Unity amid ad­ver­sity

The Freeman - - FRONT PAGE -

In their first days at univer­sity, stu­dents of jour­nal­ism or mass com­mu­ni­ca­tion learn that in pro­fes­sional me­dia, they have a four-fold mis­sion – to pro­vide au­di­ences with in­for­ma­tion, ed­u­ca­tion, en­ter­tain­ment, and means to ex­er­cise vig­i­lance over the gov­ern­ment.

With proper tech­ni­cal train­ing and ex­pe­ri­ence as well as eth­i­cal for­ma­tion, the mem­ber of the press has lit­tle dif­fi­culty gain­ing pro­fi­ciency at col­lect­ing, eval­u­at­ing, edit­ing, and dis­sem­i­nat­ing in­for­ma­tion in ways that teach and when so re­quired, en­ter­tain.

But far more than a learned dis­po­si­tion and a steady hand are needed by the jour­nal­ist as a watch­dog of the pow­er­ful, more so to­day when power wield­ers along with other threats prowl about seek­ing me­dia to de­vour.

Pres­i­dent Ro­drigo Duterte's regime seems to be march­ing in step with in­creas­ingly au­thor­i­tar­ian, pop­ulist coun­ter­parts from Is­tan­bul to Moscow to Wash­ing­ton.

In fact, how­ever, his regime's creep­ing sup­pres­sion of press freedom is home­grown, in­her­ited from the dark, gen­er­a­tion-old Philip­pine mar­tial law era un­der Fer­di­nand Mar­cos that be­gan with Procla­ma­tion No. 1081 dated Septem­ber 21, 1972.

Back then, crit­i­cal jour­nal­ists were rounded and locked up or tor­tured to death.

To­day, the Pres­i­den­tial Task Force on Me­dia Se­cu­rity not­with­stand­ing, they are de­prived of the op­por­tu­nity to wit­ness (Rap­pler re­porters barred from cov­er­ing Duterte events); killed or sub­jected to ha­rass­ment (at least 9 jour­nal­ist killings, 16 li­bel cases, 20 cases of ha­rass­ment on and off­line), and ac­cused of con­coct­ing fake news (Sec­re­tary Christo­pher Lawrence Go cries "fake news" as Philip­pine Cen­ter for In­ves­tiga­tive Jour­nal­ism re­ports on pub­lic works con­tracts awarded to firms owned by his rel­a­tives).

Back then, ad­ver­sar­ial news or­ga­ni­za­tions were shut­tered while only syco­phan­tic crony out­fits were al­lowed to flour­ish.

To­day, me­dia com­pa­nies crit­i­cal of the gov­ern­ment are threat­ened with clo­sure or re­vo­ca­tion of li­cense to op­er­ate while the peo­ple be­hind fake news in the in­ter­net are em­bold­ened by ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials and high-pro­file sup­port­ers who are re­morse­less in their cav­a­lier treat­ment of in­for­ma­tion. (Note the con­flict­ing word of De­fense Sec­re­tary Delfin Loren­zana and Pres­i­den­tial Spokesper­son Her­minio Roque Jr. on whether there is a mil­i­tary plot to oust the pres­i­dent – some­body is ly­ing).

Back then, jour­nal­ists and news or­ga­ni­za­tions per­ceived to be un­der pres­sure to work or do busi­ness were granted re­lief on the con­di­tion that gov­ern­ment cen­sors un­der a so-called Me­dia Ad­vi­sory Coun­cil reg­u­larly sat be­side their ed­i­tors to de­cide which sto­ries would see the light of day while mil­i­tary men and gov­ern­ment lawyers en­sured that the press toed the dic­ta­to­rial line.

To­day, scribes and their pro­fes­sional homes, like per­sons ran­domly named in barangay drug watch lists, are painted as desta­bi­liz­ers, with Ellen Torde­sil­las, Maria Ressa, and Ed­uardo Lin­gao as well as ABS-CBN, Philip­pine Daily In­quirer and Rap­pler mak­ing it to a pur­port­edly se­cret short­list of en­ti­ties in­volved in an "Oust Duterte Move­ment."

Tac­tics to weaken Philip­pine me­dia are so un­o­rig­i­nal their in­tended ef­fects are so pre­dictable: vil­i­fi­ca­tion of the jour­nal­is­tic es­tab­lish­ment, cit­i­zen cyn­i­cism with jour­nal­ists' ef­forts to keep pub­lic ser­vants hon­est, ac­count­able, and trans­par­ent, and even­tu­ally the sur­ren­der of a na­tion's lib­er­ties and des­tiny to the unchecked con­trol of a tyran­ni­cal oli­garchy.

The me­dia in Cebu stand united for freedom in this era of im­punity, es­pe­cially with re­porters get­ting threats from state agents. Be­yond co­a­lesc­ing to with­stand and sur­mount eco­nomic and tech­no­log­i­cal pres­sures be­ing brought to bear on our print di­vi­sions and be­yond healthy pro­fes­sional com­pe­ti­tion, we are one in re­sist­ing and con­demn­ing at­tacks on press freedom.

As we cel­e­brate Press Freedom Week, we in­vite our au­di­ences--on whose be­half we ex­er­cise the con­sti­tu­tion­ally grounded freedom of the press—to stand with us.

Help us pro­tect the space we need to re­al­ize our lofti­est pro­fes­sional ideals.

This means more than crit­i­ciz­ing me­dia prac­tice and ap­peal­ing to its mech­a­nisms for self-cor­rec­tion.

This means ap­pre­ci­at­ing anew the cen­tral­ity of press freedom to good cit­i­zen­ship and gov­er­nance.

This means re­mem­ber­ing that to sub­ject au­thor­i­ties to jour­nal­is­tic in­quiry and cri­tique is not to be short on the pow­er­ful but to re­spond to a de­mand of fair­ness to the gov­erned. This means un­der­stand­ing that to ex­pose anom­aly or chime abuse is not to be bi­ased against the revered but to be bi­ased for the voice­less, marginal­ized, op­pressed, cheated, de­ceived, or mur­dered.

Join us from your schools, churches, busi­nesses, barangays, non-gov­ern­ment or­ga­ni­za­tions, and homes--across po­lit­i­cal per­sua­sions--in guard­ing an un­fet­tered press, thereby guard­ing our demo­cratic ex­per­i­ment.

There is no over­stat­ing the grim al­ter­na­tive: swords un­sheathed, pens dis­carded in pools of blood, a na­tional pro­pa­ganda ma­chin­ery to bend at least 100 mil­lion wills to a caudillo's whims.

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