Editorial: Complaining against the press

THE concomitant obligations that come along with press freedom is the accountability of the press with this power and the engagement with citizens to keep the press free, responsible and accountable.

Citizens educated about the role of media in society will see the need to interact with journalists to sustain a dialogue involving the press, civil society and institutions affecting public welfare that is built on accurate and consequential information and the news interpretation that contextualizes and shows the significance of a particular information to interrelated concerns affecting society.

In Cebu, educating citizens about the functioning of media and the role of citizens in upholding press freedom and accountability is being undertaken by media advocacy groups, such as the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC).

Since 2005, the CCPC is led by citizens representing professionals, civic organizations, business, the academe and the church, as well as the editors-in-chief of Cebu’s newspapers and radio and television representatives recommended by the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP).

Aside from sponsoring forums on media literacy, particularly during the annual Cebu Press Freedom Week, the CCPC mediates in citizens’ complaints about accuracy and fairness or right of reply involving the local newspapers.

Before social media, the legacy media, also known as the traditional portals of print, radio and television, engaged with their audiences by publishing and responding to letters to the editor when an article or a broadcast was viewed as incorrect, incomplete, or inaccurate.

The section on letters to the editor is an important part of the editorial section of a newspaper because it expresses the reactions of readers, news sources and subjects of articles on social issues, not just to the newspaper content. Citizen engagement with the newspaper is essential for improving a newspaper’s coverage of its community.

The publication of a citizen’s reaction to an article is ideally accompanied by the response of the involved journalist or an editor, explaining the handling of the story from the perspective of the newsroom.

Another approach to handling a complaint about a report is for a citizen to go to the newsroom and present his or her side to a reporter or an editor. In a follow-up article, the newspaper publishes the correction or includes information not previously found in the previous article but is necessary to reflect accurately and fairly the subject being reported.

In some newsrooms, readers’ complaints are handled by an in-house ombudsman who resolves readers’ complaints, using the newsroom’s code of standards and ethics. SunStar Cebu’s public and standards editor, lawyer Pachico A. Seares, writes on media standards and accountability in a regular column, “Media’s Public.”

Professional newsrooms codify the standards and ethics guiding their journalists, making this accessible to the public as a clear basis on how reporters, editors and photographers should perform their profession.

In situations when a newspaper does not respond to a complaint in a satisfactory manner—“by clarification, correction or apology,” according to the cebucitizenspresscouncil.org— the CCPC secretariat studies the complaint and the newspaper’s response and decides if the matter requires mediation or a hearing by the CCPC review board for a decision.

As indicated in the complaint process uploaded on the official CCPC website, the “Decision of the Review Board shall be released for publication to the newspaper that is the subject of the complaint. If the newspaper refuses to publish the decision within two days from receipt of the copy, the Council shall release it to all the other publications.”

The process requires the investment of citizens, journalists and media advocacy groups, such as the CCPC, to ensure the balancing of press freedom and press accountability.