Duterte with reporters
President Rodrigo Duterte answering questions from the media during the 25th Annual National Convention of the Vice Mayor’s League of the Philippines (VMLP) at Bellevue Pavilion in Panglao, Bohol. (ECB/PIA7-Bohol)

World Press Freedom Day will be marked this year by journalists’ and media advocacy groups with trepidation in the context of the continuing attacks on  press freedom by a government that obviously fears its power to expose official wrongdoing.

There are journalists in this country who are making the best of a bad situation: who daily risk life, limb and fortune in the service of getting at the truth in furtherance of the fundamental responsibility of providing the media audiences the information they need to make sense of what is happening. 

But there are also media mercenaries whom one would hesitate to call journalists who are deliberately spreading false and distorted information to serve the political and economic aims of those who have corrupted them. 

What is arguably worse, however, is that, based on their practice, the vast majority of media practitioners seem to believe that their responsibility to the public ends once they’ve quoted the powerful. Much of news media reportage consists of “he-said-she-said” reporting, in which the claims, no matter how ridiculous and dangerous of this side and that on any issue, as well as the lies of those whose agenda is to mislead media audiences with false, misleading and distorted information in order to frustrate the democratization of Philippine society, are religiously quoted without analysis, critical discernment, or context.

This kind of reporting is contrary to the journalistic responsibility of enlightening the public on the issues that should concern it, and makes it appear that only official sources are credible and only their versions of events and issues valid.   Far from merely enabling practitioners to report events and issues without constraint, the exercise of press freedom also thrusts upon journalists the responsibility of helping create the informed and engaged public an authentic democracy needs.  May 3rd should be the occasion not only for the press community to renew its commitment to resisting the attack on press freedom, but also to re-examine the way it has been reporting what is going on in this country.

Photo from the Philippine Information Agency.

Prof. Luis V. Teodoro is a former dean of the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, where he used to teach journalism. He writes political commentary for BusinessWorld.

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