ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current Affairs chief Regina "Ging" Reyes defended the network against accusations of political bias, telling lawmakers their journalists keep their biases in check and rectify errors as needed.
Reyes made the statement on Monday, July 6, during the 12th joint House hearing on ABS-CBN's franchise, where several lawmakers alleged the network is guilty of irresponsible journalism.
"Since our return to air in 1986, we have endeavored to perform our duty as a news organization. As professional journalists, we strive to keep biases in check and to report on newsworthy events and issues in an accurate, fair, and balanced manner," Reyes said in her opening statement.
Even without being asked by lawmakers, ABS-CBN's news chief admitted there had been times in the past when they made mistakes in their reporting, but they issued the necessary corrections.
"Hindi po kami perpekto. Wala pong news organization na perpekto. Sa kabila ng mga pag-iingat...inaamin po naming nagkakamali rin po kami. Gayunpaman, agad din po kaming umaaksyon para itama ang mali," Reyes said.
(We are not perfect. No news organization is perfect. Even if we exercise vigilance….we admit that we still end up making mistakes, Nevertheless, we immediately act to rectify errors.)
She added that ABS-CBN has an "independent network ombudsman" that probes complaints against their news personnel.
ABS-CBN is now applying for a new franchise after its previous one lapsed on May 4. The network is currently off-air after the National Telecommunications Commission issued two cease and desist orders against its television and radio operations as well as its Sky Direct and TVPlus channels.
This was not enough for Iloilo 1st District Representative Janette Garin, who raised past stories published or aired by ABS-CBN that turned out to be erroneous.
But the congresswoman spent much of her 52-minute interpellation on ABS-CBN's coverage of the Dengvaxia scandal, of which Garin is at the center as she was the Department of Health (DOH) secretary who implemented the now-suspended dengue vaccination program for grade school students in 3 regions.
Garin called out ABS-CBN for running several stories on the autopsy reports of the Public Attorney's Office (PAO). PAO chief Persida Acosta previously linked the deaths of several vaccinated children to Dengvaxia even if the DOH has not confirmed this.
Garin claimed that ABS-CBN reports eventually led to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable polio and measles because parents became afraid of having their children immunized.
"Those autopsies exposed your people to a lot of viruses. 'Yong pagparada po ng duguang internal organs, ano po ang nangyari? Natakot lahat ng nanay. Bumalik ang polio, nagkaroon tayo ng outbreak ng measles, Japanese encephalitis, dengue, chikungunya," Garin said.
(Those autopsies exposed your people to a lot of viruses. After parading the internal organs, what happened? Mothers became afraid. Polio returned, we had outbreaks of measles, Japanese encephalitis, dengue, chikungunya.)
Reyes said ABS-CBN stopped running Dengvaxia stories that "tended to cause alarm" after receiving complaints about their coverage.
"I myself received feedback that some of our interviews with non-experts tended to alarm people. As a result of that, I acted on it immediately, and we dealt with the commentator as well. We also put an end to stories on Dengvaxia that tended to cause alarm," Reyes said.
Garin also blamed ABS-CBN for allegedly "victimizing" the late DOH assistant secretary Lyndon Lee Suy when a news report supposedly discussed the details of a two-page letter linking Lee Suy to corruption.
Reyes said she was unaware of this supposed incident, but reiterated that ABS-CBN acknowledges and corrects its mistakes.
"However, we are a large news organization, and sometimes mistakes were made. We are far from perfect. We acknowledge that we make mistakes, and we try our best to correct them in a timely manner," said the ABS-CBN news chief.
Later on in the same hearing, Senior Deputy Majority Jesus Crispin "Boying" Remulla argued the network was not fair in its coverage of its own franchise hearings.
Remulla asked ABS-CBN president and chief executive officer Carlo Katigbak if he believes they have been conducting a balanced and fair reportage of the franchise hearings.
Katigbak said yes, but Remulla disagreed.
"Kasi di ko nakita 'yan eh…. Umaasa po ako sa Google [News]…. Wala akong nakitang balansyado [na balita]," the Cavite 7th District congressman said.
(Because I didn't see that…. I rely on Google News.… I didn't see any balanced news.)
Reyes, however, said ABS-CBN News has been striving to present all issues being raised against the network in the past 12 hearings, even deploying around 4 news teams to cover each proceeding.
"Ilang beses po naming inilalabas ang mga highlights ng franchise hearing at lagi naroroon ang akusasyon sa ABS [at] ang sagot. Nando'n ang pinakamahahalagang bahagi na natatalakay sa ating mga hearings," Reyes said.
(We repeatedly air the highlights of the franchise hearings, and the accusations made against ABS-CBN and our replies to them can be found there. All of the important parts of the hearings are being discussed.)
When Remulla later slammed ABS-CBN for saying its closure is an attack on the freedom of the press, Reyes came to the defense of the journalism industry.
"Hindi natin maitatanggi na ang ideya po ng press freedom, ang pagpa-practice po ng press freedom ay hindi lamang po sa aming mga journalists. Lahat po ng mga mamamayan ay nakikinabang po dito," said Reyes.
(We cannot deny that the idea of press freedom, the practice of press freedom is not just for us journalists. All citizens benefit from it.)
Remulla pushed it up a notch and accused ABS-CBN of intentionally insulting public servants in some of its reports.
But Reyes debunked this, saying journalists report about the truth – including exposing the wrongdoings of government officials.
"'Yung tungkol po sa pag-aalipusta sa tao sa gobyerno, hindi po 'yan ang aming trabaho. Kung nagkataong 'di maganda ang aming coverage sa isang opisyal, ito ay dahil sa factual basis na nakikita ng aming mga mamamahayag," Reyes said.
(Regarding insulting people in government, that's not our job. If our coverage paints an official in a bad light, it's because our reporters have factual basis for it.)
No less than Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano is accusing ABS-CBN of unfair coverage of the 2016 elections, where he ran but lost as vice president. The Speaker did not attend Monday's hearing and decided to just submit his allegations in writing to the House panels.