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Program 5: A Question of Influence

The abolition of media controls does not in itself produce the positive pre-requisites for democracy. The removal of state controls has sometimes exposed a lack of ethical restraints in national media. The media continue to be used as vehicles of political patronage. In a culture of gift-giving the acceptance of bribes by journalists is a difficult practice to stamp out. And journalism can be a risky business especially for investigative reporters working in local language media outside of the capital cities.

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Hello I'm Peter Mares and welcome to 'A Question of Influence' - the fifth program in our series ON THE RECORD - Media and Political Change.

Today we look at efforts to tame and buy off independent media in countries that have emerged from long periods of authoritarian rule.

It's a truism to say that the price of freedom is eternal vigilance.

In 1986, 'people power' overthrew the Marcos regime in the Philippines, ending heavy handed state control over the press but that does not mean that democratically elected leaders don't try to silence critical voices in the media.

As recently as 1999, then President Josef Estrada persuaded his business friends to withdraw advertising from the influential Philippine Daily Inquirer.

Amando Doronila is an editorial consultant to the paper and a regular columnist.


It reached a point where he went beyond just attacking us in the television, in the radio and even among newspaper people covering the President. If he singles us out and he calls it that paper that says nothing good about me and he said its always just publishing lies about me this is what they are saying. It has come to a point. So about the second half of the year he ask his friends in the film industry to withdraw advertising and they did in fact they did. But that did not bother us because the film industry is very small. It will not hurt us and besides we get a lot of problems collecting from them so that really was not too much of a bother but then it was followed by the President urging his friends in business and industry like Philippine Airlines, San Miguel, one of the biggest corporations of Danding Cojuangco, his political supporter and some others like the Philippine Long Distance Telephone Company. In other words, the big institutional advertisers pulled out advertising from us. We lost a lot of revenue, but we arrived at the consensus that we should not blink. If you are confronted by a bully, he will rub your nose on the ground. We held firm that alright if we were hurt we would take it as a consequence for being an independent newspaper and that stayed on for about three or four months - the standoff.


President Estrada failed in his bid to silence his growing number of critics. According to Amando Doronila, the president's actions only served to galvanise public support for freedom of the press.


The public support for our paper was very clear. In the radio programs the polls taken ten to one they were supporting us. In TV debates we receive a lot of email, we receive a lot of faxes. Piles and piles of public support and they knew that. Our circulation went up. We allowed circulation to grow because we thought that the best way to fight is to show that you have the circulation strength, that is the basis of a strength of a newspaper, the circulation and then the President was getting a lot of criticism and the politicians, the opposition joined in and we got international support and the President’s popularity was also sliding.

And one of the issues against him, including one that was presented in the rally here by Cori Aquino and Cardinal Sin, a big rally in Makati was freedom of the press.


Amando Doronila believes that the market economy ultimately worked in the newspaper's favour. Advertisers were quick to come back as its circulation increased.


Newspapers survive or prosper on market-oriented competition and owned by private persons like in Australia. It demonstrated that the market is a very strong element in the life of the newspaper and freedom of the press. So long as we are supported by the market, then we have a good chance of resisting efforts to restrict our freedom. In our conflict with the President I think the market was distorted for a while, but when it was left alone then they knew what is good for them. They came back to us.


There are two aspects here, the economic side and the political side. Usually when we talk of democracy, we only talk of the political side so media is caught in between.


Father Francis Lucas is head of the Credible Media Network in the Philippines.


So much so that you can really pay people to tell them what you want them to say. But is this part of democracy? What do I mean by that? When people will start to realise what is happening and who is talking you lose credibility slowly. And in the Philippines, there is a slow but sure support for investigative journalists. If the investigative journalists will not be bought and people know that, then this is part of democracy that there's exchange of ideas, the exchange of ways and processes to really sort or sift the true from the false. And I would say that the main role of media, today, is tell the truth not spoil the truth and usually that's happening. When you spoil the truth, it becomes waste and nobody believes you anymore. So the main role is to come up with a credible media.


Not every journalist however will stand up for independence or editorial integrity. Bribe taking in the Philippines media is a common occurrence. A recent survey conducted by the Centre for Investigative Journalism in Manila concluded that 71 out of 100 journalists had been offered bribes, and that 33 out of 100 had taken them.

