Honest news, fearless views

AS A MATTER OF FACT - Sara Soliven De Guzman - The Philippine Star

In 1991, my father, the late Maximo V. Soliven, was invited to speak before the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers Association (PANPA). The title of his talk was “Honest news, fearless views.”

In his speech, he said: “In order to ‘sell’ a newspaper to please the advertisers, we must still have a product to sell. The reading public is not blind and mindless, as those lemmings are which hurl themselves off cliffs into the sea in some suicidal herd instinct. Much to the surprise of many learned observers and even so-called researchers, they often turn out to be smarter, shrewder and more discriminating than we think.”

He continued: “This is why it remains important – now more than ever before, now that we are threatened by the inroads of the capsulized newsbits on social media that legitimate newspaper, radio and television outlets dedicate themselves to the principle of honest news and fearless views.”

In another speaking engagement, he spoke about the role of media in society. He said, “What Asians have in common is that they respect authority, believe that leaders must be strong and that they possess patience and tolerance towards despotism, that a Westerner normally cannot comprehend. Should the role of the press in Asia be one of media versus government? Should it be one of cooperation – or must the media take an adversarial stance? Can editors and reporters work successfully hand in hand with government, or must they, particularly in controlled societies, risk themselves to publish what they believe is to be the truth? The English phrase, ‘publish and be dammed’ comes readily to mind. For, often, in most Asian countries, to publish the awful truth is to be dammed.”

Today, with the countless faces streaming pseudo-news online to generate attention for their political candidates, mainstream media outlets (established broadcasting or publishing groups) must continue to become assertive to make the public believe that they have a vital role and major responsibility in the life of a nation. Media must not merely seek to inform. It must strive to form, to direct and to develop the character of the people it claims to serve. It must redirect the understanding of the truth versus the lies (or fake news).

We seem to wonder why Filipinos tend to follow candidates with very poor moral fiber. Well, we now live in a data-driven world. If you are able to micro target vulnerable groups who easily latch on to your story and believe your propaganda, then by golly, you got them. Creating “pseudo-events” to fabricate your past and our country’s history can influence and mislead these groups into believing dangerous lies. It’s a good thing we are now discovering this ‘networked’ propaganda.

But how do they entice their followers? They definitely studied how important it is to appeal to the audience. Changing their story to soften their shades of gray. Like the local pastor or priest, every publisher and editor must realize that their message, whether from the pulpit or from the printed medium, must be relevant and interesting to their audience. Remember that men and women, beset as they are by everyday problems and troubles, trapped as they may be in the cesspool of drudgery and unremitting toil, also draw strength and comfort from looking at the stars. They are concerned not only with making a living – but, in the end, on learning how to live! That’s what it’s all about, whether you’re a criminal, a beggar, a city dweller or a punk. Ad astra per aspera. Through adversity to the stars.

At the end of the day, let us remember that Chinese proverb: Truth is like fire! It cannot be wrapped in paper. Many public personalities will file libel suits against those who criticize, nitpick or offend them. But in the end – the truth will always prevail! Just as what is written on the banner of our newspaper.

Archibald Macleish, an American poet and writer, sums up the role mainstream media should play in this coming election: “How shall freedom be defended? By arms when it is attacked by arms. By truth when it is attacked by lies. By democratic faith when it is attacked by authoritarian dogma. Always, and in the final act, by determination and faith!”

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Filipinos are clearly victims of digital disinformation. You would wonder why a nation whose literacy rate was 91 percent in 2019 and 93 percent in 2020 (meaning for every 100 people, we have 93 who are functionally literate) would still be a victim of disinformation tactics. Many educational and media outlets have wonderful sources on “fact checking” – Vera Files, Rappler and Out of the Box Media Literacy Initiative are some of them.

My friend and colleague, Jobelle Adan from the University of the Philippines and who majored in Journalism, helped me identify three key issues on why Filipinos are vulnerable to fake news: (1) People’s access to quality education – one that encourages critical thinking; (2) People’s access to media and information. How much of the populace has the financial capacity to fact-check, in a country where a stable internet connection is expensive and quality sources can be hidden behind a paywall; (3) political forces’ willful use of their machinery to distort information.

Can you imagine how decent people supposedly educated and with strong moral grounds have fallen short of our expectations by making an industry out of this disinformation work? Don’t believe the numbers out there anymore. If you go through Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Instagram and see the followers or the ‘likes’ of advertisements of products or even celebrities peaking – don’t be fooled. These are all part of the advertising and PR creative works. Money talks for the executives and planners. At the end of the day, they want their clients happy, even if in reality all those ‘likes’ were made by troll farms here and abroad.

Don’t be surprise that if, in the coming election, those candidates with a strong force of followers in social media lose the fight. Do not even wonder why or what happened. This is all about perception. Making the public perceive that you have a lot of followers in the digital world even if they are only trolls. In fact, some trolls have openly discussed the issue of working for a troll farm. They will work for the money but will not even vote for the candidate they are working for. Tsk! Tsk!

Mainstream media men have the advantage because they are seen, heard and read. This is the time to get out of your shells. We write to expose social ills. We write to fight for justice. We write to speak the truth.

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By the way, the “Subscriber Identity Module (SIM) Card Registration Act” was passed last week. This bill requires cellphone owners to register their legal identities and phone numbers when creating accounts on social media. Let’s see how this will work to fight evil and injustice. Abangan!

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