MEDIA’S RESPONSIBILITY

BY LUIS V. TEODORO

THE PHILIPPINES IS A PARTICULARLY DISASTER-PRONE COUNTRY YEAR ’ROUND, BOTH BECAUSE OF ITS GEOGRAPHICAL LOCATION (IT SITS ON THE PACIFIC “RING OF FIRE” AND IS DIRECTLY IN THE PATH OF PACIFIC-GENERATED STORMS) AND THE FLAWED AND EVEN NON-EXISTENT ENVIRONMENTAL POLICIES OF THE GOVERNMENTS THAT HAVE RULED IT.

10 | MEDIA TIMES 2013 • Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility

It is during the rainy months of July to September and even beyond when typhoons, ϐloods and landslides decimate entire communities. But this year a 7.2 magnitude earthquake struck the provinces of Bohol and Cebu during the same season, and was followed by the most powerful typhoon to ever make landfall in the Philippines. Yolanda (Haiyan) smashed into Aklan, Samar, Leyte, Antique, Mindoro and Palawan inϐlicting on those islands the worst devastation in nearly a century, with Tacloban City in Leyte bearing the brunt of the typhoon’s 315 kilometer-per-hour winds.

With 2,360 deaths, the Philippines led all other countries in the number of people who died from disasters in 2012. It was ahead of China, which was second with 771 deaths, according to the non-governmental Citizens Disaster Response Center (CDRC). The Philippines was second to China in terms of the number of people displaced by typhoons, landslides and ϐloods, who lost their belongings and homes and suffered various economic losses. In 2012, 12 million people were so affected in the Philippines compared to 43 million in China. But the Philippines is likely to lead all other countries this year in terms

Typhoon HaiyanMEDIA image by TIMES NASA | 11 Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility • 2013

of the casualties from typhoon Yolanda — over 5,000 and still rising as of this writing — if not in the number of people affected. The country’s vulnerability to disasters is the context in which, come the rainy season, some of the biggest media organizations launch disaster relief and even rescue operations — and make sure that their publics learn about it — through their own capacities for disseminating the information via the airwaves, online or in print. Although it is seldom so described, these activities could be explained as indicative of Philippine media organizations’ commitment to corporate social responsibility (CSR). CSR is part of a business model intended to demonstrate that corporations are not solely devoted to proϐit-making but are also interested in promoting the social good. Oil companies take pains to show that they’re guarding the environment, for example, and drug companies that they’re promoting public health. WHAT’S IN A NAME? However, most Filipinos and the media themselves are more familiar with “epal,” rather than with CSR. “Epal” is from the word “papel,” or paper, which when made into a verb in the Filipino language means to play a role. It refers to the practice of self-promotion common among Filipino politicians who, between, during and after the country’s frequent elections, hang up streamers claiming that a street is being paved, or a village hall built, courtesy of the mayor, councilor or congressman of the town or district. During the holiday season or when students graduate in March and April each year, the streamers also wish everyone a Merry Christmas, or congratulate new graduates. During disasters such as typhoons and earthquakes, one of the most pernicious forms of self-promotion is that of stamping repacked relief goods meant for stricken communities with the name of the local politician. In most cases public funds have been used for the streamers and the repacking. “Epal” efforts use the citizenry’s own money to promote the politician’s focus on keeping his or her name in the public mind. Civic groups have been campaigning against the practice, as a result of which the media have also condemned it and ridiculed self-promoting politicians. But the reality is that the media too call attention to their relief and other efforts, lest these escape the attention of their viewers, listeners and readers. Media self-promotion was evident not only in the aftermath of typhoon Yolanda but also during the typhoon’s multiple island landfall. It was basically of two types. The ϐirst consisted of emphasizing how much of a risk their reporters on the ground were taking, to the extent that they later interviewed their own reporters themselves, which happened in the case of ABS-CBN’s Atom Araullo. While Araullo did provide the information millions of Filipinos were anxious to receive when the typhoon struck Tacloban City, his network’s interviewing him was in violation of the ethical imperative during the coverage of disasters that the journalist should be not be part of the news or even be the news himself. The same lapse was in evidence in the case of the same network’s Ted Failon’s dramatizing his presence in Tacloban during the typhoon, and focusing on his own news team’s sentiments and fears. The second type of self-promotion consisted of some networks’ publicizing not only their pleas for donations from the public — donations they distribute in their (the networks’) names rather than those of the donors — but also in their publicizing through

12 | MEDIA TIMES 2013 • Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility

Among the ruins and rubble in Tanauan, Leyte, Philippines, aid had been slow in reaching the millions who were displaced by typhoon Yolanda. International efforts have been building up as food and other basic necessities were airlifted to remote communities. PHOTO BY ALANAH TORRALBA

Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility • 2013 MEDIA TIMES | 13

their own facilities their repacking and distribution of relief goods. While the public need for information can be satisϐied even by self-serving and grandstanding reports, and while there is nothing wrong with providing relief during disasters, what is problematic is this focus’ subtracting from the time and space other, even more relevant reports, such as how many bodies have been recovered, how survivors can contact their relatives, where medical care for the injured is available, and those other crucial, even life and death issues, require. Disaster reporting is after all about the disaster, particularly the victims and their communities, and its aftermath. The ethical prohibition against grandstanding, otherwise known as selfpromotion and, in the Philippine context, as “epal,” is based on the sound principle, fundamental to journalism, of providing the public meaningful information when it is most needed, as in the time of disasters.

