June 12, 2008

The news embargo

WTF?!?! What is all this fuss about whether or not newspapers or news organizations should have respected the request of ABS-CBN News management for an embargo on the kidnapping of its broadcaster Ces Drilon and her crew?

Look, the issue was pretty simple and straightforward. ABS-CBN's Maria Ressa requested her colleagues not to print or broadcast the kidnapping story until 6 AM Tuesday because the network was trying to ensure the safety of its missing staff and to hopefully, secure their release.

I don't think ABS-CBN was stage-handling or "managing" the news, as some pseudo-journalists and talking heads are claiming, because there was really a clear and present danger that harm could have fallen on Ces and her crew. These talking heads claim the "public interest" was not served by withholding the news of the crew's abduction. What public interest? If I were an ordinary citizen, what could I have gained by knowing a day earlier, that the ABS-CBN news team was kidnapped? That Sulu isn't a safe place to travel to? Duh.

If I were still back in mainstream journalism and still an editor, I would've also acceded to Ressa's request, not just because Ces is a friend, but because it was the right thing to do. No doubt, the story was a big scoop for anyone who published it first. But at what cost? A scoop shouldn't mean endangering the safety of the news subject/s.

So I applaud those news organizations who respected the embargo, because of your decency and humanity.

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BTW, I would like to point out that in the business media, we routinely receive embargo requests from international donor agencies or multilateral banks regarding their reports which are released a day earlier than their press briefings. Granted that these reports aren't as big a story as a kidnapping of broadcaster, to us publishing them just the same could mean a front page or banner story (which does wonders to our ego, but very little on our salary might I add).

I don't remember a time that my colleagues and I have not granted such embargo requests. Although there have been cases in the past when wire reporters broke the embargo much to the disappointment of the requesting agency and our other colleagues. (The misbehavior of a handful of these wire reporters have been dealt with severely as stories are withheld from them, or they are treated virtually as pariahs by their colleagues.)

My point being, if we in the business media can respect embargo requests on stories like these, why can't our other colleagues do the same when lives are at stake? The choice is very clear, friends. And I'm glad that many in our industry made the right one.

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