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Press freedom and Ocon

Bencyrus Ellorin .

AT the onset of the recent controversy Zaldy Ocon enmeshed himself in, I had always thought there is a press freedom aspect on the issue, particularly the importance of newsroom independence.

In my journalism career, I had spent most of my time in the newsroom. What most newsroom managers, called editors, disdain most is interference from the co-equal but separate department of news organizations, the business units, marketing and advertising.

Most news organizations even place a barrier between the newsroom and top management and corporate owners.

Independence of the newsroom is sacrosanct. And often, as the processing of news is fast, editors need to make sound decisions fast. Internet and social media have necessitated even faster newsroom decision making as news consumers want more at-the-moment (ATM), not just up-to-date delivery.

There is no such thing as democracy in the newsroom — that is the unwritten rule. When demand to deliver the news due to deadline or the need to beat competition with scoop, the top editor’s decision is final.

A video clip spread on social media of Councilor Zaldy Ocon raising his voice on former mayor Reuben Canoy who was on a wheelchair. That is hard to defend. But it does not tell the whole story. I maintain that as a public officer, he can be held to account for it. Let the axe fall where it should, but the rule of law needs to be upheld.

It turns out that the reason for the tiff was the disappointment of Canoy on the bumping off of his commentary “Perspective.” Canoy’s “Perspective” is a mainstay in DxCC’s morning primetime programs. It has become iconic just like the man, the brains, the voice behind it, the Reuben Canoy.

I understand that as a program director of DxCC, Ocon calls the shots in the DxCC newsroom. The bumping off of “Perspective” that fateful morning because of a breaking news or a coverage of a developing story was therefore his judgment call. Maybe, an earlier notice or explanation to the former mayor, an intellectual giant, pundit-par-none, could have saved the broadcaster-politician all the mess he is facing now.

It was reported in the aftermath of that unfortunate spat at the lobby of the VIP Hotel that Ocon was given the boot by the management of RMN-DxCC. It should not come as a surprise as the RMN is known to be owned by the Canoys. But lo and behold, Ocon regained his microphone last Monday.

The public attention was focused on the Remove Ocon Signature campaign. But did anyone bother to file an administrative complaint against Ocon with the RMN management?

I was told that since RMN was rebranded as “Radio Mo Nationwide,” it went out of the box as a provincial, parochial news organization and into the big league. Why not? It is the biggest radio network in the country with 60 radio stations nationwide.

RMN is managed by professional managers. As such, it is assumed to adhere to labor laws, media standards like distinguishing news and business operations, among others. I would assume, in the absence of an administrative complaint against Ocon at RMN, that he cannot be booted out or even meted disciplinary action without cause.

I remember in 1997 when I did an investigative piece on the difficulty of implementing land reform in Bukidnon; it was the cover article of one the issues of the then Sunday Inquirer. I made a study on the case of the 177-hectare Carpo-Rufino estate in Barobo, Valencia, Bukidnon. It was a difficult struggle with land owners doing everything to prevent distribution to farmers.

When the smoke cleared and the farmers finally won, then Agrarian Reform secretary Ernesto Garilao shared a conversation with Mr. Rufino. The Inquirer news empire is owned by the Rufino-Prieto family. Mr. Rufino, father of the late and iconic Marixi Rufino-Prieto, was quoted by Garilao as saying in one of their meetings: Tingnan nyo, sa sariling newspaper pa kami binabanatan.

They never did try to banish my stories from their newsapapers. I ended my newspaper career as senior editor of the Inquirer Group. I left the company in 2015 because of the itch to go back to Cagayan de Oro, my appointed home.

While Ocon’s travails may not end as yet, it is important that he is not denied the microphone without due process.

That is the essence of Voltaire’s I may not agree with what you say, but I will defend to death your right to say it.

(The writer is a former journalist. He is now into public relations and environment campaigning.)

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TREND MAKER. Mindanao Gold Star Daily was established in 1989 to set ablaze a new meaning & flame to the local newspaper business. Throughout the years it continued its focus and interest in the rural areas & pioneered the growth of countryside journalism.

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