Screengrab from Facebook.

JEERS TO several media outfits that made a spectacle out of the fatal shooting of a regional trial court judge allegedly by her clerk of court in Manila. Breaking news accounts repeatedly flashed a video, supplied by an unidentified source, showing the crime scene. Some news organizations uploaded the same on their Facebook page.

Judge Maria Teresa S. Abadilla of the Manila Regional Trial Court Branch 45 was shot and killed in her chambers at the Manila City Hall on November 11. Media reports cited the Manila Police District (MPD) for the bare bones of the story. The MPD identified the suspect as lawyer Amador B. Rebato Jr., Abadilla’s clerk of court, who, after shooting the judge, also shot himself. Abadilla was taken to the Manila Medical Center where she was declared “dead on arrival” while Rebato “died on the spot.”

The video was provided by an unidentified source, not actually recorded by the stations that used it, and acknowledged only as “contributed video.” ABS-CBN’s TV Patrol, GMA’s 24 Oras, CNN Philippines’, TV5’s Frontline Pilipinas and UNTV’s Why News used the video on November 11, and PTV’s Rise and Shine Pilipinas on November 12. The video showed how police and civilian responders dragged the swivel chair with Abadilla’s bloodied body out of the Manila City Hall and loaded the victim into a police car. It also showed the suspect’s body in the crime scene. Parts of the video were blurred or blacked out. The Daily Tribune, the Manila Bulletin and News5 posted the video on their respective Facebook pages, but the Tribune as of this writing had already taken down the post.

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Uploaded on Facebook, the video was flagged as “sensitive content,” a warning that is automatically used by the platform. But the content and the bad taste with which media treated the subject could still be accessed with just a click or a tap.

The sensational crime story deserved to be reported but the use of gory visuals degraded the victims and could have been disturbing to the general public. Such visuals cheapen the report on an unexplained murder in a public office, distracting viewers from the more significant issues related to the crime and drawing attention from substantive questions over motive and context that should most concern the police, the press and the public.

Unfortunately, there is an audience for such sensational, insensitive, even offensive content. Journalists must be wary of resorting to this tactic just to “sell” the reports they provide.

Adding more seriously to the offense, the reports were filled with unverified and unclear details.

In reporting on the suspect’s motive, TV Patrol, and Rise and Shine Pilipinas said that, according to the police’s investigation, Rebato was going through depression after contracting Covid-19, which affected his performance at work and drove him to resign his job. He was with a sibling at the time of the incident and about to submit his resignation letter, the reports said. But the account did not consult any other source to confirm or corroborate the claims of the MPD sources, all of which violated the right to privacy of the dead.

Still based on police sources who spoke to witnesses, 24 Oras and Why News reported that Abadilla and Rebato had a fight before the shooting, but that the cause of the fight was still unclear at the time the reports were aired.

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Reporters must avoid including unverified information in their reports. In reporting breaking news, journalists should tell the audience only what they know to be factual, as verified from a number of sources, and must alert the public to the fact that they have yet to verify some of the information they have received but have not yet verified.

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