two weeks since the discussion that had most everyone ganging up on UST and Lito Zulueta and siding with Marites Danguilan Vitug ang rappler.com, where is the discourse on media (online and otherwise) at this point? rappler has quietly revealed itself to be about helping out government instead of being a critical voice that at the very least asks: how much was paid BBDO for this campaign and is it worth it? i guess no questions like that for “uncompromised journalism” now tagging itself as “citizen journalism.”
and i guess it’s not surprising. if there’s anything the lynch mob that was the middle class / educated online world revealed then, it was that a love affair exists among those who are holding the fort of “new media” | “online media” — self-proclaimed and otherwise. if anything i am reminded that in media, as with the literary world, and maybe every aspect of this Pinoy culture, what keeps the status quo are friendships: ones that run deep, ones that are unquestioned from within. the question for Ressa and Teodoro really is whether or not they could have at any point disagreed with Vitug on this and any story? the question for all of us who blindly want to be invited into the bubble of middle class media and sort-of-NGO work is how many questions will we then fail to ask?
Lito Zulueta was attacked — unduly i thought — for writing a news article on the UST’s statement on Corona’s PhD. the attacks happened online and on a Luis Teodoro piece, which the latter has since appended with a response to the accusation of plagiarism asking: can i be accused of stealing from myself? well yes sir, that’s called self-plagiarism.
and unlike Teodoro, i don’t think there’s anything petty at all about the issues that Zulueta raises here with regards transparency. in the same way that they call out Zulueta for being a UST professor writing for the Inquirer, why can we not question Teodoro for his own link to the CMFR and Business World? why can we not insist that everyone — especially the media personalities who are calling themselves watchdogs — be transparent about their own biases and links to each other?
so for transparency’s sake: i owe Lito Zulueta for getting my feet wet in arts criticism, and publishing me in the Inquirer’s Arts and Book section in 2009. I stopped writing for the Inquirer in 2010.
now let me dare the Ressas and Teodoros of this world: what are the personal links that exist for you? who are you friends with, and can you at any point critique them privately or publicly? does it matter at all that Teodoro is co-writer with Vitug in a CMFR book like Media in Court (1997)?
no answers? then online journalism as the future? it’s going to the dogs.
Who will watch the watchdog?
by Lito B. Zulueta
In his “Rule Makers and Rule Breakers” (BusinessWorld, Jan. 6, 2012), columnist Luis Teodoro commented on the public debate over the Jan.1 banner headline of the Philippine Daily Inquirer (“UST Breaks Rules for CJ”) by Marites Dañguilan Vitug, and the subsequent rejoinder of UST published by PDI the following day (“UST: CJ Earned Ph.D”), which this writer reported. He took to task the University of Santo Tomas, which was alleged in Miss Vitug’s report originally published online by Rappler, to have broken academic rules to confer a Ph.D in Law, summa cum laude, on Chief Justice Renato Corona, for refusing to subject itself to “media and public scrutiny.” He accused me of writing a “slanted” article in favor UST and failing to disclose my being a UST alumnus and faculty member “and being less than candid about his links to it.”
I have always considered my links to UST as perfectly obvious to the people who should matter in this case — the editorial authorities of PDI, who presumably perform the gate-keeping functions that stem and check the biases of my articles. In the same vein, Mr. Teodoro’s links to the University of the Philippines (he’s a former dean of the UP College of Mass Communications) are well known to people in the media and the academe, even if his candor in writing his diatribe against UST may not disclose them to readers of his column.
Mister Teodoro said that UST “attempt(ted)” to reply to the Vitug piece through an article I wrote that made UST and me a party to conflict of interest. The allegation is “disingenuous” (to use the word of the media watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility [CMFR]) which, like Mr. Teodoro’s column, had criticized the UST statement and defended Vitug and Rappler on its Web site). It seems to overestimate the power of UST. UST, Mr. Teodoro implied, was able to have its rejoinder published in the PDI because of me, a UST alumnus! I found this most flattering. Apparently Mr. Teodoro believed that through the sheer force of my sublime personality, I was able to compel the whole of PDI — from business management to the editorial board and central desk, down to the printing press — to publish the UST rejoinder, “slanted,” as the columnist said, to favor UST.
But what happened was something more mundane. I was assigned by the editor in chief herself, Letty Jimenez Magsanoc, to get the UST rejoinder, write a report, and submit it to the editors.
