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.
Hello I'm Peter Mares and welcome to 'A Question of Influence'
- the fifth program in our series ON THE RECORD - Media and Political
Today we look at efforts to tame and buy off independent media
in countries that have emerged from long periods of authoritarian
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
Amando Doronila is an editorial consultant to the paper and a
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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.