Correct or Retract "PETA-offending treats on the menu in Philippines"
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To The Editors of the Toronto Star:
As thought leaders, writers, and community members, we are writing in response to a deeply troubling article published in The Toronto Star on August 13th, 2015, entitled “PETA Offending Treats on the Menu in the Philippines” by Rosemary Counter (http://www.thestar.com/life/travel/2015/08/13/peta-offending-treats-on-the-menu-in-philippines.html). This article sought to rank various delicacies in the Philippines according to what Counter refers to as their “ick” factor, or their levels of repugnance to both the writer and to some of her readers.
While the title of the article and its contents have recently been amended (because of what we assume to be the media coverage garnered by your decision to print the article in the first place), we would like to send this letter nonetheless to foreground the scope and harmfulness of the article to multiple readers of The Star, and to intervene in the publication of other articles similar to it in the future.
While we commend The Star and Counter for focusing on an aspect of Filipino culture that is important, we are deeply troubled by this article and request its correction or retraction, for the following reasons:
1. From its title to content, this article does not reflect the Star’s standards for ethical reporting and journalistic integrity.
The Star’s statement of principles clearly notes that alongside freedom of the expression, the newspaper is also responsible for conveying information that reflects “fairness,” “impartiality,” and “accuracy and truth.” These principles require that “every effort must be made to ensure that everything published in the Star is accurate, presented in context, and that all sides are presented fairly.” They also require the clear differentiation between news and opinion.
None of these principles were followed by Counter’s article, nor by its publication. In fact, the article goes against standards of impartiality and accuracy. We are perplexed by the term “PETA-offending” used in the article’s title. PETA is concerned with the ethical treatment of animals. None of the article’s content specifically notes how or why any of these delicacies “offend” such standards. PETA does not seem to be the focus of Counter’s piece at all. Such a title is thus misleading, and it is used to sensationalize the food she has decided to try. If Counter had done due diligence, she would discover that much food in the Philippines is grown in sustainable fashion, and that one could easily find a longer list of similarly “PETA-offending food” in Canada and the United States (in fact, too many to list). We thus conclude that this article’s title is meant to sensationalize the “ick” factor Counter refers to. She at one moment even connects her experience to that of a reality show contestant’s. Yet what makes The Star different from a reality show is it reports news with integrity of purpose, and with a need to understand the possible harmful effects of such reporting. In this case, the article fails in following such standards.
2. The article lacks context, and makes no attempt to fairly contextualize or historicize any of the information provided within it.
If Counter again had done due diligence in research, she would discover that majority of the food she has eaten have similar versions in Japan, Taiwan, China, and Spain (to name a few countries). This would not be surprising, given the Philippines’ colonial history, and given its historical trade role in the region. Yet it seems that such context is not given in order to portray the Philippines and Filipino food in a particular fashion (again through their “ick factor”). It makes these delicacies singular to the Philippines, and in the process goes against the standards of effective travel writing.
3. The article conveys a tone which lacks impartiality and sensitivity, particularly for those who may be Filipino/a identified.
While we understand that all types of information may be troubling to a diverse readership, we nonetheless ask the editors to reflect on the condescending tone of Counter’s article, particularly because it is not located in the Opinion section of the newspaper but rather its Life/Travel section. Even though we believe in Counter’s full right to express her opinions, we hope that such opinions are contextualized or published in the spirit of responsible and ethical reporting.
Food is a source of pride for many cultures and communities. Food is often what brings people together to celebrate and create a sense of belonging. Food can reflect a community’s histories and aspirations. We thus request some introspection around the possible harmful effects of this article to a Filipino community in Toronto which sees food as a way to be introduced, and to integrate, into the larger community.
Given these reasons, we thus respectfully ask that the Star either provide a correction which states that this article is based on Counter’s opinions, or retract this article completely.
We continue to believe in the Star and the integrity of its reporting. Please offer us a reason to continue such a belief.
Dr. Robert Diaz, Assistant Professor, OCAD University
Nicole Cajucom, Executive Director, Kapisanan Philippines Centre for Arts & Culture , Kultura Filipino Arts Festival
Dr. John Paul Catungal, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, University of British Columbia
Dr. Roland Sintos Coloma, Professor, Miami University
Dr. Denise Cruz, Assistant Professor, University of Toronto
Kat Estacio, Director, Kultura Festival
Fujitani, Professor & Director of the David Chu Program in Asia-Pacific Studies, University of Toronto
Caroline Mangosing, Founder, Kapisanan Philippines Centre for Arts & Culture , Kultura Filipino Arts Festival
Dr. Lynne Milgram, Professor, OCAD University
Dr. Ethel Tungohan, Grant Notley Postdoctoral Fellow, University of Alberta
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