The Philippine Press Institute (PPI), the national association of newspapers, conducted the “Making Sense of Journalism Today,” a seminar on excellence and ethics in journalism, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Sept. 29, 2012, Saturday, at the Marcelo B. Fernan Cebu Press Center in Barangay Lahug, Cebu City.
PPI’s scholastic outreach program was conducted under the auspices of the Embassy of Canada and co-organized by Sun.Star Cebu.
Sun.Star Cebu invited 60 participants to the forum, composed of journalism students, their advisers and campus writers, and took charge of booking the venue and ensuring that facilities, like the sound system, laptop and LCD projector were available.
Sun.Star Cebu's Cherry Ann Lim reacts to the participants' workshop outputs.
It also took charge of choosing the food for the event, and booking with the local caterer for 70 people after gaining approval of the menu and budget from the institute. The PPI paid the caterer, Creative Cuisine, directly for the food.
Thirty people from Cebu Normal University, 15 people from St. Theresa’s College and 15 people from the University of the Philippines Cebu were invited.
Jamie Christoff, Political Counsellor of the Embassy of Canada, opened the forum by speaking about how Canadian law gave citizens easy access to government documents, including his email messages to Carlo Figueroa, public affairs attaché of the Embassy of Canada in Manila.
Figueroa was in attendance, along with Robert Lee, honorary consul of the Embassy of Canada.
Christoff made the remarks in apparent reference to the Freedom of Information Act of the Philippines, which has yet to be passed and was the subject of the afternoon talk by Cebu Media Legal Aid member Rose Versoza.
PPI executive director Ariel Sebellino introduced PPI’s scholastic outreach program. He began by subjecting the participants to a quiz on current events and handing out PPI giveaways to those who answered correctly. He then explained the work of the institute.
Main speakers Yvonne Chua and Ellen Tordesillas of Vera Files spoke on ethics and excellence in journalism, respectively.
Chua said the Philippines was special because its Constitution has a provision not found in the Constitution of other countries—one that protects press freedom.
She distinguished law from ethics and reminded the would-be journalists of the importance of balancing their rights and responsibilities.
For the workshop, she grouped the participants into four, assigning them to evaluate print and video material and list down ethical rules that had been violated. Each group chose a presenter to present the findings of the group and their recommendations.
Tordesillas spoke of the challenges facing today’s media, including the recently passed Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, which subjects those charged with Internet libel a higher penalty than those charged with other forms of libel.
She distinguished journalists from bloggers by saying journalism is a discipline of verification, a skill not yet acquired by bloggers, some of whom use the Internet’s self-publishing features to write their own accounts of events and claim to be journalists.
Tordesillas also spoke of the importance of attribution, fairness, accuracy and the various terms news sources lay down on the use of their information.
The importance of a freedom of information (FOI) law was underscored by Atty. Versoza, who said citizens should know how their officials are behaving or misbehaving.
Versoza said that while the 1987 Philippine Constitution already indicates the State’s policy of full public disclosure of transactions involving public interest, the lack of an FOI bill means there is no uniform procedure in accessing this information, giving the various government agencies a wide latitude to determine who to give information to and the manner in which to deliver this information.
She said many government agencies don’t even recognize that it is part of their duty to give information to the public.
Without an FOI law, she said the only remedy for citizens to compel disclosure is inaccessible, as it is judicial. One would have to go to court. With the notorious delays in the resolution of cases, even if a court were to rule in one’s favor, the information one sought to obtain through the filing of the court case would have become moot and academic.
The PPI’s Sebellino ended the forum by again grouping the participants into four and asking them how they as campus journalists could be helped by the PPI and local media organizations like Sun.Star Cebu.
Among the things the group presenters asked for were incentives for inter-scholastic writing competitions and regular space in local newspapers for campus journalists’ articles.
The Canadian Embassy’s Figueroa, the PPI’s Sebellino and Sun.Star Cebu managing editor for special pages and features Cherry Ann Lim handed out the certificates of appreciation to the speakers and the certificates of participation to the participants. Lim also served as emcee and moderator at the event.
A group photo of the participants appeared in Sun.Star Cebu the next day. (Cherry Ann T. Lim, Sun.Star Cebu)