Therefore, I and my story passed through the gate-keeping of honest-to-goodness print journalism. UST didn’t attempt to have its rejoinder published: PDI sought it out. I didn’t commandeer the coverage: I was assigned by Madame Magsanoc to get the UST side and write about it. I stuck close to the UST statement and didn’t editorialize. And if I “slanted” my copy to favor UST, it went through the editors and whatever “public relations” tendencies it might have were checked. In short, my report went through the editorial wringer.
Mister Teodoro’s and CMFR’s claim that UST should subject itself to “media scrutiny” has no ontological basis. If UST and other private institutions subject themselves to public scrutiny through the press, it is because of a social contract that recognizes the relevance of the press in reporting truthful information and cultivating public discourse.
It is in this light that UST’s reservation about online journalism should be seen. It does not belittle Rappler and online media. It merely asks whether they could fulfill credibly their part of the social contract. Their callow practice reveals they cannot yet: in just 24 hours after the UST rejoinder was published, Rappler came out with a slew of articles and a caricature attacking UST. One article had the malicious head, “Who is Lying: UST or Corona?”
Incidentally, there are striking resemblances between the CMFR statement and Mr. Teodoro’s BusinessWorld column. For example:
“The argument that as an example of online journalism Ms. Vitug’s article did not go through the gate-keeping process standard in print journalism is similarly misleading. Gate-keeping is indeed an issue in online journalism, but as editor-at-large of Rappler, Ms. Vitug is herself one of the site’s lead gatekeepers. Vitug, who has been a journalist for 30 years, is also the founder of Newsbreak…”
“The insinuation that as an example of online journalism the Vitug article did not go through the gate-keeping process standard in print journalism is misleading. Gate-keeping is indeed an issue in online journalism, but as editor-at-large of Rappler, Vitug is herself one of the site’s lead gate-keepers. Vitug was also the founding editor of Newsbreak.”
If academic rigor were to be applied here (academic rigor which Rappler and its supporters like Mr. Teodoro and CMFR accuse UST of lacking when it allowed Corona to get his Ph.D sans the traditional dissertation), then we must have a curious case of intellectual theft.
Who will watch the watchdog?
Lito B. Zulueta, Faculty member, UST Journalism
Note: The complete article was excerpted in BusinessWorld. Here are the other similarities between Luis Teodoro’s BusinessWorld column and the CMFR statement:
“An autonomous institution can indeed change its own rules, but not so that someone unqualified under the old ones can benefit from the change, but in furtherance of what is both fair as well as just in that the new rules can equally apply to everyone else.”
BWorld column of Mr. Teodoro
“Can UST, as an autonomous institution, change its own rules . . .? The answer is yes . . . But it would be reasonable to assume that it can’t do so to accommodate someone unqualified under the old ones, only in furtherance of what is both fair and just, and on the assumption that the new rules can apply to everyone else.”
“CMFR notes that Ms. Vitug’s attempt to get the side of UST and Corona, and her disclosing that she was either rebuffed or ignored, were both in keeping with journalistic ethics and protocol.”
“But the Vitug attempt to get the side of UST and Corona, and her disclosure that she was either rebuffed or ignored, were in keeping with journalism ethics and protocol…”
“The real question is whether the UST attempt to reply to Ms. Vitug through an article written by one of its alumni who has in the past written extensive and glowing public relations stories on UST and its achievements—does not constitute a conflict of interest between, on the one hand, the school’s interest in protecting its image before the public, and on the other, the public’s right to an unbiased, accurate and fair report on a matter of public interest.”
“Two issues are more relevant to ethical media practice . . . The first is whether the UST attempt to reply to Vitug through an article written by one of its alumni (Zulueta) did not make it a party to a conflict of interest between, on the one hand, its interest and protecting its image before the public, and on the other, the citizens’ right to an unbiased, accurate and fair report on a matter of public concern.”
ADDENDUM (January 11, 2012)
Did Luis Teodoro plagiarize the CMFR statement or did CMFR steal from him when it published online its critique of UST’s alleged “specious” and “disingenuous” reasoning to defend its handling of the Corona issue and escape media scrutiny? Or since Mr. Teodoro is a member of the CMFR, did he write the CMFR statement, tweak it, then submit it to the BusinessWorld as his column?
Do we have a case here of “self-plagiarism”? If so, if media critics like Mr. Teodoro and media watchdogs like CMFR, could readily flout the rules on intellectual honesty, who should take them to task and remind them that the rigors of the practice apply to them as well? — LITO B. ZULUETA
this is from the UST Varsitarian official FB page, posted here with permission from Lito Zulueta. a shorter version of this was posted as a letter to the editor at Business World online.