Ensure That Media Can Consistently Be Truthful Media Essay

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As an established democracy under the 1987 Philippine Constitution, one of the iconic cornerstones of Philippine democracy is the "citizen-critic" who is able to make informed decisions because he is given or has access to relevant information.

In the plethora of available information, the most influential source of information for most Filipinos comes from Media. As the primary source of information, it thus behooves Media to responsibly provide relevant, well-researched and balanced news reports.

The framers of the 1987 Philippine Constitution have taken cognizance of the significant role of Mass Media as a font of information and as a result, have specifically provided in the present Constitution that Media shall play a vital role in nation-building. [1] 

However, today's Mass Media hardly have any close resemblance to what they used to be in years past when founding publishers and broadcasters were imbued more with a sense of civic-mindedness to report the news "without fear or favor" [2] than with a desire to be profitable.

Present day Media companies are humongous and complex organizations structured with holding companies that have major investments in a broad media spectrum - newspapering, publishing, broadcasting, internet and new media providers, cable and satellite TV, among others.

Previously, ownership of Media was pretty much uncomplicated as owners or investors were mainly civic-minded single proprietors. This is in contrast with present-day realities where Media are first and foremost business enterprises and whose ownership is generally broad-based because of significant capital requirements.

Today's Media moguls would hardly subscribe to the traditional conceptual mindset of viewing profitability as being subservient to the mission of providing a public service, where breaking even is an unacceptable proposition to shareholders.

It used to be that editors and reporters were accountable only to the publisher. In today's Media setting, however, the editorial group and marketing/advertising departments have to deal with a board of directors, whose membership is generally composed of influential investors with interests in a wide array of businesses.

The change in the character of ownership has inevitably also altered the dynamics of running a newspaper or a television station. With a broader-based ownership structure, today's editors and reporters have become accountable to a more diverse group of major shareholders who are likely to be investors in non-media companies.

Understanding the inclination of shareholders to be naturally protective of their investment exposures, the inevitable conflicts of interest arise when Media owners begin to manage the flow of news information.

Controlling the flow of information usually takes two forms. The first can be described as proactive commission under which Media deliberately reports only positive favorable facts. The second form is essentially passive omission where Media intentionally conceals the disclosure of material information.

Several countries have already begun experiencing these so-called conflicts of interests [3] . Some news items do not even manage to reach the public at large or the information is deliberately exploited by Media owners to further their business or political agenda. In some cases, a piece of news is given a spin so that it patently and clearly favors an identifiable party or stockholder. In Media outfits without a strong and independent editorial board, editors and reporters are often prevailed upon by shareholders to bury or downplay a news item; in some instances, such an inappropriate request is made at the behest of a major or influential advertiser or political ally.

The bottom line is the unfortunate circumstance that the constitutional eminence of Mass Media as a major impetus for nation-building is subverted by corporate self-censorship. In its truest sense, internal corporate censorship poses a real threat to the responsibility of Media to be a source of objective information.

Significance of the Study

Hence the core issue is how to ensure that Media can consistently be truthful and accurate in delivering relevant information to the public. To raise the bar further, the challenge becomes trickier on Media's reportage on affiliated business interests - more particularly on companies owned or controlled by Media shareholders. In a practical sense, the constitutional mandate of media to be a purveyor of information for nation-building may occasionally be incongruent with the business interests of their owners' investments in non-media businesses.

This balancing act between reporting what is truthful and the need to protect the metaphorical hand that "feeds" the Media conglomerate is a delicate one. Failure to attain equilibrium between these polar objectives effectively undermines the constitutional aspiration for freedom of expression to cultivate the public good.

This thesis aims to examine the legal ramifications of corporate self-censorship in the media industry versus their legal and ethical obligation to promote the public good by exercising utmost transparency and mental honesty in editorial reportage.

This thesis also seeks to establish a legal basis, grounded on the public good and on the Constitutional declaration of principles and state policies, for a legislative act that could address the issue of corporate self-censorship.

Unlike citizens of more developed countries, Filipinos still rely on traditional media for their source of news, principally print and broadcast media. Between the two mediums, broadcast media - either television or radio - have a wider audience. In urban areas, television is the preferred or dominant medium while in rural and provincial areas where television signals can be problematic, radio reigns with a penetration that can reach very remote areas and every household.