Sheila Coronel is the Centre's Executive Director.


The survey basically confirmed what we suspected all along. The bribery of journalists is not really hidden in the media community. By coming out of the survey we wanted to have some sort of grasp as to how wide the phenomenon is and also to make public the extent of the bribery of the press.

I mean I sometimes think of media bribery as something like wife battering or incest. Unless you air it out publicly, unless people talk about it, unless people realise there is a problem, nothing is going to happen. There has been a high tolerance, so far, of corruption in the press. I think we have started the conversation that this exists and now I think people are coming to grips with what can we do about it.

We use to call it "envelopmental" journalism, envelopes of money changing hands. Now we call it ATM journalism, because the money is transferred electronically into the bank accounts of journalists.

Most journalists however do not see the damage that such systematic bribery causes to the press. I personally see it the bribery of journalists as an assault on the freedom of journalists to be able to report freely and independently. Other journalists do not see it that way. They just see it as a necessity born out of economic difficulty.

Media owners do not want to pay higher wages that would make their journalists less prone to accepting bribes. I think it is also the power of the press. The press is so powerful in influencing, say, voting behaviour, public behaviour or public opinion that in order to influence the public you have to influence the journalist and one way to do that is by paying that journalist off.


What Sheila Coronel calls envelope journalism also occurs in Indonesia. Angela Romano teaches journalism at the Queensland University of Technology and she has conducted extensive research into the Indonesian media.


In practice it means that if a journalist goes out to a press conference or a major event that has been set up by the public servants or businesses or so on. When you get your press release it would often be accompanied by an envelope with a certain amount of money in it and ostensibly this was a token of appreciation from the person who was holding the press conference, thanking the journalists for their time or it was meant to cover the transport costs of journalists who were generally pretty lowly paid. But it was quite a complicated culture and certainly it was open to exploitation and a very small number of journalists would exploit this and certainly demand envelopes if they were not immediately forthcoming and a small number of fake journalists who did not really work as journalists at all exploited this culture further in that they knew if they came along to press conferences, pretended to be journalists, they could get this money.

But in all although it is not a direct system in which a source would say here you are, here is the money, now I want a good story. It did sometimes create some pressures for journalists in that it was part of the overall patriarchal culture where the patriarch, the older brother, the father figure would give money as a gesture of goodwill to the younger sibling or to the child or whatever and it was just that sort of set of power relationships that made it quite difficult for journalists in a way. It was not actually the transfer of money but the actual relationship that was being set up. There was an unequal relationship there.


Bambang Harymurti, editor in Chief of the respected news magazine Tempo, says that envelope journalism is less of a problem in post-Suharto Indonesia although he admits it does still exist.


There is a very interesting phenomenon happening. Now we do not need to have a licence anymore to publish anything. Before there is always a very limited number of publications so anyone who want to control the press if they cannot control it through repressive means they can just find who are the reporters in this limited numbers of publication and give them some money or something like that to make sure that he or she is doing a job that is not detrimental to their interests. But since the freedom of the press now, this kind of way to control the press is more difficult because there's so many journalists, sometimes the cause of giving the journalists money will be too expensive. So the market forces at work now so it is a less effective way to control the press or giving this envelope money. But there are still a lot of journalists who earn their money from this because there are still a lot of corruption in all parts of society.


In a culture of gift giving the acceptance of bribes by journalists is a difficult practice to stamp out. This is especially so when some media organisations are aligned with particular political parties. Manote Tripathi is a journalist with 'The Nation' newspaper in Bangkok.


One newspaper might be really supportive of a certain political party so this means some reporters who cover politics might have special relationship with certain politicians and on so many occasions I have witnessed a group of reporters have been invited by a politician to cover a specific issue and this politician will not ever invite other reporters outside this group to cover that topic. I mean it seems to me that you have got to have a certain privilege given by politicians to cover certain issues. So when this happens on many occasions these reporters are vulnerable to the culture of gift giving that has been sustained by politicians.


In Thailand, it's not uncommon for politicians to court journalists in return for favourable coverage. In an effort to combat bribe taking, 'The Nation' newspaper has introduced it's own 'code of ethics'. Manote Tripathi again.


