Were Philippines TV and radio employees bribed by their government to kill reporting?
Filipino TV5 news anchor Erwin Tulfo is suing the Philippines Inquirer for libel over a March 19 story, “Pork payoffs to newscasters Erwin Tulfo, Del Prado, others bared.”
The Inquirer’s story claimed Tulfo and dzBB radio talk show host Carmelo del Prado Magdurulang were bribed to stop criticizing the government-owned National Agribusiness Corp. (Nabcor).
Tulfo is accused of taking P245,535 in bribes (about $5,500 U.S.).
The Inquirer‘s evidence pointed to checks that were sent to the two journalists from Nabcor that were listed as for “advertising expenses.”
The Inquirer‘s original report stated that Tulfo denied the charge and suggested that “somebody could be using my name.” Magdurulang, in contrast, said he didn’t “want to talk” and hung up on the reporter.
The Inquirer’s evidence for its claims was documents from the Office of the Ombudsman that two former Nabcor officials turned over. According to the Inquirer, the government’s Office of the Ombudsman is investigating 38 people “in connection with” diverting government funds.
Tulfo Sues, suggests Inquirer ‘misinterpeted’ its evidence
Shortly after the Inquirer’s report, Tulfo filed a March 24 libel lawsuit against the newspaper, its editor-in-chief, managing editor, news editor and reporter.
Tulfo suggested the Inquirer “misinterpreted” a 2009 P245,535 payment he did receive for advertisements on his program, according to the Inquirer’s report on Tulfo’s lawsuit. Further, he said he didn’t know Nabcor paid for the advertisement and thought it was paid for by the Department of Agriculture.
“Maybe it was misinterpreted by the paper,” he is quoted as saying.
Tulfo added that he would drop the lawsuit, which is asking for P12 million (around $266,000 U.S.) if the newspaper took back its claims, according to the Inquirer.
Tulfo said of the Inquirer’s report, “It is very damaging to my integrity. It is very important for my name to be cleared. My credibility and integrity as a media practitioner depends on it.”
According to TV5’s online website InterAkyson.com, Tulfo said in a statement released by TV5 that he “denied that he has had any business dealings with Nabcor.”
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For its own part, Tulfo’s bosses at TV5 said in that statement:
“TV5 has been made aware of the allegations of misdealings concerning…Mr Erwin Tulfo…TV5 stands by the statement of Mr. Tulfo, but will conduct its own internal inquiry into the matter.”
iMediaEthics wrote to the Inquirer for further comment. We also wrote to TV5 for comment but the e-mail listed on its website bounced back. We’ll update with any additional response.
No legal acction by other reporter, but station issues statement
GMA Network, which owns dzBB, the station that employs Carmelo del Prado Magdurulang, the other journalist named by the Inqurier as receiving payoffs, also issued a statement about the Inquirer’s claims. Magdurulang hasn’t apparently issued any legal action like Tulfo.
Signed by Radio Operations Group consultant Mike C. Enriquez, the statement says GMA Network is investigating the claims.
iMediaEthics sent GMA Network an inquiry by e-mail asking for comment but it bounced back.
Enriquez’s statement reads:
“GMA Network places strict and utmost importance on the professional and ethical conduct and behavior of all its employees particularly those engaged in the field of news and public affairs in all platforms. Any and all information regarding any activity that runs counter to our core values and code of standard are taken very seriously. In accordance with standard procedure, we will conduct a thorough investigation on any allegation of any violations. Due process will be observed and we will ensure that full sanctions will be applied if determined to be necessary. In the meantime, we will continue to strictly adhere to the standards of professional and personal behavior as required by our standards and by our core values.”
Inquirer defends report
The Inquirer issued a March 24 statement on its website in response to Tulfo’s lawsuit, defending the article. It reads:
“The Inquirer stands by its story. We published the newsstory after careful investigation by our reporters and editors. It is fully supported by the statements of two witnesses and a paper trail showing that actual payment transpired. In investigating and exposing the pork barrel scam, the Inquirer is motivated only by its commitment to report the truth to the Filipino people for the common good and the welfare of the nation.”