Information, rights, life as commodities: ABS-CBN interview with Commander Bravo

Below is an interview by Jorge Cariño of ABS-CBN with Abdurahman Macapaar alias Kumander Bravo, the leader of a break-away group of (Moro Islamic Liberation Front MILF). The MILF leader has a bounty of 10 million pesos for his whereabouts:

Justice Secretary Raul Gonzalez however is set to file a complaint against ABS-CBN’s airing of an exclusive interview with wanted Moro rebel leader Kumander Bravo before the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster ng Pilipinas (KBP) to determine if the interview, aired on October 20 and 21, 2008, violated the 2007 Broadcast Code.

Gonzales left it to the KBP to determine if there’s a violation, adding that ABS-CBN could be sanctioned for airing the interview with Bravo without editing its propaganda content against the government.

Gonzalez said Bravo, who has a P10-million bounty on his head, clearly used the Lopez-owned television network to disparage the government and to encourage subversive acts, which he said is a stark violation of Article 21 of the Broadcast Code.

According to Article 21 of the Code:

“broadcast facilities shall not be used or be allowed to be used for advocating the overthrow of government by force of violence. Broadcast materials that tend to incite, treason, sedition, rebellion, or create civil disturbance is prohibited.”

The Justice chief said the interview shows Bravo as “actually challenging the President.” He added that speeches or any actions that will incite any person to violence or anti-social behavior is prohibited. The interview, according to him only made Bravo “greater than life.”

Gonzalez said one of the sanctions that can be meted on ABS-CBN is a possible review of its franchise to operate. He also said that news reporter, Jorge Cariño, who went to Central Mindanao to interview Bravo, may be invited for questioning.

The Philippine Constitution defines sedition as covert conduct, such as speech and organization, that is deemed by the legal authority as tending toward insurrection against the established order. Sedition often includes subversion of a constitution and incitement of discontent (or resistance) to lawful authority. Sedition may include any commotion, though not aimed at direct and open violence against the laws. Put simply, sedition is the stirring up of rebellion against the government in power.

Here we are faced with a tough choice whether the public’s right to know is to be given more weight than national security. Although it is still yet to be determined whether the interview was seditious in nature, the pressing question now is Was it necessary for the interview to be aired or for the statements of Kumander Bravo such as “magkaubusan tayo ng lahi,” “sa amin ang Mindanao, wala kayong karapatan sa Mindanao” be retained?

In the Philippines where there is a very competitive environment for media to operate, exclusive scoops differentiate and keep one media company ahead of its competitors. This explains why some reporters got kidnapped, caught between crossfire, or have their lives imperiled – all in the name of exclusivity.

And this interview with Kumander Bravo is nothing peculiar. No matter how Maria Ressa, Head of News of ABS-CBN News and Current Affairs Department, defends the station’s ground by saying that it’s all because of the network’s responsibility to report only the truth, the truth is, it’s not just about truth.

For ABS-CBN, the profile of Kumander Bravo, an exclusive interview with him, and the corresponding high ratings for its prime time news program TV Patrol World are all it takes to sacrifice the country’s national security.

Although there was no direct part of the interview that calls for the people to rebel against the government, the statement made by Bravo gave the public an idea of the vulnerability of the events in Mindanao and the military’s inability to contain the rebellion. Moreover these statements made by Bravo, aided by ABS-CBN, only strengthen the resolve of other other insurgent groups to take arms against the current administration thereby endangering the national security. Insurgent groups will can anytime use media to their advantage. These media, after all, will do anything just to be the first, the fastest, the one with an exclusive scoop.

The network should have at least edited some portions of the interview showing Kumander Bravo challenging the government. For after all it was just about informing the public about the rebels’ reaction to the government’s action of doing away with an agreement with the rebels those direct statements by Bravo mentioned above were unnecessary. These heated statements added nothing to the debate but sheer drama. Drama that ordinary viewing public looks for. Networks in the Philippines see to it that their primetime news wet the viewers’ appetite for the melodrama of their soap operas. I call that profit maximization.

A leader of the a rebel group with a bounty of 10 million pesos still at large being interviewed by a national broadcast company challenging the government on an all out war is bound to be seditious.

This issue of not granting Muslim Mindanao their ancestral domain, the government’s backing out from the MOA in a very un-gentlemanly manner, the media’s way of coverage all have created a dangerous bouillabaisse just waiting to spew poison that this country might have a hard time swallowing. The media, instead of forwarding their agenda, must be more responsible in their reportage. They should be covering the news conscientiously, trying to look into whether an absolutley free press will work in a situation such as in the Philippines. It’s not about the Philippine press succumbing to a totalitarian doctrine, it is understanding that sometimes truth is not end in itself. Truth is simply a means to create a better end.

Maria Ressa in an interview said that it is the responsibility of journalists to report on people and events that affect public interest because, she reasoned out, the public has the right to know.

However, will the interview benefit the public? In what way? It’s not clear to me on what assumptions did Maria Ressa base her statement. What is clear is that the interview is nothing but a media in a market economy attempting to use the public’s right to information as an excuse to stay ahead in the ratings war.

Everything is a commodity after all: information, rights, life.

KBP Broadcast Code of 2007