MANILA, Philippines [2ND UPDATE] – The Philippine Daily Inquirer has apologized for its front page photo of an impeachment trial witness that was criticized as insensitive.
The photo montage featured 4 pictures of defense witness Demetrio Vicente in unflattering poses with the following caption: “Character witness: The many faces of Demetrio Vicente on the witness stand. He’s no ordinary witness after all. He’s the cousin of the Chief Justice whose wife sold him seven parcels of land in 1990, where he now grows bonsai.”
Following online backlash, the Inquirer released a statement saying, “It has come to our attention that our photo of witness Demetrio Vicente on our front page today has offended some of our readers. For this we sincerely apologize. It was not our intention to disparage Mr. Vicente in any way.”
‘Online apology not enough’
The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), though, said an online apology is not enough.
The media watchdog released a statement saying an apology on the newspaper’s front page will be better. CMFR said the Inquirer violated both “the universally accepted ethical principle of humaneness” and its own Manual of Style and Usage.
“Jeers to the Philippine Daily Inquirer for publishing photos of Corona defense witness Demetrio Vicente on its March 14 front page that were unflattering at least and malicious at most.”
The CMFR cited its own ethics manual defining humaneness as “Treat(ing) sources, subjects and colleagues as human beings deserving of respect, not merely as means to journalistic ends.”
CMFR said the Inquirer‘s stylebook requires editors to ask themselves when deciding what photos to publish what readers “are likely to add or read into their interpretation of the photo’s content.”
The stylebook also asks editors to consider whether or not “the positive reasons for publishing the photos outweigh the almost certain negative reaction they will elicit from a sizeable portion of the readership.”
Earlier, Defense laywer Jose “Judd” Roy III described the photo as unfortunate.
In an interview before the start of Day 29 of the trial, Roy said he has not yet seen the photo but reacted to descriptions given by reporters.
“It’s unfortunate because Mr Vicente admitted that he has suffered from a stroke and I feel very badly for him because this was the same condition suffered by my recently departed cousin, Karl.”
Roy was referring to rock star, Karl Roy, who passed away on Tuesday, March 13.
“I hope they were not mocking him for his physical condition, and even if he has suffered from a stroke, I think that his mind was very clear. His testimony was very straightforward and I have no doubt that he was certain about his documents and what they meant.”
Vicente, the second cousin of Chief Justice Renato Corona, testified for the defense on Tuesday, March 13. He apologized to senators for mumbling, saying he suffered a stroke.
‘Only photos available’
The Inquirer photo made the rounds on social networking sites, with netizens calling it insensitive, foul and mean. Before the statement was released, the Inquirer’s Twitter account (@inquirerdotnet) responded to feedback, saying it will forward this to editors.
In response to one Twitter user, the Inquirer’s account initially said, “Spoke with editors. They said intention wasn’t to make fun. Those were only photos available.”
Some netizens, however, were not satisfied with the reply.