Who’s the sinner in the Miss Earth scandal?

Writer’s note: This article was written a week after the Miss Earth video scandal broke  last year. Miss Earth’s Lorraine Schuck, in an interview with Adventures of a Beauty Queen said she did not accept the Russian bribe. Read more on her statement here.

Miss Earth 2012 Tereza Fajksova of Czech Republic blows a kiss. Photo from http://www.hindustantimes.com

STILL reeling from the results of the recent Miss Earth contest, the pageant world was shaken after a Russian news agency showed a video of Lorraine Schuck, owner of Carousel Productions, “caught selling” the Miss Earth crown for $4 million. Pageant fans went gaga over the controversy. A lot of degrading names have been called on Miss Earth: cheap, shameless, trash, disappointing. But the common conclusion was that the Miss Earth pageant is rigged — a theory many have been claiming since time immemorial.

But while many fans have already jumped into conclusion, a few others (including myself) questioned the intent of the news story.

Malicious intent?
The story began by showing some of Manila’s not-so-good sights — slums, street urchins, and prostitutes — and then shifted its focus on Miss Earth and their “exclusive” video on Ms Schuck. In the video, Russian journalists, in the guise of envoys from Russian oligarch, “offered a price but Lorraine declined which it appears to be that she insists that this year’s pageant is clean. She, however, hinted that next year’s pageant could be fixed,” the Missosology news report stated.

It is easy to jump into conclusion that Ms Schuck agreed to the offer or hinted that the pageant could be fixed. But what was really surprising was the manner by which the Russian journalists took in order to have such expose.

They initially presented themselves as journalists for the formal interview with Ms Schuck. But when they came back, they said they were “envoys from Russian oligarch” who was said to be offering such big amount just to assure Russia of the ME crown. As Seattle Times executive editor Michael Fancher puts its: “Philosophically, deception is a bad fit for journalists. Our role is to find the truth, not obscure it.” This is unethical, needless to say downright misrepresentation. A deception. The main intent of the story could be to expose the “corruption” in ME, but the manner by which they gathered info to obtain the scoop was unfair, dishonest and, in a way, desperate.

Beggar? Miss Russia made headlines for her remarks against her country. Could this be the reason behind the malicious news report? Photo from a Missosology thread

Undercover cam
More disappointing is the use of hidden cameras. “The hidden camera is an invaluable tool for reporters seeking to acquire proof of wrongdoing, abuse, and fraud. But it can also be a dangerous tool if used for the wrong reasons,” writes Carrie Ching of the Center for Investigative Journalism. “And the many lawsuits filed against news organizations charging invasion of privacy, trespassing, and fraud because of the improper use of hidden cameras show just how dangerous a tool it can be.”

The deception could have been justified if they have tried other ways of getting information to prove that the Miss Earth actually involves itself into crown-selling. However, the news didn’t show any interview from other sources who can prove that this crown-selling is a practice in the organization. Greg Marx, in his article “The Ethics of Undercover Journalism,” said that a journalist should only go undercover when it is really necessary. The deceptive undercover tactic used in order for these journalists to extract what they need to get from the Miss Earth executive was beyond fair play. A news practitioner should not invade a person’s private rights just to make an expose if there was no warrant of public right. Obviously, at the time of news gathering, there was no public interest for the issue. The interview was held last year, prior to the recently concluded finals. There was no major and global issue hounding ME last year aside from Athena Imperial’s top 4 placement, so why did these Russian journalists do this? Why the ME? 

By running the story, there is a clear intention to dishonor and discredit the organization, whose integrity Ms Schuck has strongly insisted in the same video. The imputation was malicious.

Also, the timing of running the story is questionable. Since the interview actually happened a year ago, why only now that this issue was made public? Had they released this soon as they got the Lorraine-caught-selling-ME-crown tape, I wouldn’t question their intent of running the story. But why now? Is this a way of getting back at Miss Earth for backing Miss Russia’s statements that her country is a “beggar”? Is this also the very reason why before going straight to the crown-selling angle, the story first highlighted clips of poverty and prostitution in the Philippines? Smells fishy.

Marx added that “…while the use of deception in reporting can yield sensational results, it also lends the subject a weapon to wield against the journalist.” The issue indeed became sensational. But let me ask: did the end justify the means? I don’t think so. Media have their own way of destroying credibility. But if the means to prove their point goes overboard, the end backfires on them.

Sinner? After the video was made public, should Lorraine Schuck resign? Photo from Julles Roberto on Flickr

Tarnishing a tarnished reputation 
Now that the crown-selling scandal has been made public, Miss Earth did some “damage control”. In astatement posted on its website, it said Ms Schuck’s “statements were not only taken out of context but were deliberately and maliciously twisted to make it appear that she had agreed, or even hinted, that the results of Miss Earth could be fixed.” Miss Earth’s statement was expected. But the organization should not take this matter sitting down. The best way to manage this crisis, for now, is to keep silent. Let the issue die a natural death is another.

This is a major blow to their already tarnished reputation. Each year, ME’s selection of semifinalists has always been marred by doubts because almost always, they ignore some of the heavy favorites who seem deserving of making the cut. Some have been baselessly accusing ME of game-fixing. None of these have been proven true, but this video scandal seems a proof that such backdoor discussions really happen.

Albeit the questionable and malicious manner by which the report was produced, it is worth pondering on. By watching and listening carefully to the video, it seems that Ms Schuck was interested on the offer. If she wasn’t, it would’ve been easier to shove them away and ask them to leave her house or office immediately. Saying that she was just being hospitable is a lame excuse. If a person is confident of her principles and morals, it would be easy to refuse talking to these kind of people.

The only way for this issue to be proven true is if the raw and full video of the whole conversation of Ms Schuck and the journalists-in-disguise will be published. Only then can we all know if Ms Schuck words were twisted or not. Someone is deemed innocent until proven guilty. If guilty, then the ME owner should have the decency to step down from her post, or as a last resort, give the pageant an honorable death.

This was first published in Missosology.info.

* * *

Excerpts from Ms Schuck’s interview with ABQ.

“It was also very funny because the Russian news report called me – The Richest Woman in the Philippines – daw. But we all know that that’s not true! Maybe they thought I’m the wealthiest female here because  I turned down a 4 million Euro bribe.”

“I think my biggest mistake was being too polite. That was my fault. Filipinos don’t just say no, they need to go around the bush a few times. If they aired the whole conversation then people would have a better idea of what really transpired.”

“Many times I said – No, it cannot happen. My problem is I’m nice to everyone, to the press, to people I’m dealing with. And, honestly, I didn’t want to close the door on these people in spite of the bribe attempt. I wanted to keep them as contacts while trying to say no politely.”

“Bong Dimayacyac (Miss Asia Pacific 1983) called me as soon as the scandal broke out and asked me if I was okay. I said to her – I’ve never been better!  The whole story is making Miss Earth more famous and I’m getting more calls from possible franchisees. The bottom line is that we did not accept a bribe and Miss Russia did not win. I was affected at the start but then I realized that news is still news. We are getting more attention now more than ever.”

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