News blackout

Captors have released ABS-CBN cameraman Angelo Valderama, but continue to hold newscaster/reporter Ces Drilon, cameraman Jimmy Encarnacion and peace advocate Prof. Octavio Dimampo.

The families of Drilon and Encarnacion today issued this statement:

We, the families of Ces Drilon and Jimmy Encarnacion, are happy and deeply relieved that Angelo has been freed.

We appeal to the kidnappers to also immediately release Ces and Jimmy as an act of compassion and humanity.

No ransom was paid for Valderama’s release, according to an ABS-CBN report.

I join the public, media and their families in calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Drilon, Encarnacion and Dimampo. While I admire the spunk of Drilon’s ABS-CBN news team in trying to score a “scoop”, the outcome shows the near-fatal limitations of the journalistic enterprise. We journalists face harm or threats of harm in certain situations and so we must be extra cautious. Sometimes, our lives are more important than the story.

Which brings us to the issue of the “news blackout” called by ABS-CBN and which most of Philippine media outlets bound themselves to last Monday.

While raw reports have already circulated Sunday evening or Monday morning, what was clear at that time was that Drilon, Encarnacion, Valderama and Dimampo were already missing. At the very least, their disappearance should have been reported, without mentioning the then-sketchy and unconfirmed news that they were in fact kidnapped and would be released only upon payment of ransom.

The news blackout was total and therefore dangerous insofar as it sets a bad precedent. I am afraid government may arbitrarily and whimsically ask, nay, demand for the same privilege.

I am in favor of certain news embargoes as these are indispensable too to the profession (i.e. simultaneous release of international reports and important events and speeches). What ABS-CBN could have done was to ask for an embargo on reporting on wild reports of Drilon et al being victims of kidnapping for ransom and ask the media outlets to refrain from publishing such reports until the network issues a statement confirming it.

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