Assault on press freedom

by Ding Marcelo

September 22, 2015

In the sports writing fraternity, nobody, or almost nobody, likes Snow Badua. He’s the kind of guy who puts you off with his tales of self-importance, his abrasiveness, his uncomfortably loud voice, and his general air of knowing it all.

Badua, who writes for the sports website spin.ph, is the guy now banned by the PBA from all the league’s activities.

But, it’s not because Snow is not the most personable fellow in town. The ban is because he wrote in spin.ph, and posted in his personal Twitter account, about the alleged affair between San Miguel basketball executive Alfrancis Chua and model Abby Poblador.

In the 40-year history of the PBA, no reporter has ever been banned because of his writing. And in the long history of Philippine sports writing, no reporter has ever been banned by any association, institution, company, or corporation because of what he has written.

So this is completely new territory. Sports desks everywhere are taken aback.

But one thing is clear—particularly for sportswriters who survived martial law in the ’70s when Ferdinand Marcos muzzled the entire press: The PBA has crossed the line. It has assaulted press freedom and ridden roughshod over a person’s right to practice his livelihood. Worse still, the ban effectively denies the public information on a professional basketball league which it keeps alive with its attendance and support.

For with this ban, the message that the PBA is sending out can only be: That the PBA is one powerful body, the big lord and immediate gatekeeper to basketball, the nation’s favorite sport. That no one messes with the league and live in peace. That articles, comments, tweets, graphs, pictures, videos, and podcasts that this powerful body declares negative shall be crushed. That the fate of Badua is the fate of all who do not toe the line.

Indeed, the ban has disrupted the comfortable routine of sports reporters, many of whom have made a habit of carousing after a day’s hard work, many times in the company of PBA officials themselves. The ban has, unintended or not, created a crack in the once cordial and relaxed relationship between the league and the press.

In all this, the PBA is missing one truism about sports writing: That the enterprising, the aggressive, the bullheaded reporter is often he who brings the best information to the reader.

Badua, who is also broadcaster, may not be the most likeable fellow. You don’t really solicit the friendship of a fellow who suddenly sits at your table when you’re with friends and doesn’t get the hint even when you say you’re having a private conversation. You don’t really feel very comfortable around a fellow who thrusts his microphone in your face and expects you, with your thoughts still unformed, to provide a sound bite to a brewing issue.

All that may be true. We could do with more civilization among the ranks. But this coarse presence is just the kind to deliver solid stuff to media organizations he works for. His aggressiveness—of course he could be more effective had he fewer rough edges—is the reason why he gets the scoops and breaking stories. He is one of very few reporters whose call is answered and returned by team owners like Manny Pangilinan, Ramon Ang, Fred Uytengsu, and Terry Que.

Now the PBA has taken umbrage because Badua dares write about Chua, a married man, having an alleged affair with Poblador, a model, following the latter’s own revelations on public radio. Chua is the new fair-haired boy of the San Miguel franchise. He is the newly appointed chief of basketball operations, meaning nothing moves in SMC basketball without his knowledge, consent, or initiative. And, mind you, San Miguel has three teams in the PBA.

But rather than denying the allegation of Poblador, Chua, his handlers, and the PBA hierarchy itself choose to kill the messenger instead. In the course of this, they leave the woman alone, adding fuel to the suspicion that, indeed, an affair happened.

Chua confronting Poblador and saying she’s trying to ruin him for reasons known only to her may prove messy. After all, the woman may have proof to support her on-air confession. Maybe she has text messages or photos or other damaging items in her arsenal? Making her out as a gold-digging liar may force her to deliver proof, which can be disastrous for Chua.

So, better shoot the messenger. Better ban Badua.

It’s a boneheaded decision. The reason we have libel laws is precisely so that persons who feel their rights and privacy have been violated can seek redress from the courts. It’s supposed to be a process. But PBA Commissioner Chito Narvasa — who handed down the ban after meeting with the PBA board of governors, of which Chua is an important member — was all of prosecutor, judge, and executioner.

You don’t ban a reporter for something he wrote, you ban him for violating his profession. For instance, for using his medium to extort money or to gain influence or to blackmail you into giving him a high-paying position. Badua did none of that. Badua simply exercised his right as a reporter.

Not a great start for Narvasa, who assumed the post of commissioner just two months ago. Despite him, the PBA board can still do the smart thing: Meet again and advise its commissioner to lift the ban immediately, restore the status quo, and, if there is gentlemanly behavior left in the league, apologize to Badua.