The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) have learned that the Senate Committee on Economic Affairs headed by Senator Miriam Defensor Santiago has summoned Newsbreak senior writer Aries Rufo to testify in the hearings on the World Bank ban on construction firms it accuses of corruption.
Mr. Rufo was among the first to report on the results of the World Bank investigation, in which some witnesses linked President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo’s husband Jose Miguel Arroyo to certain corrupt practices. Mr. Rufo based his story on the confidential World Bank report, parts of which Newsbreak obtained.
Both NUJP and CMFR regard with extreme reservation the practice of summoning journalists to various inquiries—whether by security forces, either chamber of Congress, or any other government entity—supposedly to shed light on their news reports on matters of public interest. To further the goals of the inquiry or investigation, in most cases the journalist ends up being asked to provide confidential information, and/or to reveal his or her sources.
Both compromise the journalist’s primary obligation in a democracy: that of informing the public on matters that concern it. Journalists are sometimes provided confidential information for background rather than publication, and are compelled by journalism ethics to honor agreements of non-disclosure sources may require for a number of reasons, among them their safety. Some sources also prefer not to be known for the same reasons.
Revealing confidential information and the identity of sources are of no relevance to the fundamental journalistic task of providing information that both reporters and editors are convinced is accurate as well as fair, and balanced as well as significant. Honoring confidentiality agreements and protecting sources are thus sanctioned by the ethics of journalism. In addition, journalists are also protected by Philippine law from disclosing their sources.
We therefore ask the Senate to withdraw its plan to interrogate Mr. Rufo and to instead refer for information to the reports he has written and which his editors have approved for publication. Publication defines the limits of a journalist’s responsibility to the public, and for which he may be held accountable. Anything beyond those parameters constitutes undue interference in the news media’s task of providing the public the information it needs and expects, and involves the journalist in functions external to those of the press.
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