Journalists are trained to report based on facts and evidence. But they are supposed to give context to a news story, guiding readers and audiences by reporting unbiased, accurate and fair information so they can form their own opinions.
In the case of the death of a 23-year-old flight attendant in a Makati hotel on New Year’s Day, many journalists rushed to judgment based on what the police had told them, forgetting to give context to a developing story.
Thus, they misled the people by parroting what the chief of police of Makati City said when he was interviewed about the death of Christine Dacera after a night of partying with some friends on New Year’s Eve.
The journalists failed to report that the city police chief was talking based on speculation, not facts and evidence, as he had not even seen the post-mortem report that would indicate if the woman was raped and killed in the hotel.
But the journalists could not be blamed if they based their stories on an official police report after a case of rape with homicide was filed before the Makati City prosecutor’s office, which is supposed to determine probable cause for indicting respondents before the Makati trial court.
There was obviously a sloppy investigation, which led to the filing of complaints at the prosecutor’s office against several men who were at the party in the victim’s hotel room.
There are still many loose ends to tie up, but the local police rushed in filing a case without completing its investigation, prompting the national police chief, who was once head of the crime laboratory, to declare the case “solved.”
What is unforgivable was the sloppy reporting done by journalists who accepted what the police told them, without challenging them and demanding that the police produce the evidence that led them to conclude that the cabin crew member of Philipine Airlines was raped and killed.
At the prosecutor’s office, a copy of an initial medico-legal report showed Dacera died of natural causes — aneurysm — and that there was no semen found in her vagina. It also indicated she had sex probably days before she died.
The scientific evidence could demolish the police chief’s theory that Dacera was raped and killed by any of the men who were at the party, and it turned out these men were gay, members of the LGBT community.
The distraught mother of Dacera could not be blamed for believing there was foul play in her daughter’s death because she was relying on what the police had told her, which was not supported by evidence and testimonies from possible witnesses.
It’s really sad when the police fail to deliver a credible and thorough investigation despite technical advances in science-based forensic investigation.
It seems the police want shortcuts as what they have been doing in the last four years under President Rodrigo Duterte, particularly on drug-related killings.
In some cases, the police would fabricate evidence to support an investigation, making it appear the people that were killed in an anti-illegal drug operation were drug peddlers or users by planting sachets of drugs and even home-made guns.
Since the populist leader rose to power in 2016, nearly 6,000 people had died in shootouts with undercover policemen in anti-illegal drug operations. All were done in self-defense as police claimed the drug suspects had resisted arrest and fired at them.
In almost all of the cases where drug suspects had died, the police narrative of the incidents were almost identical. Only the names of the dead, the date, time and place where it happened were different. In some cases the forensic evidence did not support the theory of how the suspects died, like ballistic and post-mortem reports.
In Dacera’s case, the police should have waited for autopsy and toxicology reports as well as testimonies from people who were at the hotel where she died, not only those who were at the party but hotel staff and security, before concluding she was raped and killed.
The hotel’s closed-circuit cameras can also help in re-creating the events before she was found unconscious at the hotel room’s bathtub.
It’s a mystery why the police rushed to file a complaint against several men who were with her at the hotel room and the national police chief immediately declared the case solved even before the police investigation was completed.
Like police investigators, journalists should learn how to report crime stories based on facts. They must gather documentary evidence and testimonies from people who were at the scene of the crime whether as suspects, victims and witnesses.
In the past, journalists’ reporting skills were sharpened when they were assigned in the police beat. They learned to interview, observe and gather documentary evidence to accurately report a crime as well as practice fairness by getting all sides of a story.
There were no police spokesmen back in the 1980s and journalists learned to cultivate all kinds of sources and do a lot of legwork to piece together a crime scene.
Leather-shoe journalism should be practiced even in the digital age as there’s a lot of instant information available online, especially on social media, which could be meant to deceive the people.
That sets journalists apart from ordinary people who are armed with mobile phone cameras and social media accounts.
Journalists have the most challenging job, which is to report truthfully and impartially based on facts, and not on speculation, gossip and rumors swirling around.
They should not ride in the current of what is popular, but rather put on the brakes to report the cold, hard, unpleasant and boring facts of the case. That is how journalism works.
Christine Dacera deserves justice if there was indeed foul play in her death, but let’s stick to the facts and evidence and let the professionals investigate her untimely death.