Media groups cautioned journalists and editors against publishing Malacañan’s list of public officials allegedly involved in the illegal drugs trade.
In a joint statement, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines; Philippine Press Institute; Center for Community Journalism and Development; Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism; Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility; Mindanews and the Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network said that both the government and the media can not play fast and loose with due process and rule of law.
The groups said that, without verification, the publication of the so-called narco-politicians list including 82 candidates in the May elections is a denial of due process and presumption of innocence for those on the list.
The groups added that the hasty publication of the list is a violation of the journalistic values of fairness, accuracy, and independence.
“Instead of rushing to print or air, we now urge all our colleagues to exercise utter prudence and fastidious judgment in evaluating this ‘story,’” the groups said.
The media organizations said publication of the government’s list redounds to mere trial by publicity of political rivals, and a publicity stunt for the public and the news media’s transient amusement without convincing proof or cases filed in the courts.
“Such naming and shaming calls attention to the possible invasion of privacy, as well as denial of due process and presumption of innocence, for those on the list,” the groups explained.
“Once published or broadcast, the travesty will be magnified as a collective disregard for the rule of law, and a clear breach of the time-honored traditions of fair, accurate, and independent journalism, by the news media,” they explained.
Duterte’s list, based on still to be verified intelligence reports and wiretapped information received from foreign governments, reportedly includes 82 candidates.
Philippine Drug Enforcement Agency Director General Aaron Aquino, however, said he is against the release of the list, adding that his agency has yet to re-validate it.
“As of now, there is an instruction for PDEA to disclose list. [But] I can’t do it right now because we have not finished the re-validation of the narco-politicians,” Aquino said.
Commission on Elections spokesperson James Jimenez also said the government must “convict first” before those on the list could be disqualified as candidates.
The media groups urged the National Bureau of Investigation to validate the list’s contents before the authorities could build cases and file the appropriate charges against the alleged narco-politicians.
“Rather than seek publicity for its unverified ‘narco list’ story, the Duterte Administration should waste no time to build cases, file charges, prosecute, and send to jail the guilty, if indeed it had proof and evidence on hand,” the media groups said.
‘Verify, verify, verify’
The media groups said publishing Duterte’s list may open news outfits to libel suits should those named choose to file charges as Panelo suggested.
They said that taking Malacañan’s word at face value, reporting its claims uncritically, and rushing to print or broadcast just a list that tags people without proof are not without serious consequences.
“All these could put the life and liberty of persons in serious peril; all these could put the ethics and credibility of the journalism profession in serious doubt,” they said.
“Verify, verify, verify. And do so independently. That is the first thing that the news media can and should do, before running a list that tags and links people to hateful crimes, on the mere say-so of the President and his political lieutenants,” they added.
“We, journalists and media organizations can, at the very least, refuse to play along when the government and those who are supposed to lead the nation play fast and loose with due process and the rule of law,” the groups said. # (Raymund B. Villanueva)