Pera pera lang? Yes, in Journalism, pay and ethics are tied


Buan is a multimedia journalist covering justice and corruption beat for She is also the associate editor of the online news magazine  Her views do not reflect
those of her employer.


PERA PERA lang ba?”  (Is it just about money?)

I’ve heard superiors ask this question after the worker asks for a raise, promotion, or informs them they’ve taken a better-paying job.

Some questions are sinister, meant to shame, mostly guilt, the media worker into accepting journalism’s biggest scam — that to be a journalist, you must be okay with low pay and no benefits.

Who made that rule? 

Journalism is a vocation, but nobody said it should be an inhumane job with no regard for living wage and security of tenure.

Nobody said that in 2021, with a global pandemic and economic recession, 44% of journalists should still receive a monthly pay of P15,000, and 15% should receive as low as P5,000 per month, according to a survey by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP).

NUJP recently released an Ethical Guide for Filipino Journalists — and one major theme emerged from surveys, focus group discussion (FGDs) and key informant interviews.

The issue of ethics and pay are tied.

Taboo topic

It is in no way meant to justify unethical behavior and corruption. In many ways, crooks, no matter how well-compensated, will always be crooks. 

It is to amplify an issue that journalists cannot discuss in open for fear of appearing as hypocrites — our industry has one of the worst labor practices, and it’s time we acknowledge that even, and especially, in journalism, pera ang usapan (money is an important matter).

As DJ Yap, writer of the guide and senior reporter of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, said: “Ethics is not only personal, but social, which means it needs to be affirmed and promoted by the press collectively.”

To promote ethics collectively is to fight for better pay collectively, too, no matter where you are in the pay hierarchy.

To promote ethics collectively is to fight for better pay collectively, too, no matter where you are in the pay hierarchy. 

NUJP’s ethical guide discusses what to do when a source offers cash or gifts, when officials sponsor junkets, or pay for meals and coffee during an interview.

I’ve worked for two national newsrooms in my career, and from what I’ve also gathered from friends in the other newsrooms — rules of ethics vary.

“Who am I to tell a provincial correspondent who receives only a few pesos per inch not to accept a Christmas basket? Imagine saying that eating at a buffet table after a press conference is unethical to a reporter who can barely afford a decent meal?” Yap said.

Perhaps this is what makes ethics so hard to discuss in the open. We are a culture that shuns talking about money. Nobody ever mentors us on salary rates so we can negotiate more effectively.

We are even told that when starting out, we should accept anything that we are offered, even if that amount is not near commensurate for overtimes clocked in without extra pay.  Other issues include the need for coffee and for rest or sleeping areas in newsrooms. 

We were also raised in a culture of fierce competition, that to discuss ethical dilemmas, to the point of inadvertently admitting to ethical lapses, is something we avoid. 

Paul Soriano, researcher of the guide and NUJP Metro Manila’s Secretary General, said that during FGDs, regional reporters felt very free to discuss ethics.

“In regions, even if they belong to different media outfits, there’s a certain connection to them that ‘this is really the practice.’ There’s a certain unity when it comes to their condition that isn’t affected by competition,” Soriano said.

Limits and pressures

Yap said the guide is what it is — a guide, and it is not meant to impose. “It comes from a place of awareness of the limitations and pressures that a journalist faces everyday within the context of our financial troubles in the pandemic, within the context of corporate and business interests,” said Yap.

Every time I am asked what makes me stay, my top answer is privilege. I am privileged enough to afford to stay — I have no family to support, and have both the fortune and misfortune of being a child of an Overseas Filipino Worker (OFW). We split our family so I would not have to go away for work. 

Many others are not as fortunate. I’ve seen some of the best journalists quit the profession because of financial considerations, and we are worse for it.

Are they less principled? Definitely not.

If a photojournalist receives as low as P75 per photo, as the survey of the Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines (PCP) showed, it is a survival call to quit. Passion does not put food on the table.

Of course, some ethical issues are not solved by money. NUJP’s guide tackles pressing issues such as ensuring the safety of our subjects, sacrificing scoop and our chronic need to be first in order to uphold rights, including those of suspected criminals.

Challenge to the owners

For young journalists, the guide is meant to help navigate a world of grey areas.

For mid-career and veteran journalists set in their ways, the guide should serve as a pesky conscience. For me, it is a nagging call to routinely self-reflect.

That said, ethics is not a burden that journalists should carry on their own.

Whether it’s about money, or sacrificing ethics for views and clicks, many of our decisions are influenced, if not bound, to those on top — the managers and most especially, the owners.

“At the end of the day, you do not own your outlet. And most likely, the owners are not journalists, and if they were journalists, their interests have changed,” said Jonathan de Santos, NUJP Chairman.

When Yap said that the theme of the guide is “moral courage,” because “it takes bravery to be ethical,” I propose that journalists on the frontline — hopefully, with the help of the public we serve — challenge the media owners more forcefully.

Be brave, you’re in much better financial position to do so.

You can download NUJP’s ethical guide for Filipino journalists here: