(NOTE: I wrote this with two Journalism classmates as our final case study in Journalism Ethics [ J 192] class under Prof. Yvonne T. Chua in March 2009.
Celebrity news, largely a mix of glamour, PR, and scandal, is rarely looked at as an area for responsible reporting. But it is a staple in Philippine media relegated to the end segment of newscasts or the E-section of papers.
But what happens when showbiz lands the top story? We looked at how TV news covered the deaths of celebrities, the coverage of which is as sensitive as covering deaths in the general public.
Two happened twice before this final paper was assigned, which we compared to a highly-remembered one which occurred a decade ago from today’s writing.
DISCLOSURE: I am now an employee of ABS-CBN News. Roehl, one of my co-writers, works for GMA News.)
CHASING FALLEN STARS
How television news covers the death of celebrities
By Andrew Jonathan Bagaoisan, Roehl Niño Bautista and Annamaebelle Bernal
(First of two parts)
Grab from Yan’s memorial service aired live on ABS-CBN.
It was a non-stop six-hour affair made for television. At the funeral mass for matinee idol Rico Yan, singer-performer Gary Valenciano moved people to tears rendering “Warrior is a child,” the actor’s favorite song.
Priest Tito Caluag, in his homily, told mourners how Yan dreamed of becoming president. “Rico wanted to be a leader but never mentioned leadership because he only wanted to serve,” said Caluag.
For the climax of a week-long drama captured by television, the service was just the beginning.
From the thousands who held vigil at the wake, thousands of others went outside their homes and waited at the roadside where the convoy en-route to the young actor’s final resting place was about to pass, just to see the car that carried the famous lad’s mortal shell. People cried for the loss of an idol, a friend, a family member, and these with all other drama were shown on national television.
News personalities of ABS-CBN, Yan’s home network, stationed at key areas of the convoy to report live every stage of the procession on ground while the station’s “Sky Patrol” helicopter followed the whole procession from La Salle Green Hills to Manila Memorial Park on camera. It definitely wasn’t ordinary for a burial coverage to last that long.
But Yan’s death in March 2002 was not the only newsworthy event as television news made it to be with its “unprecedented” and “overwhelming” coverage, as a newspaper put it.
Attention to Yan’s demise pushed to the side stories like the Baseco Compound fire which displaced around 3,000 families, a dry-dock accident in Dubai that left eight Filipinos dead and eight more missing, and the deaths of National Artists for Music Levi Celerio and Lucio San Pedro, and Britain’s Queen Mother.
Celebrities make the news. Deaths also make the news. Put those two together and the media is put in a tight spot when it comes to ethics. If covering famous personalities is already problematic, covering celebrities who died is even trickier, when the newsworthy elements of the two combine but their at-times incompatible values clash.
In a country where showbiz news is a daily television staple presented under the guise of journalism, the nuances of covering celebrity deaths are largely unexplored in depth or remiss in guidelines.