Isolated cases or cases of isolation?

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“Fake” news. Stupid commentaries. Irresponsible repartees to intelligent criticism. Reckless speeches. Senseless policies. Silly and laughable propaganda. Ill-advised decisions. Lies, lies and more lies.

After two years, these should not surprise us, not when the President has ambitions of becoming a dictator. This is routine, common to all tyrannical rulers. Let’s face it: if the Filipino people will remain blasé, or worse, supportive of a government neck deep in the wiles of violence and senselessness governance, we might as well expect this to be our new normal.

All these are efforts at misdirection, to throw us off and have us guessing as to this administration’s sinister intentions. But then again, we’re not new to this game. We’ve had a little over three hundred years of experience under the Spanish colonials, some years with imperial America and Japan, to say little of the dictatorship of Marcos which lasted close to two decades, and the administrations of corrupt Presidents.

One brief, cursory look at Philippine history and one can already assume we’ve not had a breath of free air since the colonials arrived on our shores in the 16th century. It’s like we’ve spent all our days under the iron thumbs of those who would rule over us, with no chance of ever unlocking the chains.

And yet here we are, decades later, self-determined and “free”. Free, at least, to the extent that we can speak truth to power. Free at least in the manner by which we conduct our lives. Free at least in the way we’re given the chance to educate ourselves.

These, of course, are not as unrestricted as we would like to believe. Journalists, writers, teachers, students, farmers and activists have been killed in the line of duty, for speaking truth to power. As for the way we conduct our lives, going to a bar or simply loitering to get some fresh air in the time of Dutertismo could land you in jail. As for educating ourselves, there’s always the chance that free government-subsidized education will dictate the limits of academic freedom and campus journalism.

As we have already learned, living under a dictatorship is hard, brutal. Does this mean we’ve hardly learned a thing or two, what with the centuries that had passed? I’m sure we have. One sign of this is the way our journalists have been working day and night to continue the work of informing the public. The dissemination of information is vital to any effort at continually reaffirming the people’s social contract.

Then something comes along to weaken the public trust: alleged corruption within the ranks of journalists. True or not, I find this utterly demoralizing. Corruption in journalism is more disheartening than the murders of journalists precisely because death and threats have long since marked our struggle to speak the truth to power. But corruption? To peddle a journalist’s silence for a fee? At a time when we need more people to speak out?

I am here quoting in toto a statement released by the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines because I think I cannot pen anything more relevant to our situation than this. See, while some may claim these events as isolated incidents, the issue of corruption, if and when proven true, will be the one case that would surely isolate journalists from the public trust.

And if you’re the sort of journalist who believes that Journalism is built on language and grammar savvy,on having a nose for news, or beating the other journalist to a scoop, then I urge you to leap off a tall building. You’ve just missed the point why Journalism is built upon ethical standards: to earn the public trust.

I join the NUJP in reiterating these words: “Let ethics always be our guide”.

This week, media took a huge, self-inflicted hit at a time when the industry and individual journalists continue to be vilified and threatened by those who would seek to undermine the profession of truth to advance their nefarious agenda.

Recently, some radio stations were monitored to have posted on their social media assets lewd pictures obviously grabbed from other accounts, like one of a couple having sex on a tomb in a cemetery, and using these to engage with their followers.

And then, in General Santos City, the station manager and news director of the local station of the BomboRadyo network were reported to have been arrested in an entrapment on Tuesday by the National Bureau of Investigation as they received a down-payment of the P10 million they had allegedly demanded to end critical commentary against a company that was, itself, being questioned by the Securities and Exchange Commission.

If the alleged extortion is proven true, this, along with the lewd images, would deal a major blow to the media even as we have continuously strived to raise professional and ethical standards.

The National Union of Journalists of the Philippines is deeply saddened by these incidents and concerned about how they will affect media safety in a country that remains among the most dangerous places to practice our profession.

Never, since the Marcos regime, has media been so badly under siege as today, under President Rodrigo Duterte, who, on the eve of his assumption to office, justified media killings by declaring: “Just because you’re a journalist you are not exempted from assassination if you’re a son of a bitch.”

Since then, media outfits and individual colleagues have been assailed and threatened by Duterte while colleagues continue to report intense harassment, including death threats, from his supporters.

One of the latest incidents happened just this week when former NUJP director, JulileAlipala of Zamboanga City, was tagged a “terrorist” by a dubious Facebook account over her reporting on the deaths of seven young men in Sulu who the military claimed were Abu Sayyaf fighters but whose relatives maintain were massacred civilians.

In the face of increasing risks, independent Filipino journalists continue to serve the people by delivering the vital information with which they can decide their individual and collective future, sustained by the knowledge our work is honorable and informed by the highest ethical and professional standards.

It may be argued that these recent incidents are isolated. Nevertheless, they undermine the entire profession and provide more ammunition for those who would seek to silence us.

The NUJP strongly urges the managements of broadcast networks to strengthen their ranks. We also call on our partners in the Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas to ensure that the highest broadcast standards are observed at all times. Let us work together towards this.

We owe this to ourselves and to the people that we serve. G





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