Overall, however, television is the more impactful broadcast medium as it provides the viewer the sensory experience of both sight and sound. The strong power of television in influencing viewers has been clearly manifested by the huge success popular news anchors or commentators have had in running for public office [4] .

Recognizing their strong influence in molding public opinion and shaping decision-making, it thus becomes imperative that information or news dispensed by broadcast media is truthful and devoid of biases.

Statement of the Problem

It has been said that the "freedom of the press from governmental interference under the First Amendment does not sanction repression of that freedom by private interests." [5] Having posited this judicial axiom, this paper will seek to analyze the legal ramifications of conflicts of interest arising from media ownership and the role of the press and the freedom of expression in upholding the public good. Legal doctrines enshrined in Section 4 of Article III of the 1987 Philippine Constitution [6] shall be used as a standard to gauge the effect of these media ownership conflicts of interest.

Separately, there may be a need to revisit the constitutional and legal framework governing the freedom of the press in the light of the continuing and changing landscape where Media companies operate today. The advent of globalization and the quantum strides in computer technology have spawned new forms of media that can literally provide information or news on demand. Today's new media hardly bear any resemblance to their ancestors and the issue that may arise is the applicability or relevance of laws and constitutional rights more appropriate to another era.

Scope and Limitations, Objectives

The primary objective of this thesis is to formulate a working framework suited for the modern Media entity that could specifically address potential conflicts of interest arising from media ownership.

It is assumed that Media entities are in the business of making money but it is equally assumed that this monetary goal or objective cannot be at the expense of disregarding the public good.

The determination of a framework will zero in on the type of information or news that Media dispense and disseminate about their non-media interests.

The determination of sufficiency will be limited to conflicts of interest with reference to published or broadcast content or information on non-media businesses.

In formulating the governance standard for conflicts of interests, the Constitutional mandate on the Freedom of Express, the Press, Information and Free Flow of Information will be used as reference points.

Reference to other laws such as the New Civil Code, the Securities Regulations Code, the Revised Penal Code will only be incidental insofar as they may be necessary to arrive at a satisfactory solution to the twin-issue of conflicts of interest vis-à-vis fair and balanced reporting.

The scope of this thesis will be limited to broadcast Media and this focus is premised on the dominance and deep influence of this medium over other media vehicles such as newspapers.

The thesis will not delve into the actual implementation of the proposed legislation nor will it discuss the government agency that may be tasked to enforce it.


The Proponent will primarily use materials available at the Ateneo Professional Libraries, more specifically the resources and materials at the Law School Library. Reference materials available at the Ateneo Rizal Library about Media will also be used.

A secondary source will be materials accessible from the Internet.

Last, interviews will also be conducted with key personalities [7] within the media industry.

Organization of the Thesis

The Preliminary Chapter consists of the basic introduction of the paper. It contains the Background of the Study, the Statement of the Problem, the Objectives, the Scope and Limitations and the Methodology chosen by the Proponent for research, analysis and actual completion.

Chapter I is a discussion of the Press in the Philippines starting from the Martial Law years to the present time, specifically focusing on the ownership structure of the various media organizations.

Chapter II shall discuss the role of the Press in society in its exercise of the Constitutional right of freedom of expression. A part of this Chapter shall discuss the concept of corporate self-censorship by media owners.

Chapter III will delve into the legal framework on how broadcast companies are organized and incorporated. A key discussion in this chapter is the concept of legislative franchises from which broadcasting companies derive their juridical personalities to operate. Included in this chapter is a discussion on how the State exercises its police powers as a way of regulating the broadcast industry.

Chapter IV will discuss the protection afforded by the freedom of expression clause in the 1987 Philippine Constitution. It will also discuss the different treatment of the law with regard to broadcast media.

Chapter V will discuss the legal doctrines that permit infringement on the freedom of expression and the press, which may be an avenue for regulating corporate self-censorship. It will also discuss the other legal remedies available which one may invoke to regulate corporate self-censorship.

Chapter VI summarizes the conclusion, findings and recommendations of the Proponent. This includes a proposed legislative act to address the problem posed by the Proponent.