Media credibility slipping

TO THE QUICK - Jerry Tundag (The Freeman) - February 22, 2021 - 12:00am

Way back in 1990, when a major earthquake devastated Baguio City, a reporter working for another newspaper asked the then mayor of Cebu City to comment on the catastrophe. The mayor was not asked what the Queen City of the South might do to help the Summer Capital up north which at the time was in great distress. He was asked about the earthquake. And the mayor obligingly answered.

He proceeded to give a lecture about earthquakes and geological faults and tectonic plates and everything else that he, as a lawyer by profession, was not qualified to answer, not even if he was the mayor. Sure, he may know about such things. He may have remembered what was taught in high school or followed up on the subject as a matter of personal curiosity or interest.

But as a news source meant to be duly quoted in a newspaper story about an earthquake, he was not the proper resource person to go to. He just was not an authority on the subject. If the reporter had wanted a backgrounder on the subject, he should have sought out a geologist or similar expert from the academe. Better yet, there were the PAGASA and PHIVOLCS, the appropriate government agencies with authoritative experts on the matter.

My point in this narrative is that the media cannot be careless in its reporting just because a story may have a proper and official source willing to talk on any subject. It is not the loftiness of an official position that gives its holder the authority to talk on a subject. It is his qualified expertise on the matter that gives his story credence.

Even more importantly, the media must constantly be aware of the context in which a story is written and published. I was painfully reminded of the growing disregard for this unwritten rule when I read in a newspaper a few days ago this story that said "Two vaccinated OFWs get COVID". The story is patently wrong because it gives the impression that anti-COVID vaccines no longer allow a person to get the disease.

Let me just say, as a matter of professional courtesy, that the reporter who wrote the story and the editor who cleaned it up were just careless and sloppy and not ignorant of the subject written about. For the fact of the matter is, a vaccine only helps prepare and strengthen the body's defenses against a particular threat, it does not make the body impregnable or impervious to assault.

In other words, even if a person gets the COVID vaccine, he can still get infected and catch the virus, only that his chance for survival will be higher because his body is now ready and prepared for it. A story like the one cited above, published as it was in a reputable newspaper, is the type of story that sends the wrong message, creates misunderstanding, sows confusion and causes panic and unfounded fear.

In this time of crisis brought on by the coronavirus pandemic, newspapers cannot be frivolous in their reporting because so much is at stake in getting the correct information all the time. The mainstream media is already under assault from more convenient and faster platforms offered by social media. The only thing going for mainstream media is its reliability and credibility. Lose it and everything is lost.

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