'Confluence of events' leads Philippine journalist Ressa to 'move on'
MANILA, Oct 13, 2010 (Philippine Daily Inquirer - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- A "confluence of events" led ABS-CBN senior vice president Maria Ressa to "move on" and leave the giant TV network in the Philippines, according to a network source.
The source said that Ressa's decision not to renew her contract with ABS-CBN came amid internal problems in the network, including the fact that she did not see eye to eye with some top management officials, Channel 2's news programs were struggling in the ratings war, and the flak over the network's handling of the Aug. 23 hostage drama.
There was also the "problem" of her opinion piece in Asian Wall Street Journal on Sept. 6 that was sharply critical of the Aquino administration's handling of the hostage tragedy.
The article came out two weeks before President Benigno Aquino III visited the United States with a party that included ABS-CBN's top honcho, Gabby Lopez.
Bong Osorio, head of ABS-CBN's Corporate Communications, denied speculation that Ressa--senior vice president of News and Current Affairs and managing director of ANC (ABS-CBN News Channel)--decided to leave the network because of pressure from the Aquino administration.
"I don't think that has happened ... (that there was) pressure," Osorio told the Philippine Daily Inquirer.
In a phone interview, Ressa said she planned to focus on writing, specifically putting up her own blog.
"But I really don't know what's next. I will sleep on it for a while," she said.
Ressa added she was "not sure" whether or not she would continue her Wall Street column. The blog is also "an experiment," she said.
Ratings problem "There isn't really one specific factor or reason. It's a confluence of events," said the network source, who asked not to be identified for lack of authority to speak on the matter. "She has been with us for so long and has lent her name to the organization. She can't be budged out by one event." "But there are many problems (at the network)," the source added.
The source said Ressa had an "untenable relationship" with some top management people, including ABS-CBN president Charo Santos.
"They don't see eye to eye and she also had a feud with Chari Villa, when they used to be close," the source claimed.
The ratings of the TV giant's news programs in the mega Manila area, which advertisers closely follow, are also "very problematic," the source said.
"It's either we are at par with that of the other network or five points behind. We did not really pull away from the competition," the source said.
"And now Channel 5 sometimes gets the No. 2 spot on some days so she was really under pressure to do certain things." AWJ article The source said top management wanted an overhaul of the news programs, particularly TV Patrol, but Ressa was seen as "resisting" this.
In her article in Wall Street Journal, Ressa referred to factions within the Aquino administration and said: "These factional splits played a big role in last month's bungled response to the hostage crisis." The article also said: "For many Filipinos, this bungling is wearingly familiar. The country has a famously weak system of law and order which often sees criminals go unpunished. Mr. Aquino ran for office promising to clean up this culture of corruption. That's why the hostage crisis was so disturbing: It was a disastrous example of incompetence, political factionalism and lack of national leadership." "It (the article) was a kind of embarrassment because it came out on the eve of the President's trip to the US, which included our boss," the network source said.
"It would have been OK to do it as a journalist but she was identified as the head of News and Current Affairs and so we were dragged into that thinking which was very critical or very scathing of the administration," the source added.
No Palace pressure The source also dismissed rumors that Malacanang pressured ABS-CBN to let go of Ressa since even Kris Aquino, the President's sister and an ABS-CBN star, had been critical of the network's news coverage.
"I think it's not so much about Malacanang. It's more of internal considerations," the source said.
The source said there were suggestions that former Vice President Noli De Castro and Korina Sanchez be brought back in "but she (Ressa) did not want this." Osorio told the Inquirer that Ressa was also considering teaching at Princeton University, her alma mater. "She also plans to go on vacation and later, write a book. She will not run out of things to do." Is Ressa free to write a tell-all, behind-the-scenes book on her six-year stint in the Kapamilya network? Osorio said her contract didn't prohibit her from writing a book or in a blog. What her contract bars is transferring to a rival local network, he said.
"She cannot transfer to TV5, for example, because she has a noncompeting clause in her contract. She can, however, join a foreign media outfit, like CNN, where she was Jakarta bureau chief before joining ABS-CBN." Osorio said her departure was a "personal decision." Part of the territory As Ressa said in her statement, "she didn't resign, but simply chose not to renew her contract (which ends Jan. 3, 2011)," he said.
Osorio doesn't think Ressa was "unhappy" either. Or that she was affected by the purported "big enemies" she made in and out of the newsroom during her tenure as news head in ABS-CBN.
"Having enemies is part of the territory. Maria speaks her mind," he said.
Osorio also noted that ABS-CBN management had fully supported Ressa despite criticisms over the media coverage of the hostage crisis.
"That was very clear that the network was behind Ressa and would continue to fight for the independence of its news team," he said.
Another network source said Ressa was asked about her reasons for leaving when she met with employees on Monday night but she only said it was time to "move on." To see more of the Asia News Network, go to http://www.asianewsnet.net/home/ Copyright (c) 2010, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Manila / Asian News Network Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For more information about the content services offered by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services (MCT), visit www.mctinfoservices.com, e-mail [email protected], or call 866-280-5210 (outside the United States, call +1 312-222-4544).