Freedom of the Press- Philippines” from an online website Freedom house states that journalists in 2008 continued to face deadly violence and the use of defamation suits to silence criticism of public officials. Radio broadcasters outside major urban centers—known for sensational political reporting intended to attract high ratings—are the most common targets. At least four other journalists were slain during the year under unclear circumstances, while others received death threats or escaped injury in attacks and harassment.
The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas, “KBP Code of Ethics” strictly adhere in article one on news and public affairs section 1 in the KBP Code of Ethics which states that the news and public affairs programs shall aim primarily to inform the public on important current events and issues rather than merely to entertain. News reporting shall be factual, fair and objective, morbid, sensationalized or alarming details shall be avoided, news shall not create panic and alarm, extreme care shall be exercised in the selection of editors and reporters who direct news gathering and information dissemination, since the station’s performance and credibility depend largely on them, station management shall exercise extreme caution and prudence in deciding whether or not to air exclusive interviews with persons who openly or publicly advocate the overthrow of government by force or violence and a newscaster shall have a mastery of the language/dialect vehicle of the news. This mastery shall be in the spoken form of the language although mastery in the written aspect of it shall be considered as an advantage. On the other hand, section 3 states that “Fairness and Objectivity” of news reports shall be fair, factual, and objective and receiving bribes, gifts, privileges or any consideration to favor one side of a story, stop a story from airing , or put any person in either bad or favorable light is prohibited.
The researchers selected respondents through conducting individual background check. It is necessary to determine the respondents’ credibility as media personnel who are not affiliated with politicians, so as not to lead the study into biases. The researchers selected five respondents ages 25-60, who already have more than two years of experience in the media industry. The data gathered are as follows: type, manner, and sources of occupational hazards encountered, the respondents in coping with occupational hazards, protection given by the respondents’ companies, proper observation of KBP Code of Ethics in the workplace, and the respondents’ emotional, psychological well-being, and professional aspirations affected.
The majority of the respondents have experienced death threats, bribery, libel cases, and assaults. The findings reveal that the most common type of hazard experienced by the selected media personnel is bribery, followed by death threats, libel cases, and assaults. On the other hand, the most common manner where bribery is employed is through giving of envelopes with cash during elections and press conferences, followed by dinner invitations, delivering of goods at the office, travel offerings, and transferring of money in the bank account. Meanwhile, call and text are the most common way of sending threats to media personnel. There are also instances where a reporter is threatened on air and personally. Libel cases are filed against them but are usually dismissed due to lack of evidence.
As stated in market journalism, news media should be free from outside interference to serve the public’s right to know. Majority of the respondents refuse offers primarily because they want to maintain their credibility. They also claimed that public officials are the primary sources of occupational hazards while businessmen ranked second. They tend to manipulate news by pressuring the media with their personal interests. Just as emphasized in the market journalism theory, journalists are free from of all outside controls and not servile or manipulated by power.
All the respondents have experienced hazards due to their barking opinions, commentaries and write-ups. However their companies have exclusive lawyers to defend them from any case filed against them. They can also request police escorts whenever they need security. This relates to the libertarian theory which states that media has the liberty and right to inform the public what they wanted to express. It prefers a privately owned news media that is maximally free to inform citizens and criticize public policies, as well as act as a watchdog on authorities.
Furthermore, in connection to the social responsibility theory which emphasizes the need for an independent press that scrutinizes other social institutions and provides objective, accurate news reports, all the respondents continue to tackle and political stories that have bearings on their anomalies. This practice leads hazards to their credibility as journalists. Even with the awareness of how risky their field of work is, they do not give much attention to threats for they believe that as long as they are transparent in their reports, they do not have to worry about anything. Knowing one’s limitations and self-control is also very essential.
Journalists, when on field, get too absorbed with their need to come up with a story that they tend to forget that their lives and that of their families may be put in jeopardy. This relates to the Dissonance theory which states that when confronted by new or conflicting information, people experience a kind of mental discomfort, a dissonance. It results to consciously and subconsciously work to limit or reduce that discomfort. Journalists feel accountable when they discover that there is something unusual happening in the society, hence, they only more often than not feel relieved when they are able to air it out to the public.
It has been found out that local journalists experience different kinds of hazards such as bribery, libel cases, verbal harassments, death threats and assaults. Hazards transpire when journalists highlight the negative sides of the people in authority and business tycoons. These can create traumas and can affect their emotional and psychological well-being and those of their families. Thus, affect their normal way of living.
The first and third elements of journalism highlight the journalists’ first obligation which is to provide factual and accurate news reports through the discipline of verification. This is significant in their field of work for it partially serves as bases of one’s credibility. As made evident in the answers of the majority of the respondents, verification of information is one of the disciplines that must be followed to avoid occupational hazards. Above all else, it is the element of transparency that will defend a journalist in the long run. Following this will keep one from having fears of what danger might happen since the confidence of having only factual and accurate news is there.
Being loyal to the citizens is the second element of journalism that should always be observed and applied. Most of the respondents did not give in to any form of bribery which projects loyalty. They are committed to their pledge to be watchdogs of the society. They have and continue to serve through observing the general public’s right to know what is happening around them especially in the government.
The Fourth element is that its practitioners must maintain an independence from those they cover. The respondents cover stories from all sectors concerning public interest, from political to business beats. There have been instances wherein they were bribed however as practitioners who observe the above element, they refuse bribes to maintain independence from those they cover so as to refrain from biases.
The Government is held accountable with the people’s financial trust. Therefore, it is essential to have people who would watch their actions. This is where the fifth element is established, the journalists’ role of monitoring power of people in authority. Due to this accountability, plus the media’s social responsibility, the respondents have been monitoring public officials who apparently have anomalies. According to them, as watchdogs of the society they should be free from any power interference to serve the public fairly and objectively.
The sixth element states that they must provide a forum for public criticism and compromise. The respondents who are currently commentators of different radio stations accept calls and provide an avenue where citizens are able to ventilate or air out their sentiments. They cater people from different sectors of the society and tackle and compromise matters in the best way they can.
The answers of the respondents were good indicators that they observe the seventh element of journalism in which the journalists strive to make the significant interesting and relevant. The respondents claimed that they would air out issues concerning public interests for the people have the right to know all the sides of a story. Relevant issues are prioritized at all times.
On the other hand, one of the respondent’s answers projects the eight element which depicts how journalists must relay news comprehensively and proportionally. This stresses out the proper conveying or presenting of information in a manner wherein the medium used and language spoken can be easily understood by the majority of the target audience. Presenting all the sides of a story rationally preserves the truthfulness of their news reports.
Lastly, the ninth element states that the media practitioners must be allowed to exercise their personal conscience. Every journalist must have a personal sense of ethics and responsibility of a moral compass. News organizations do well to nurture this independence by encouraging individuals to speak their minds. Most of the respondents use their hearts and minds in their field of work. This element is fairly followed based on the answers of the respondents because as they said, if you just work truthfully nothing would go against your credibility.
Most of the respondents apply the nine elements of journalism. It may not be as extensively followed as advised, they still continue to observe the best way they can. The concern now is the need to maintain these practices in the local media to evade from occupational hazard encounters.
Majority of the respondents pay less attention to the hazards for they perceive them as part of their nature of work. The researchers concluded that media personnel do not have background on preventive measures. They are less aware of the level of danger they embark in covering news stories. Therefore, there is a need for Mass Communication majors to be acquainted with the possible different types of hazards they are to encounter as future journalists. It is also essential to inculcate in them the significance of self-regulation and professionalism for them to easily adjust and manage unfavorable circumstances.