If certain members of political parties want to throw a party for the journalists we are told not to attend that sort of thank you party because there has been a talk going around these sort of thank press parties in which there are many cakes which are stuffed with diamond rings and reporters are supposed to attend the party and enter a draw so some of them might get a diamond ring. So The Nation came up with its own code of ethics which prevents all reporters from The Nation from accepting any sort of souvenirs or gifts from PR people or even from government agencies. If they give us things like watches, or maybe tape recorders I think we are supposed to return them to the PR agencies and I think it is a very positive move in Thai journalism we're trying to improve the image of Thai journalism. I think that is a positive way that The Nation and some Thai newspapers are trying to do.

MARES: In Australia, newspaper editors are also mindful of the need to protect the editorial integrity of their publications. Greg Hywood is publisher and editor-in-chief of 'The Age' in Melbourne.


What I think we have now is that we have an industry, a PR industry which is enormous - paid enormous amounts of money - not to get advertising space inside the newspaper which is always available but to influence the course of events or the perception of their company or their interests via the editorial pages which are perceived to be independent and I think that every newspaper has to go through regular reviews of where they stand because the industry is never standing still. There is always new interests trying to gain access using different methods.


When he was at the Sydney Morning Herald, Greg Hywood implemented a review of the code of conduct for journalists.


I was at the Sydney Morning Herald and we underwent a process there whereby we had a wide ranging review of the ethical stance of the newspaper and I think there was a sense that it had gone a bit too far, that the gifts were getting more and more expensive, the access to overseas trips was too broad and that there needed to be a sense of making sure that the paper was in control of the editorial content and it was not being devolved to outside interests. And a number of actions were taken which were consistent with the view of myself as publisher and editor in chief that the integrity of the paper was protected because my view was that even though I have a business interest in the paper in the sense that I run the commercial and the editorial side of it that the business was based upon the integrity and the independence of the publication. If that disappeared then business would seriously suffer and it also met the interests of the journalists who also saw on a day-to-day basis the intervention of public relations consultants in terms of trying to influence a course of events and I think that there was a sense that it had gone a bit too far.


Apart from persuading journalists to resist commercial and political pressure which might influence their reporting, there are questions of ethical standards in the way they report sensitive issues like communal violence. In the newly free media environment in Indonesia, editors like Aristides Katoppo are working to promote an operational code of ethics for the media.


I remember being managing editor some long time ago and there were simple rules. For instance, we would not put a picture of a victim of a murder or a gruesome killing and make a picture of it. Of course we know there is a sizeable part of the reading public who probably would look at it. But there are also problems of taste and they’re choices which the editors must make.

Now the same is about news that is just pure sensationalism. Just two days ago, I was talking to the chief editor of a very big newspaper. I said look, we had rules, sometimes it's very difficult to do investigative reporting, to dig out the truth, of course we need sources, but one of the competence of a news organisation or a journalist is to be able to assess the veracity of the source and even so in fact if you cannot have documentary evidence and other kind of evidence that one source, especially if he does not want to be named that you need at least another source, equally competent.

Now these things must be practiced. In other words, it's operational ethics what is a kind of dos and don'ts. If it is harmful to a great many people I think there must be a duty to protect the rights of others and again this is in an operational sense. Any headline you do you make has an impact. You cannot just wash your hands of it and say well people are free to buy or not to buy the newspaper.


Aristides Katoppo.

You're listening to "A Question of Influence" program five in the series ON THE RECORD Media and Political Change.




Under authoritarian regimes, journalists who dare to question the status quo risk retaliation by state authorities.

But even in a more democratic environment, journalism can still be a dangerous trade, even life threatening, particularly for investigative reporters who seek to uncover corporate crime and high level corruption.

Bambang Harymurti, editor of Tempo magazine:


The danger for journalists are much less from the state like in the old days but from bad elements in the Indonesian society itself. Though so many people has made a lot of money from insidious and illegal activities like illegal logging or illegal gambling and so on and the press when they find out about this they will make an investigation. They will make stories that can cause these activities to cease. So these people have a big interest to make sure that all their activities will never be published. And we have already had some experiences where journalists are being kidnapped by these people, beaten up and even have their office attacked by mobs.
We had a journalist whose house got burnt and had to escape to other places and this is a real danger.


