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Home Columns San Diego Happenings Saving Philippine News and Defending Press Freedom
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Columns - San Diego Happenings
Wednesday, 04 July 2007 04:29

The News UpFront: (Midweek Feature in lieu of Top Story) as of Wednesday, 4 July 2007

~~ Philippine News, the San Francisco-based newspaper that at one time had championed the cause of freedom in the Philippines, might have fallen into disrepute by firing its editor who claimed he had refused restraint and censorship the paper's management had tried on him.


By ROMEO P. MARQUEZ

SAN DIEGO - Philippine News, the oldest Filipino newspaper in America, was ready to tumble when its new owners, the family of Philippine Ambassador Edgardo B. Espiritu, sought help and called in veteran journalist Lito Gutierrez to save it.

The periodical founded by Alex Esclamado in 1961 as an opposition paper and later as an anti-Marcos publication based in San Francisco, was, according to Gutierrez, "a fast-failing enterprise" when he got in five years ago.

In no time, the downslide was quickly halted. "Nag-mukhang diyaryo na," Gutierrez recalls Philippine News president Francis Espiritu as saying in Tagalog.

He was obviously pleased at the makeover that had been instituted to improve content and physical appearance from one incomprehensible publication to an honest-to-goodness broadsheet.

"Philippine News since then has, I think, earned a fair measure of respect from the community and is in a much better financial situation now also because I helped open doors to advertisers in the US and the Philippines," states Gutierrez.

A reader in Florida named Remy Lacsamana confirms this observation. "I think Lito (Gutierrez) has transformed that paper into something that is at least decent to read, in contrast to other Fil-Am publications that just regurgitate pieces from other papers," she writes.

Now, five years later, he had been dismissed from the job as editor-in-chief.

By Gutierrez's account, his removal was triggered by his firm adherence to principle, that is, for standing up against what every self-respecting journalist everywhere disdain -- the stifling of the mind and the censoring of the written word.

The paper had a scoop of a story involving the owner of a company which is one of its biggest advertisers. For reasons not known up to this writing, the Philippine News management wanted to hold the story from publication.

"Given the context and the situation, you would surely arrive at the same conclusion," explains Gutierrez. That conclusion is that the paper's management was pressuring him to kill the story.

He had a previous experience to be able to arrive at that judgement. In 2006, according to Gutierrez, Francis Espiritu "told me to kill a story involving Rene Medina, the Lucky Chances proprietor, because the guy threatened to pull his ads".

But the final straw was the very recent "hold" order on the story involving businessman Carlos Araneta, apparently to allow management lawyers to check the veracity of documents.

Gutierrez saw it differently. To him, it "indicates ill intent or ignorance of the rules of journalism. Either way, it is an assault on the First Amendment, and as any American civil rights lawyer will tell you, an attack on press freedom".

With these in mind, Gutierrez stood his ground and proceeded to publish the story. In less than 24 hours of that decision, he was fired.

If indeed the paper had gained a modicum of respect from the community, its readers at least are entitled to some explanation as to why its editor was ousted in such a brusque manner.

Rather than respond directly to press inquiries, Francis Espiritu waited more than a week to put out a letter explaining the dismissal to readers, advertisers and stakeholders.

He used the same letter as his reply to a series of questions from this reporter and sent it yesterday (Tuesday, July 3) as an email attachment after the lapse of more than four hours from the time he and two other Espiritus, namely John and Carmen, failed to make it at a scheduled teleconference-interview.

Their cavalier attitude to brush off the oversight without as much as an explanation tends to confirm the same arrogance that Gutierrez had noted earlier on. "I never got a thank you note," he says of them despite the meaningful changes he had done for the paper.

Francis Espiritu said the firing of Gutierrez was "for cause"and the reasons "complex". He also stressed that the statements he made were "unfounded".

"We are not at liberty, and we may never will be, to divulge the details of his termination," he states in an email on Tuesday (July 3).

But in his explanation, Espiritu hinted at the undercurrents of what the problems may be plaguing Philippine News.

"There is no room for personal agendas. No room to foster that 'crab mentality'. No room and no time to lose sight of our growing significance in this global community".

In the eyes of Gutierrez, the "cause" was his defiance of an order to kill a story, which is just as worse as censoring it.

"Given the propensity of Philippine News's management to suck up to advertisers at the expense of serious, honest journalism, that 'hold order' was effectively a 'kill' order," he emphasizes.

Gutierrez explained that as a journalist and editor he can't go along with that kind of management attitude. "Quitting without a fight would only affirm the cynicism of those who say that we are all beholden to our advertisers," he states.

But to Espiritu, it wasn't pandering. He explains: "I assure you . . . that the issue on press freedom, which he (Gutierrez) has been harping on, was never at all a cause for his severance from Philippine News."

Earlier on, John Espiritu, a member of the board of the newspaper, reacted to Gutierrez's allegations, calling them "patently frivolous and untrue".

"The cornerstone of the paper," he says, "is freedom of the press. The newspaper strives every week, for the last 46 years to report objectively, a fair and unbiased side to every story".

Los Angeles-based writer and media blogger Bobby Reyes belies this claim of Espiritu. In fact, he said he has waged an ongoing campaign in Los Angeles asking people and advertisers to stop subscribing and advertising in it.

"Philippine News has lost its credibility," Reyes said.

"Unless it follows strictly the tenets of journalism and fair play, the PN will just be one of many publications that have become irrelevant to the needs of Filipino Americans," he adds.

Reyes cited many instances when the paper thrashed unflattering stories involving the National Federation of Filipino American Associations (NaFFAA) and some of its officials who were being identified by Reyes with some allegedly dubious deals. NaFFAA was also founded by Esclamado, the paper's founder and its first editor and publisher.

If Reyes is to be entirely believed, Philippine News was the mouthpiece and propaganda arm of NaFFAA, the defender of NaFFAA's controversial transactions and the publishing shield of questionable individuals with close ties to Esclamado and his clique.

"Press freedom?" Reyes asks. "We do not think that its founder, present owners and editorial staff, including Mr. Gutierrez, really know what it means."

BREAKING NEWS - Midweek Feature
Issue No. 42 NEWS WITHOUT FEAR OR FAVOR

A community service of San Diego's Philippine Village Voice (PhilVoiceNews@aol.com or at 619.265.0611) for the information and better understanding of the public.



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Last Updated on Thursday, 25 October 2007 07:53
 

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