GMA 7 denies allegations of Probe Team's Lazaro

By Marinel R. Cruz

"INCREDIBLE and malicious" is how GMA 7 described broadcast journalist Cheche Lazaro's claim that the network "succumbed to pressure" when, "using all available connections," it tried to stop the airing of "The Probe Team" report on Philippine Amusements and Gaming Corp. (Pagcor) chair Efraim Genuino on Sept. 16.

"They (Probe Productions, headed by Lazaro) should have talked to network officials before going public with their accusation that GMA 7 gave in to pressure," GMA officer in charge for corporate communications Butch Raquel said. "That's what partners do."

GMA 7 had delayed by one week the airing of "The Probe Team" report on the lifestyle check on Genuino. The network cited lack of supporting documents as the reason for the delay.

The Pagcor episode led to the cutting of the 16-year ties between GMA 7 and "The Probe Team." The program will air its final episode on GMA 7 on Nov. 25.

In a letter to GMA 7 president Felipe Gozon, Lazaro insisted the Pagcor report on "The Probe Team" could stand and that "the final version" aired on Sept. 23 did not need additional documents because "The Probe Team" had the documents GMA 7 wanted from the very start.

Lazaro added that the original version was the same as the version allowed to air the following week.

Raquel, however, said that the story was aired because it was "qualified" and not because it was complete as "Probe" claimed.

"Due to GMA's prodding, TPT ('The Probe Team') dug deeper, amassing enough information to have a second report on the background of Genuino," he said. "This second report did not exist in the original version of the script."

It was only after Probe revised the script that GMA 7 allowed it to be aired, according to Raquel.

Lazaro claimed there were other instances when GMA 7 and president Gozon had tried to stop the airing of the story.

She said Probe received three calls from lawyer Junjun Tupas, a member of the law firm headed by Gozon, lobbying in behalf of Genuino.

"(Tupas) said he was from your law office," Lazaro said in a letter to Gozon, "and was calling as a friend of Pagcor. (This) led us to believe that the action of GMA Network Inc. not to air the episode was its way of giving in to the pressure of Mr. Genuino."

Gozon said Tupas called Probe without his knowledge and consent. He said he instructed Tupas not to talk to Probe again.

"Even at that time, I already told Tupas that if Probe were able to adequately support its charges against Genuino, there was nothing I could or would do (to stop it)," Gozon said.

Tupas has no say or influence in GMA Network Inc., Gozon pointed out.

Lazaro said that "many hours" before network executives informed her, Genuino already knew -- from a Pagcor insider -- that GMA 7 would ax the multi-awarded telemagazine show and suspend its reporter, Bernadette Sembrano, who had researched and presented the Pagcor episode.

But Raquel said it was impossible for Pagcor employees to know in advance that the Pagcor episode would not be shown. He said GMA executives were until the last hours of Sept. 15 trying to find out how the episode could be allowed to air.

On Nov. 3, GMA 7 said it had decided to end its partnership with Probe "because of obvious loss of trust and difference in program standards."

"We do not begrudge 'The Probe Team' for trying to defend itself," Gozon said. "But we simply cannot allow it to do so at the expense of GMA 7's image, integrity, and credibility."

Lazaro said Probe Productions is ending "The Probe Team" on GMA 7 knowing "that we served the public good without sacrificing our integrity for 16 years."


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