Saturday, October 31, 2020
Home Editor’s Corner Why press freedom? Why not responsible journalism?

Why press freedom? Why not responsible journalism?

We hear it often said how important press freedom is to the nation’s sociopolitical health.

The reason being is that information is currency, and with such currency in the hands of the people, their chances for survival are greater than without it.

Information in and by itself, however, doesn’t assure any such thing. In a democracy, as in any political platform, two problems arise: The source of information, and the receiver.

As for the source, it is expected of the press to stick unwaveringly to a certain quality of information, and professional standards while gathering and disseminating data.

At the very least, the information should and must be accurate. Accuracy involves time, huge man-hours and resources, and a level of intelligence and comprehension that is not run-of-the-mill.

Such devotion to accuracy comes with extensive training, knowledge and the habit of practicing ethical and professional standards. It is not only required, but is expected of managers of information to see to it that the information, however difficult to acquire, remains constant and reliable.

To swerve but an inch to the left or right is unacceptable, so, too, are omissions and additions unless such changes are necessary. Intensive training and knowledge of the context of a story gives the journalist or manager of information some leverage.

It should be understood, though, that details alone cannot assure accuracy; there is always the bigger picture to take into account and how they all fit together to form a seamless whole. This can only be done when the journalist is accustomed to the study of history and other disciplines.

On the matter of the receiver of information, a democracy requires some level of maturity, or so it is touted by Western thinkers. An informed constituency assumes immediately that the information so disseminated would be challenged, regardless of its trustworthiness.

And that is good. In fact, even the most trusted and seasoned journalists should expect to be questioned, or at the very core, made to subsume responsibility for his or her words. Journalism is a public trust. That means each and every journalist should do time in a boxing ring.

There is a deeper tragedy when the public takes information, no matter how steadfast, at face value.

No democracy is ever successful when ruled by an ignorant majority. That’s a fact. Democracy, it seems, is not for spoiled brats. Thomas Jefferson aptly said that a nation cannot be both free and ignorant. In the state of civilization, he said, it’s like expecting what wasn’t there—and will never be there—in the first place.

This is why every democracy, at least in theory, makes a huge fuss over formal education and how such an education can keep the constituency safe and sound. This is nonetheless a farce, what with the kind of formal education we have in the country.

My own experience in the universities I have been privileged to attend told me they are highly domineering and dogmatic, even despotic on some levels, with but a few professors actually allowing their students to think for themselves.

Most everything is spoon-fed, shoved down the adolescent’s throat without so much as space to challenge their instructions. I remember questioning Sigmund Freud’s analysis of the Ego and Superego, which merited me a day’s suspension.

Power, more than the nurturing of the ability to think freely for themselves, are taught to students, however unwittingly, I suppose. This perhaps, is the result of that overbearing notion among adults that children know next to nothing, and should, by necessity, be forced to learn.

Sometimes I wonder if such despotic manners have something to do with the constituency’s predilection toward dictatorships.

But then I digress; back to the topic at hand.

Anyone accustomed to the meanings of words would know that freedom and irresponsibility are errors in the study of what is deemed in general as synonyms. In the context of press freedom, these two words are not the same at all.

The active ingredient, so to speak, in “press freedom” is not so much “freedom” but the “press,” one thoroughly defined by its professional training, experience and ethical standards.

Press freedom, in short, as I will here personally define it, is the freedom exercised by these trained individuals to disseminate information based solely on their professional training, experience, and ethical policies without fear or favor.

Such a freedom is not irresponsible at all, but one so thoroughly dependable that anyone can bet their life on it, especially the journalist. Hence no one can accuse a good journalist, insisting on exercising his or her press freedom, with irresponsibility.

It’s a misnomer, to say the least, and an unjust accusation at best.

True, it is terrifying to contemplate the presence of so-called “journalists” whose only claim to being such is their own self-interest and agenda. I make no secret of the fact that I do not consider them journalists at all, but simply mouthpieces for the rich and powerful.

They are the 21st-century’s version of the Towers of Babel, mere pretenders to the profession. Good news is: There are more good ones than this bunch of cacophonous bullhorns and crooners.

The insistence on press freedom is an insistence on responsible, intelligent and highly ethical journalism. Make no mistake about it. There is a line which divides real journalists from fraudulent ones—a clear and unmistakable line.

And in this era where journalists are either killed or bought, that line serves as a lifeline to all journalists whose had given their allegiance to the work of unearthing the facts.

The facts. Anything other than the discovery of the facts is not journalism. It’s something else entirely, something sinister. G

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