PROVIDING INFORMATION The media’s main responsibilities are after all still those of reporting the news as accurately, as fairly and as completely as possible, and supplementing these with the commentary and analysis that will help their audiences to better understand the events around them — and that includes the ϐloods, landslides, earthquakes, typhoons and the many other disasters Filipino ϐlesh is heir to. Self-promotion aside, however, in the Philippines, discharging that particular responsibility has mostly been in the form of providing pro-active information on the imminence of weather disturbances, the communities they’re likely to affect, and the measures those who might be affected need to take to prevent both casualties as well as damage to livelihoods, the property and the economy.

EARTHQUAKE-PRONE PHILIPPINES

Left map showing the main plates surrounding the Philippine Archipelago. Right: Major tectonic features of the Philippines. The gray shaded area is the Philippine Mobile Belt (PMB) of Gervasio (1967). The stippled gray shaded area is the Palawan-Mindoro continental block. AR= Abra River Fault; VA=ViganAgao Fault; C=Cordilleran Fault; P=Pugo Fault; D=Digdig Fault; LD=LaurDingalan Fault. Lagmay et al., 2009. http://www.nigs.upd.edu.ph/

14 | MEDIA TIMES 2013 • Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility

In responding to typhoon Yolanda, the Philippine media did not fail their audiences. They provided island-by-island reports as the typhoon passed, and interviewed the responsible local government ofϐicials they could reach. Later, practically on a 12 to 18-hour basis, they reported on the conditions of the stricken communities, how the efforts at providing the food, water and medical services the survivors needed were proceeding, and the foreign support the country was receiving. These reports, which included accounts of survivor complaints about the absence of government action ϐive days after the typhoon smashed into central Philippines, as well as, in contrast, how some local ofϐicials were ably meeting their responsibilities to their constituencies, also helped prod the government into accelerating its relief and other efforts. THE GOOD NEWS In the reporting of the disasters that have recently visited the Philippines, whether the Bohol-Cebu earthquake or typhoon Yolanda, much of the Philippine media did act pro-actively. The major broadcast networks and broadsheets were already watching the weather at the tail-end of the summer season. They devoted ample time to reports on the progress of storms and their impact on the communities throughout the peak of the rainy season, and when the Bohol-Cebu quake struck, reported on the casualties with restraint and with reminders that the reports were incomplete. They also provided background material to explain the extent of the damage as well as to warn the public and government on the imperative to review the building code, and retroϐit vulnerable structures. When typhoon Yolanda was barely six days away, they were already tracking the typhoon’s path courtesy of the government’s weather agency Philippine Atmospheric, Geophysical and Astronomical Services Administration (PAGASA), and warning their viewers, listeners and readers that the weather disturbance was likely to develop into a super typhoon. Signiϐicantly lacking, however, was information in layman’s terms on the storm surges that were among the major causes of the thousands in Yolanda casualties, many of whom were unaware that a storm surge can whip up 40-foot waves and inundate even three-story buildings. What the media could do in the future is to provide that kind of information when typhoons approach. But the Filipino public also needs, on a regular basis and throughout the year, the information, now available from the scientiϐic community, on the impact of climate change, the fault lines that make many parts of the country susceptible to earthquakes, what local governments as well as the national administration is doing to enhance the communities’ and the country’s preparedness, the areas to which citizens can be assured of a safe haven in case of tsunamis, typhoons and earthquakes, etc., in furtherance of the need to reduce the cost in casualties and property losses of the disasters that regularly strike the country. As the entire country has learned from its experience with Yolanda, information can save lives — and the lack of it can kill. In disaster-prone Philippines, where disasters have never been seasonal, that information has to be provided on a year ‘round basis.

NCR FLOOD HAZARD MAP

High Flood Hazard > 1.5 meters Moderate Flood Hazard 0.5 - 1.5 meters Low Flood Hazard 0.1 - 0.5 meters

NATIONAL CAPITAL REGION (NCR). The flood maps show areas affected by flooding induced by severe or significant rainfall (as experienced during Ondoy). Smaller volume of rainfall may still produce flooding but with significantly less height and extent of flooding. http://nababaha.appspot.com/static/flood/manila.html

Center for Media Freedom & Responsibility • 2013 MEDIA TIMES | 15