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Home Sections Literature and Fourth Estate They Shoot Journalists, Don't They?
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Sections - Literature and Fourth Estate
Monday, 07 July 2008 00:04

Paper Chase

By Marie Yuvienco*

 

            It isn’t always true that government is the biggest enemy of a free press; in fact, an even more substantial threat may be posed to journalists by those who are beyond the pale of government, as the kidnapping of television journalist Ces Drilon and two cameramen will show.  The three, along with a university professor, were abducted by elements of the Abu Sayaff in Sulu, where Drilon had gone to conduct an interview with rebels and as of this writing, only one – a cameraman named Angelo Valderrama – has been released.  Media report that the sum of P2 million was paid to secure the release of Valderrama, said sum euphemistically referred to by the kidnappers as “board and lodging.”  “Ransom” does have negative connotations, and when kidnappers start playing around with words, that’s the signal informing everyone that a public relations game is being played.



* This commentary was originally published in the Philippine Mabuhay News of San Diego, California (Volume 16 No. 8, June 20-June 26, 2008). Our San Diego-based columnist and contributor, Romeo  Marquez, asked the permission of Atty. Marie Yuvienco to publish this article in the MabuhayRadio.com.

 

The days are long past when a libel charge was the main worry of journalists.  In fact, it has long been said in newspaper circles that a reporter cannot rightfully refer to himself as such until he has been criminally charged for defamation.  It’s a badge of honor, a rite of passage, an occupational hazard – in other words, an indictment for libel is nothing to lose sleep over, especially now that even when one is found guilty, the chances of imprisonment have become a far prospect in view of a Supreme Court ruling declaring, in effect, that fines are to be preferred over jail time.  Of course, travel is a perk of the profession, but that is only one way of looking at it.  Journalists are not desk-bound:  it is a given that they often have to travel to where the stories are and while on assignment, they may have to journey to places no sane person would dream of going, places such as jungles, war-torn countries and disaster areas.  Journalism is not for the faint-hearted, definitely, and when you sit down at the breakfast table and casually surf  the channels or leaf through the paper, silently thank those responsible for letting you know what is going on in the world.

 

            The kidnapping of Drilon and her colleagues is the latest example demonstrating exactly how vulnerable journalists are.  A press badge is no longer an effective talisman allowing its bearer safe ingress and egress into areas of conflict; in fact, media credentials may even make targets of those who possess them.  Readers may, over time, become acquainted with by-lines in a newspaper, but because there is no face to attach to the name, there is no sense of connection to the reporter.  Drilon, because she is a television reporter, is a known face, which is radically different from being a known name.  Viewers feel as if they know her, and consequently come to have an emotional investment in seeing her release.  A few years back, a group of newspaper reporters were also lured and abducted by the Abu Sayaff and to my recollection, there was no ado matching that attending the abduction of Drilon.  Objectively, there is no difference in kidnapping a newspaper reporter from a television reporter, but judging from the last few days, there seems to be a very fine distinction.

 

            It helps also that Drilon is a woman, a wife and a mother at that – it’s a kind of old-fashioned chivalry that the public feels that a knight should gallop into the fray and rescue the damsel-in-distress.  Wouldn’t it be absolutely cool if Drilon by her lonesome were to whip her captors, deliver them to the authorities and fireman-carry the remaining cameraman into a news conference wearing full make-up and heels.  It’s disgruntling that in the middle of all the voiced concern for her safety, there is the tacit speculation, verging on the salacious, as to the integrity of her body.  In other words, should fortune favor her quick release, it may be that while she exits the jungle intact, she may not be intacta.  At this point, I am not sure that a ransom of any amount could cover that.  All the same,  such conjecture comes with the territory when a woman does a man’s job – the same concern was heard when women were admitted into the military, that is, what would happen to them should they be captured by the enemy?

 

            It is ironic that in going after the story, Drilon herself has become it.  Every story demands a villain, and in this piece, the government is not the one; the Abu Sayaff is.  But now that I think about it a little more, what’s so different about the abduction of a reporter from the unresolved killings of a dozen prior?  The answer is:  there isn’t.  In reporting graft and corruption, in uncovering the truth, in making possible the people’s right to know, journalists are patriots of the first-rank. # # #




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Last Updated on Monday, 07 July 2008 12:28
 

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