(Note: I am writing this piece wearing three different hats. First, as an ordinary viewer. Remember that I have long left the mainstream media industry for the private, corporate sector. Also, I am simply exercising my freedom of speech. And third, I am writing this as part of my role as an alumnus and current adviser to a student media organization based at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Although my views are not officially representative of the organization. Well, it pays to lay down all the cards on the table)
I looked forward to the documentary “Kidnap”, which aired on ABS-CBN Sunday night. It centered on the story behind the kidnapping last month of Broadcast Journalist Ces Drilon and her team. In contrast to many of its past current affairs shows, Kidnap had an indie feel to it in terms of narration and treatment, very similar to the show “Storylines” on ANC (I have been told though that the people behind the two productions are one and the same group).
Generally, I would say that the production was a step forward for the network. Without bowing to any pressure, the production is a gesture of a news organization that chooses to be accountable to its viewers, and provides an explanation to where it is very much due. Credit should be given especially to Drilon for her frankness and honesty in her interview. The documentary even explained why she had been given a three-month suspension. Of course, the documentary provides a clearer explanation to what had happened, without jeopardizing the outcome of any prosecution. Let us not forget though, that in between reenactments, are actual footages and videos of the kidnappers — all wanted by the law. I would have wanted to hear more about the ransom paid, since it had already been admitted anyway, although it is understandable that there legalities need to be considered.
The documentary raises some ethical questions. It was quite interesting to hear the head of ABS-CBN News narrate the strategies used to gain leverage and free Drilon. One was in effect, making Drilon’s brother as the only channel for communication in the negotiations, and make it appear that not much could be depended on from the station, especially when it came to the ransom. The effect was to carefully make Ces have a feeling of desperation, which she would be able to then communicate to the kidnappers. This is definitely a smart move. But I don’t think there is any wisdom in saying this information on camera, for the ASG and other kidnappers to hear. Goodness, now, kidnappers know that such tactic could be used!
Also, while the move to produce a documentary on the kidnap helps show willingness to come clean, an important concern would be the commercial component of the production itself. There was quite a good amount of advertising load, and there was quite a good amount of time given to Drilon’s journey as a fearless broadcast journalist for almost 25 years. The dramatizations and special effects (such as the main characters vanishing from the screen at the end), also might have blurred the lines between telling the truth as it is and merely telling a story. Well, I give people the benefit of a doubt, but these considerations could still have created a perception that the network was cashing in on the experience of the poor three members of the news team.
Despite the ethical questions, one would have to commend the desire to be accountable. The morale of the story is clear, and as a journalist way back, I would always hear that no story is worth one’s life. But after an experience like that of Drilon’s, then such wisdom should be translated into more concrete behaviors and guidelines for the industry to implement.