A trustworthy friend amid a noisy infosphere and a pandemic

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

Happy 102nd anniversary to The Freeman!

There was a quote from our general manager Melandro Mendoza in a story written by Caecent No-ot Magsumbol in our Sunday issue that I love to repeat: “COVID-19 may be here to stay. We have to learn to live with it. The pandemic shouldn’t be an excuse not to grow.”

And grow we will. As The Freeman’s news editor Fred Languido said, mainstream print media has found a silver lining in this pandemic. It is the resurgence of the need for good old trustworthy journalism.

I’ve always been saying here that in the digital age, the spread of misinformation and disinformation has become so much easier. While digitalization has made censorship difficult, censorship as a threat to free speech has been replaced by informational noise. Sinister groups driven by political, geostrategic interests or highly partisan-ideological motives now flood the internet with disinformation.

Last month, I completed an MOOC (Massive Open Online Course) on international standards of freedom of expression organized by the Bonavero Institute and UNESCO for lawyers and judges.

The course module about the challenges of digital freedom of expression states: “Where previously gatekeepers mitigated and negotiated access to mass media platforms, today potentially anyone – and any content – can reach millions of users in an instant. This development bears great opportunities for the democratization of expression and the diversification of public discourse but has likewise broadened the impact of harm caused online.”

We should be very careful, though, in calling for restrictions against misinformation and disinformation. General prohibitions on the dissemination of information can suffer from what we call “overbreadth” where a regulation of speech can sweep too broadly and prohibit protected as well as non-protected speech. Criminalizing, for example, the publication of “fake news” may be used by governments against the legitimate or established media to repress criticism and dissent.

The Bonavera and UNESCO MOOC affirmed my stance that media literacy is still the best solution against disinformation. It said: “According to international standards, the right to hold opinions is absolute and cannot be subject to any exception or restriction. It is therefore important to complement any legal approach with appropriate media and information literacy training to assist individuals in making informed assessments of news items.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, it has become less difficult to convince people to watch out against disinformation and, thus, make wise choices in their mass media consumption. People are now more keen for the news and information that guide them on how to keep safe and on what to expect in the coming days and months. Although traditional news media often give them information that they do not take pleasure in reading or hearing, they now find such information more relevant and trustworthy.

I’ve always likened mass media consumption to choosing friends to surround yourself with. Some friends are fun to be with but could lead you to a bad place. There are those whose company you find unremarkable but could serve you well in making wise choices in life. Of course, you would like to find a right balance of fun and good influence.

It is our continuing mission here in The Freeman to provide you that right balance, but with emphasis always on being trustworthy and fair. Particularly during this time of crisis and confusion, be assured that you have a trusted friend who can give you sound advice, guide you with reliable information, and be there to listen.

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