There has been intense debate within and outside journalists’ circles on how a reporter should frame a question posed to a subject during a news conference.
Before Zoom and social media, the public rarely saw an ordinary news conference. There have since been countless unforgivable errors and bloopers never before seen in public.
Things are different now. Newsmakers and journalists are both under public scrutiny. The public has become ruthless critics and unforgiving witnesses.
People at the center of a controversy are easily crucified, sometimes wrongly and unnecessarily. But reporters share the same predicament in some occasions.
GMA News reporter Tina Panganiban Perez became the latest victim of this vicious “one controversial question asked” debacle.
She could have prayed for the earth to swallow her after many people attacked her for asking Patricia Non directly if she had links with the Maoist-led rebels.
Though there were people who defended her, the hurt could be unbearable if the criticisms came from fellow journalists and journalism educators.
The question was legitimate. Non called for the news conference a day after the Quezon City police red-tagged her for organizing the country’s first community pantry on Maginhawa Street.
Many people who watched the news conference felt offended by the question. Maybe it was because of how the question was asked and how it was delivered. Or there could have been a better way to frame the question.
Was it Tina’s fault? Probably she has to take responsibility for not properly framing a question, as a journalist is taught in school and in practice. As a rule, open-ended questions are better than questions that can be answered by a simple yes or a no.
But still, that question needed to be asked.
Reporters who have been in the beats for decades often commit the same mistakes. Sometimes, reporters become callous and insensitive in asking a grieving mother or wife if a man who was shot dead by undercover police officers minutes ago was a drug addict.
But most reporters are timid when it comes to challenging government officials on statements that are obviously false and mere propaganda.
Journalists are supposed to ask hard questions to people in power and to ordinary people on the street to ferret out the truth.
They should not give government officials, big business and other personalities a free pass to malign other people or to deceive the public with false information.
Lt. Gen. Antonio Parlade must be made to account if he goes swinging against people he accuses of having links to the Communists, when his own commander in chief had admitted in public his long-time friendship with rebels when he was mayor of Davao City for 22 years.
If his statements were not challenged in a television show, he would gladly spread his misinformation on social media, misleading a lot of people.
Journalists never get to choose the people they have to interview. Even the most obnoxious public official must be given air time in the interest of the public’s right to know.
Journalists are supposed to tell it as it is but provide context and challenge assertions if the information is baseless.
There are a thousand and one ways on how journalists gather information and there are also numerous methods to extract information from officials and other news sources.
But there is only one sacred rule in reporting. Accuracy. It is the heart of what a journalist does.
Journalism is truth-telling and there is no other way but honesty in reporting. Honesty means reporting accurately. Accuracy helps build trust and credibility.
In the Philippines, a survey last year by the Oxford-based Reuters Institute showed that public trust on the legacy media had sunk to a low 27 percent, lower than the global average of nearly 40 percent.
As people depend largely on tablets and mobile phones to consume news, they rely more on social media, like Facebook and Twitter, which are easily manipulated by people with evil agenda to deceive and spread disinformation and propaganda.
And journalists, sometimes, are to be blamed because they also fall victim to disinformation if they are not careful in checking out the information. They legitimize false news by reposting and reporting on it in traditional news outlets.
Journalists have to restore credibility and public trust to defeat false information and disinformation by faithfully observing the basic principles in journalism — accuracy, fairness, freedom from bias, independence and transparency.
The Tina Panganiban Perez incident is a wake-up call to journalists. Journalists must be well prepared when attending a live news conference. The spotlight is not only on the news source but on the journalists and how they conduct themselves.
They must be seen as not too soft nor too hard on a subject without losing the objective of getting the truth from them.
Journalism is a noble profession. It is an important ingredient in a democratic society. It should not easily lose heart because of a single question raised in Patricia Non’s zoom news conference.
The incident could be a setback but journalists should learn from it and soldier on for truth, justice and the public interest.