FIRST PERSONPhilippine Media in 2022
We must be at our freest. We must be at our bravest. The consequences of what we do will surely come.
In the last twelve months, Philippine media found itself broken and bruised by all kinds of external forces. Manipulation, suppression, threats were felt in the boardroom and out in the public.
The push of the new media captured public attention and dominated the public forum. Social media and new platforms eroded the confidence of journalists whose place in legacy media had been solid and secure in the past.
The impact of this collective siege was felt by members of the press, except for those who had worked out a way to live with these conditions. For many more, the sense of shared vulnerability descended as a weight, an affliction that deepened the enforced isolation of the pandemic, the sense of helplessness, and the loss of hope.
These conditions raised the fundamental question about the continuing relevance of mainstream media and the value of verified news in the market. The field opened up for anyone. In this radically changed landscape, virtually anyone can be in the media on their own — anyone can have their own online channel where they can do as they please, spew propaganda in all its myriad forms and pass it off as “news” or the latest info from have unknown or undisclosed sources.
These developments have left the members of the press perplexed about how to deal with the complex realities that affect the way they work. There are those who share the dilemma as individuals or as an institution: to pretend or not to pretend to be actually free.
Save for the rise of social media, the question of freedom has always been a constant source of discomfort. There are few news organizations owned by working journalists. There are always higher-ups whose decisions can affect the course of coverage in the newsroom. Like all commercial, for profit-enterprises, corporate media considers the bottom-line and other vested interests.
Make no mistake about it, the powerful will always find a way to protect their own interests, to the point of encroaching on the personal freedom of working journalists. Press freedom was merely a veil, a mask that in recent years fell off the face of journalism; or ripped off from the façade of the institution as longstanding organizations were ordered closed or given notice.
The brazen and bold action against the value of press freedom made Philippine media a headline story in and of itself.
Ironically, we co-wrote the story. This didn’t just happen to us.
Compromises were made. And those compromises have transformed media into a weapon for disinformation and deception to build up or break down the walls of factual truth, to transform narratives into false legends of the past.
Communication channels now serve the opposite purpose of news media, of journalism which provides news in the service of the public as citizens. A free press may still be work but it can no longer claim to be an integral pillar of democracy.
But I have not lost hope. We can re-write the story.
The year 2022 reminded Philippine media why we exist in the first place. The massive disinformation affected millions of our countrymen but that development also served as a compass so we could find our way back and be in touch with the core values of our work. The crisis made clearer the truth about what we do: we are here not to serve a master or an agenda. We are here to serve our country and her people.
This is our duty. One that we must take to heart. No matter the powers that rise, even those chosen by people’s vote. No matter what administration comes to power, our first and primary loyalty lies in the service of the people.
And this loyalty needs constant nurturing with reliable news, with facts that will empower citizens, a sovereign power greater than the weapons held by the state to wield as leaders please.
This loyalty must supersede everything else: success, career, commercial profit. This loyalty protects the tool from potential use for deception; or for personal advancement
Press freedom will always be under attack — from external forces and from within. How free or fettered our lives are — this responsibility falls on all of us. We can call up our subservient past and do what is familiar or convenient. We can bow down to pressure and ignore the ramifications — sanitized news content.
But no matter the scale and size of government force or strength of business muscle, the power of the free press will be greater when it gains the support of the people. To gain this support, the press must be determined to be free.
So for those precious minutes that we are on air, probing and seeking the truth, or for that moment in the dead of night when we are putting pen to paper or pounding away on the keyboard writing the story, that interview, that next social media post a — we must be at our freest. We must be at our bravest. The consequences of what we do will surely come.
But for now and for always, our country deserves no less.