POSTSCRIPT / January 23, 2018 / Tuesday


Opinion Columnist

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To restate where we’re coming from

IT MAY be time for us mass media workers to restate where we stand, especially on issues – considering the ongoing “somos o no somos” campaign to divide our ranks into those who are supporting the administration and those criticizing it.

The middle ground is fast disappearing or being obliterated. If one sings off-key or does not join the chorus, he is liable to be tagged as yellow and targeted for harassment. This can be taken as a warning for media not to raise voices irritating to the ruler’s hypersensitive ears.

My voice is too faint to matter in the bedlam. Still, if only to make clear where it is coming from, I am reiterating below some of the principles that have guided me and other colleagues in mainstream media.

By default, I for one always take a position adversarial to the administration, whichever it is or whoever is the president. That the Chief Executive now is Rodrigo Duterte is incidental, as it was also immaterial during the time of Noynoy Aquino, Gloria Arroyo, et cetera, before the former Davao City mayor became president.

Those demanding to know why I criticize the Duterte administration but (according to them) did not bother to do so during Aquino’s time must have been asleep. A personal footnote is that my consistent criticisms of the previous regime may have ruined beyond repair whatever relations I have had with the Aquinos.

Why take an adversarial default position vis-à-vis the/any administration?

I believe it is incumbent upon the so-called Fourth Estate to help police the three supposedly independent branches of government whose powers and resources are too vast for the plain folk to check when abused. Though unbidden, the press should come in to help keep the balance.

We mention this check and balance function of the press not to apologize to the powers lording it over us, but to serve notice that they will not get away with abuse and misgovernment. This is also to assure Filipinos that while the road may be rugged and the night dark, we will get there.

But this presupposes that journalists are reasonably equipped and motivated for the job that they have to do while also looking after their families’ welfare while in the employ of media moguls many of whom are niggardly in compensating and rewarding their workers.

Added to the survival test of the working press are the inclination of some media owners to collaborate with the administration and to use their outfits as political weapons and business tools – a subject that can be discussed in another forum.

We the older practitioners, meanwhile, have been sharing this adversarial orientation as best as we can with the younger crop –  writers, reporters, copyreaders, photographers, artists, et cetera – and raising awareness in them of the awesome responsibility that they must carry.

This turnover to the younger journalists – adjusted to the evolving milieu but still grounded on the basics of responsible journalism – is our assurance that any emerging dictator will not succeed that easily in capturing the nation.

We are elated to note that in this endeavor, we have the support of our brother journalists abroad, whose arms stretch beyond national borders to support beleaguered co-workers in the Philippines.

Our apologies, meanwhile, to some colleagues for our reiterating here that – taking off from the adversarial stance just described— it does not seem proper that they seek and secure sinecures in government agencies or firms while holding on to their posts in private media.

It does not look right to have both of their feet planted in government and private media. We add, however, that we respect whatever personal reasons they have for their ambivalence.

• SEC ruling on Rappler not final

ONE of the triggers for this “where we’re coming from” monologue is the case of Rappler Inc., a digital media firm whose license has been revoked by the Securities and Exchange Commission for alleged violation of prohibitions against foreigners owning or managing Philippine media.

As we expected, some quarters mixed the twin points we made here on Thursday: that “while Rappler’s legal wounds in its clash with SEC were self-inflicted, the smoke of battle smells of an assault on press freedom.”

Apparently without reading our discussion, one group said we were denigrating Rappler, while another sector assailed what they thought was our not stressing enough the point of press freedom being under assault by the administration.

Among the more balanced reactions we saw was that of PR (public relations) guru Charlie Agatep who said: “Still it is an assault on press freedom. Punish Rappler, but don’t revoke its sworn duty to provide the people with information and public criticism of arbitrary power.”

Until overturned on appeal, the SEC decision stripping Rappler of its corporate license is controlling. It is still a long way to the Court of Appeals and the Supreme Court, not to mention the byways in the justice department. Anything can happen before the end of the road.

To be candid about it, Rappler is regarded by some media sectors as the new kid on the block that could take away substantial following and business from the older print and broadcast media now clambering onto various platforms.

That is not a good reason, however, for the rest of the industry to see the Rappler case – as also the mess the Inquirer owners had gotten into — as a convenient way to eliminate competition.

We view the cases of Rappler, the Inquirer and of other besieged media outfits – as well as the harassment by government-sponsored trolls/bloggers of individual journalists and critics – in the context of an onslaught on press freedom.

(First published in the Philippine STAR of January 23, 2018)

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