Violations in the Journalists’ Code of Ethics in the Philippines

Batanes to Tawi-Tawi

with Julmunir I. Jannaral

In the previous issue of Batanes To Tawi-Tawi (Vol. 2, No.14), we discussed about the “ Code of Professional and Ethical Conduct of the Philippine Press Institute.”


As this developed, may I quote Franklin D. Roosevelt who once said, “Great power involves great responsibility.” 

Imagine if you know a man of prowess, who can influence a colossal number of people. By that power, he can instill to everyone any ideas, thoughts, or images that could create a good impact on a certain person or thing. 

However, with that power as well, he could also destroy. That man of prowess, maybe now, he’s holding a pen and sheet of paper. Maybe now, he’s holding a camera flicking photos in an event. That man who has great power, is actually a journalist.

Journalism, as a field, encompasses the power to inform and educate the masses concerning the current events happening in our society. However, journalism is also a discipline of verification, which means it also entails responsibilities in verifying and fact-checking the information that will be publicized. 

That being said, this field requires absolute or “almost perfection” efforts on its operation, from the gathering of information, verifying of the gathered information, writing the news itself, editing of the news, and until it reached the operation of publication of the news.

Furthermore, as a journalist, there are certain guidelines established which set the standards of writing and reporting factually and accurately. Like here in the Philippines, there are ethical guidelines established called, Journalists’ Code of Ethics, approved by the Philippines Press Institute, the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines, and the National Press Club. This code also assigns publishers/owners and editors the primary role in upholding professional and ethical standards.

In the Philippines, there is a myriad of professional journalists. However, due to various circumstances, there are journalists who violate the code of ethics. 

These violations in accordance with the Journalists’ Code of Ethics are considered as forms of misconduct, such as the following three cases (reference: online site of Center for Media and Responsibility).

First, the article published by TJ Burgonio, from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, last April 20, 2013. PDI published on its front page and online edition a fake cover of Time Magazine with the late President Benigno Aquino III. The Inquirer caption said: “President Aquino on TIME Magazine cover: I’m just the face of the whole country.” However, this article caught the attention of the eagle-eyed netizens. Netizens pointed out that no recent Time issue has Mr. Aquino on the cover and that the cover was a spoof on Mr. Aquino on the Facebook page of a group critical of his administration, Showbiz Government. 

Although the Inquirer did not mention where it picked up the photo, the Showbiz Government posted on its timeline a copy of the Inquirer’s front page saying: “Thank you very much Philippine Daily Inquirer (Official) for publishing our MEMEs (on) your FRONT PAGE.”

If we will analyze this case, what PDI did was unethical and indeed a violation of Article 1 of the Filipino Journalists’ Code of Ethics. It was clear that the information gathered in the article was not scrupulously verified and fact-checked. Given the fact that the ‘possible’ source where the information was gathered came from a Facebook page of a group critical of Aquino’s administration, it must be really suspicious in the first place. 

The journalist who gathered the information must somehow get the information from a credible source. It could be from the statement from Time magazine itself if they chose Aquino as the cover of their magazine since for sure it will be much emphasized to the media. 

As a journalist, Burgonio must be really careful in verifying information. The other staff of PDI must somehow fact-check every information contained in their articles to prevent the dissemination of misleading news.

Second, the article published by Alfred Yuson, from the Philippine Star, last April 18, 2011. Yuson’s published article on Rogue Magazine regarding the Philippine Basketball Association and its former commissioner Rudy Salud contained paragraphs lifted word for word from Rey Joble’s report on the same topic for GMA News Online. It was found out by blogger Jaemark Tordecilla, in his sports blog “Fire Quinito”. Yuson wrote Tordecilla an e-mail to explain why he committed the mistake. 

According to Yuson, he was “pressed” to make the deadline and since he had rewritten Joble’s draft, he was “at least part-author of it.” He has since apologized.

If we will scrutinize this case, it was really considered as an act of plagiarism, a violation under Article 6 of the Filipino Journalists’ Code of Ethics. Even though he is the editor of Joble’s article, he still had no prerogative to plagiarize portions from Joble’s word for word. 

Being an editor of an article isn’t an adequate reason to own one’s work. Thus, to rectify this case, Yuson should have indicated in the article published in Rogue magazine that there are portions gathered from Joble’s article or he should just have assigned Joble as his co-writer in the article.

Lastly, the caption of the photograph on the cover page of the Philippine Daily Inquirer last May 9, 2012, whereas President Benigno S. Aquino III shaking hands with an unidentified Muslim woman in a burqa. Below the photograph, there was a caption, “SECURITY RISK? President Aquino greets a Muslim woman wrapped in a burka and niqab during the oath-taking of officers in charge of the ARMM Regional Legislative Assembly held in Malacañang on Tuesday. The unidentified woman is reportedly a relative of one of the officers.”

If we will analyze this case, by indicating and emphasizing the phrase “SECURITY RISK?” it was clear that the caption of the photograph entails stereotyping of the Muslims. It is a violation under Article 7 of the Filipino Journalists’ Code of Ethics, whereas the way on how they construct their caption cast aspersions and even ridiculed the occurrence of a Muslim woman. Hence, the best way to rectify the case is to change the caption by putting an appropriate one, which couldn’t asperse any religion. It is an essential rule in journalism that journalists should not use language that perpetuates racial stereotypes or is offensive to certain races. They should have used the phrase “PALACE GUEST” that they used in their online site instead of “SECURITY RISK?”

As the cliché says, no one is perfect, everyone commits mistakes. But in the field of journalism, it seems like there is no room for mistakes. Once the news was already published and disseminated in various media platforms, most particularly in print media, it is arduous to rectify or revise information. We could say that in the online platform, it could be revised. However, there are numerous eagle-eyed netizens who can immediately spot news from time to time. So, if there are mistakes, they couldn’t be unseen by a myriad of readers. Thus, criticisms will surely occur afterward.

Therefore, journalists should be really critical and vigilant in any factors that could be considered in writing news. In this field, professionalism is a big key to avoid any conflicts. Also, professionalism is the key to upgrading and enforcing ethical standards in the media.

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