Press Freedom Week and the Fifth Estate
BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon (The Freeman) - September 21, 2019 - 12:00am

Today is the last day of the Cebu Press Freedom Week Celebration – observed yearly by Cebu’s working press to remind the public and the press that the freedom they enjoy comes with it the duty to protect it from all threats.

Incidentally, today is also the 47th anniversary of the declaration of Martial Law by President Ferdinand Marcos in 1972. What started as a promise of discipline, peace and order, and development in a dictatorship failed to deliver such promise. Instead it turned into a kleptocracy for one man, his family and cronies.

The suppression of press freedom allowed the abuses of those in power to remain unchecked. The lessons of Martial Law, therefore, teach us that despite the imperfections of the Fourth Estate, its existence and vibrancy remain as a guarantee that those in power do not abuse their power; and if they do, they can be exposed and held accountable.

Today, the press still faces institutional as well as economic challenges to its duties as the primary carrier of public discussion and to always speak and write the truth. In this week’s press freedom celebration, for example, I often encountered the term Fifth Estate, which is commonly associated with bloggers, citizen journalists, and the social media.

Last Thursday, I had the honor to be invited to a lunch forum of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council where Fr. Ramon Echica, dean of Seminario Mayor De San Carlos, University of the Philippines journalism professor Jason Baguia talked about the topic “How Media and Its Public Can Help Fight Falsehood and Disinformation.”

Later that night, I also had the opportunity to attend the Globe Media Excellence Awards (GMEA) at the Radisson Blu Hotel. The event was hosted by Globe Telecom in recognition of journalists, bloggers and social media advocates in the Visayas and Mindanao who have “shown excellence in their craft, commitment to their profession, and have created a positive impact to the society.”

I immensely enjoyed the evening with a crowd composed of Globe Telecom executives, journalists, and guests, and with my fellow GMEA screeners Karlon Rama and Mia Embalzado-Mateo. I was told the food was great but I didn’t have the appetite to eat; my stomach was so full of undigested samgyupsal from a celebratory meal hosted by my Korean client earlier that afternoon.

Globe’s media excellence awards are proof of the recognition by society of the importance of the emerging Fifth Estate. I’m not sure if it’s correct to make a distinction between the Fourth Estate as the traditional media and the Fifth Estate as the new media, because if you come to think of it, the so-called Fifth Estate is actually the Fourth Estate evolving.

In his talk, Professor Baguia outlined the steps which journalists and the public can make in the fast-evolving platforms of information. These platforms, as we all know, are filled with pitfalls of fake news, disinformation, and other falsehoods.

Both Professor Baguia and Fr. Echica stressed the importance of a media literate and educated public in battling disinformation and fake news. Fr. Echica mentioned the basic values of honesty and humility as still very important qualities of the press. Say sorry if you commit a mistake about something you thought was true but turned out to be false, Fr. Echica said.

* * *

I understand where Cebu City Councilor Prisca Niña Mabatid is coming from in her call for media not to publish stories on suicide. She cited two reasons in her appeal: one, to avoid further hurting the family left behind by the suicide victim; and two, the reports might encourage other depressed individuals to kill themselves as well, citing the Social Learning Theory, also called the copycat effect.

Indeed some studies have shown a correlation between media reporting of suicides and the subsequent increase in suicides. An example is that done by Pirkis and Burgess in 2006 in Australia. But they stopped short of recommending banning reports on suicide, and simply urged media to remain vigilant about how suicide incidents should be reported.

Thus, I reiterate and fully agree with The FREEMAN’s editorial yesterday which states: “A suicide incident involving a scion of a prominent family is hard to keep. There will always be a story on it as part of the media’s duty to inform the public. But there is of course a need for journalists to exercise caution and have a sense of responsibility in their stories.”

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