OPINION - Best protection of journalists: A community that understands role of media

Ellen T. Tordesillas

Posted at Jan 13 2019 04:03 AM

At a consultation meeting on safety of journalists organized by the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication November last year, former Dean of UP College of Mass Communication Luis V. Teodoro, now chairperson of AlterMidya, said there is a need for media to explain to the communities the role that journalists play in society and in the strengthening of democracy.

A community that understands the role of media in their daily life is the most effective safeguard for journalists.

This has become urgent in the light of harassments and the demonization being waged against media groups and individual journalists by powerful forces.

This week, there were stories that came out in the tabloids tagging the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) as a communist front based on a story of a certain “Ka Ernesto,” who claimed to be a former member and supposedly “admitted” that the organization had links to Communist Party of the Philippines founder Jose Ma. Sison.

NUJP at first laughed off what it called was a “stupid” allegation. “It is hilarious that they keep repeating these charges since the NUJP’s membership represents a broad spectrum of creeds and political beliefs bound by a common dedication to defending and expanding the bounds of freedom of the press and of expression,” the NUJP statement said.

It ceased to be a laughing matter when NUJP said the Philippine News Agency, under the office of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, which is directly under the Office of the President, carried the story. It thus becomes, or it rather confirms, that it is a government operation.

“That the state news agency, which is under the supervision of the Presidential Communications Operations Office, saw fit to run this utterly malicious and false story clearly proves that this is, indeed, an orchestrated campaign to vilify and silence not just the NUJP but the independent and critical press, involving no less than the Government of the Republic of the Philippines,” NUJP said.

“Pathetic as this effort is, we are taking it very seriously as a direct threat by government against the NUJP and independent media and will take what steps necessary to protect our members and our rights,” NUJP further said.

Duterte has been vocal about his disdain for a media that exercises its right to the fullest of demanding accountability from government officials, which is important in a democracy. He slammed the reporter who asked about his health which the Filipino people have the right to know. He has hit the owners of the Philippine Daily Inquirer with cases about their other businesses, showing other newspaper owners an example of what will happen to their other business interests if their media outfits would not be friendly to him.

The corporate and tax cases filed against online media Rappler are more  examples of intimidation.

Perhaps emboldened by the hostile attitude towards responsible media from the top, government-friendly groups take harsh measures against journalists like what happened to Inquirer Mindanao reporter Julie Alipala who was tagged in Facebook as defender of the Abu Sayyaf terrorist group just because Alipala’s report did not support the military’s version of so called “encounters with terrorist elements.”

Before the year ended, a radio announcer in Negros Oriental, Gabriel "Kumander Aguila" Alburo, 50, was shot dead by two motorcycle-riding men early Friday morning of December 28.

Alburo is the second media practitioner to be killed in Negros Oriental this year after Edmund Sestoso in Dumaguete on April 30, NUJP said.

“If proven to be work-related, Alburo’s death brings to 13 the number of journalists killed since President Rodrigo Duterte assumed office in mid-2016 and 186 since 1986, “ NUJP further said.

Media is not being critical of powers-that-be just for the sake of being critical. Media’s job is truth telling: to inform the public as accurately as we can what we see, what we have observed and what we have discovered hoping that the information would help in decisions that we all make. Decisions as simple as what route to take to avoid traffic jams or of national and long-lasting importance as the candidates that we would vote in elections.

There can be no democracy without press freedom. An active and responsible media is anathema to tyrants.

Media can only be effective with the support of the people that it serves.

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Blog: www.ellentordesillas.com
Email: ellentordesillas@gmail.com

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.