On media

ROSES & THORNS - Alejandro R. Roces -

A responsible media, cognizant of their duties and diligent in their conduct is one of the pillars of a free society. The fourth estate should act as the conscience of a nation and a check to self-interest, in government and civil society alike. In short, the press acts as a safety valve.

We have always maintained that the only true freedom any individual or institution has is the freedom to do good. Freedom of the press is meaningless if it is going to be abused or misused. We must raise the journalistic standards of the country. That should be the main task of each and every newspaperman. The ultimate test of any journalist is whether he was a credit to his profession or not. Since 1987, 140 journalists have been killed; 103 over the last nine years. Solving the recent cases is imperative. What is also important is the values that the journalists extolled. What were those values? That is what they should be remembered for.

One of the major reforms wished by the Propagandists of the 19th century was a free press; a press free to express the interests of the people and to responsibly act free from government censorship. Graciano Lopez Jaena wrote in his article La logica en Filipinas, which enumerated the various ills of the Philippines: “Let the censorship of the press be suppressed, and we will see how many ills, how many irregularities, how much immorality will be brought to light.” For Jose Rizal, so important did he consider the freedom of the press, that he paired it with representation in the Cortes as a necessary reform, else revolution become an option. Both reforms give voice to the people. He further warned: “Someone will answer that in colonies with a free press, the prestige of the rulers, that prop of false governments, will be greatly imperiled. We answer that the prestige of the nation is not by abetting and concealing abuses, but by rebuking and punishing them...” Today, we say we have a free press. Yet, we consider that self-censorship through envelopmental journalism exists; how prevalent remains to be studied. Water Lippman said: “Cronyism is the death of journalism.” In addition, the culture of impunity that has been allowed to flourish, best exemplified through the prevalence of extrajudicial killings, acts as another form of censorship.

We have been writing a column for almost 60 years now. In the field of journalism we have learned a few things; chief among them is that a newspaper is a reflection of the publisher. We have been very fortunate with who we have worked with. Back in 1969 we wrote: “It is the publisher who chooses his editor, his columnists, his reporters, and deskmen. And in the ultimate analysis, a newspaper is a reflection of the mentality of the publisher….The publisher sets the policy of a newspaper.” We continued: “We sincerely believe that any major change in this country will have to begin with a major change in the newspaper world. Politics has always been a dirty business. But journalism need not be so. A journalist has to deal with politicians and politics as we said earlier is a very dirty affair. Admittedly, it is very difficult to work in a gutter and not be soiled. But it is one thing to work in a gutter in order to clean it and another to work in a gutter and add to it.”

The press could be one of the main pillars of a free society. And if it is a truly great press, it will be more than just a pillar. It will be a beacon light that could show this nation the true path to greatness. To do so, the government must create an atmosphere where a free press can flourish. And the press must also evaluate their own house, and remember their responsibilities as well.

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