I think journalists still face risks even if there is no longer any state control of the media, particularly journalists in the provinces outside Manila where they are exposed to political bosses, politicians who have goons - we call them private armies.


Sheila Coronel from the Philippines Centre for Investigative Journalism.

As she points out, journalists in regional areas are much more vulnerable than their capital city counterparts:


The level of violence, political violence in the provinces is very high and so journalists find that they themselves become the victims of such violence. They receive threats. They get sued. Thirty three journalists have been killed since Marcos fell in 1986. Many of them because of their work, but some of them also because of random violence. I mean so many people in the Philippines own guns, unlicensed, privately owned firearms. The total number of that is greater than the number of firearms owned by our armed forces. So in some parts of the country it's really wild, guns rule and there is no tolerance for critical reporting and that is where journalists are more vulnerable.


Similarly in Thailand, it's journalists working for the provincial press who are most at risk, says Manote Tripathi from The Nation newspaper.


Most of the journalists that have been killed in Thailand, these tragedies happen in the provinces, not in the capital. You have to understand the nature of politics in provincial areas. These politicians they have hit mens to protect them. When you want to get in touch with this politician, you have to pass through processes of screening by these hit men.

If they know that you want to research a story on vote buying, they will be keeping an eye on you and this can be a risky business to undertake by reporters. And one reporter went out to report on corruption and this reporter who is a provincial reporter of a Thai language newspaper. He was called up by a man. The man say why don't you come out and have dinner with us and that reporter has never come back home again.




One Asian nation that has had long experience of a free and independent press is India.

In the world's largest democracy, the only serious challenge to press freedom came in 1975 when Indira Gandhi declared a state of emergency.


When 'the emergency' was declared the Indian Express, in particular, I remember the editorial space was just blank and it really told the people how it felt and this was a very frustrating period for all of us but also a very interesting period when we had to face up to the harassment of the state.


B. Ramdas worked as a journalist at the time of the emergency and now works for a non-government organisation. He values the role the media plays in India's democracy by giving voice to all members of society.


The print media in particular in India is an extremely vocal and very, very effective media. It has helped to change views of people. It has helped to change governments and has kept our democracy alive and I think that is a very important thing as far as we are concerned, that all said and done we have finally something that is democracy which I think all of us really value and we may not be particularly rich but we at least have a voice and a tremendous amount of freedom and this is something that in spite of everything nobody has been able to curb and the media is growing and its effectiveness is also growing. I think a very important part of our lives.


Robin Jeffrey conducted research on the role of the Indian language press for his recent book 'India's Newspaper Revolution'.


The anecdote that so caught my fancy in 1993 when I was doing research on these Indian language newspapers was when a policeman in rural Andhra Pradesh got onto the train one afternoon and we started talking and I told him I was working on Indian language newspapers. He said 'they had made my life very difficult. It made it very hard for the police’. And I said 'oh why have they made it hard for the police?’ And he said, 'well when I started in the force and that would have been about 20 years ago. When I started in the police force you could send one policeman to a village and the people were scared. They were frightened and they would do as they were told. Now you can send 6 police to the village and they are not frightened at all. Newspapers have made people know that we are not supposed to beat them, that if the police beat you they've done something wrong and you go to the newspapers and it's a good story for the newspaper and the proprietor will be delighted to have it.


Professor Robin Jeffrey, who teaches politics and media at La Trobe University in Melbourne.

ON THE RECORD Media and Political Change is a joint project of Radio Australia and the University of Sydney. Academic advisor is Dr. Rod Tiffen. The program was produced by Sue Slamen and Barry Clarke. Technical production, Carey Dell.

The website for the series can be found at http://abc.net.au/ra/media/

Next week we look at the impact of new communications technologies, in our sixth program 'Media Web'.

I'm Peter Mares I hope you can join me then.



The Written Word, selected readings for Program 5:

Media Practices and Professionalism in Contemporary Southeast Asia

Related Links for Program 5:

Indonesia's press, free at last, turns to a new page of ethics issues

Managing Interdependency in an Asian Context: Political Journalists and their Sources in Thailand

Media Indonesia: Cleaning up corruption a tricky task

New Lords of the Press

Newspaper Journalists and Free Travel, and the Journalism of George Orwell

The Philippines: After the Euphoria, the Problems of a Free Press

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