Facts still matter

STRAIGHT TO THE POINT - Atty. Ruphil Bañoc - The Freeman

As Cebu media celebrates Press Freedom Week, everyone needs to be reminded of the basic roles of media, namely, to inform, educate, and entertain.

In each of these roles, a mediaman’s high sense of responsibility is crucial, for without such virtue, there is no way the roles can be carried out truthfully.

Let us start with the role of informing, and let us talk about straight news. Sadly, there are times when straight news is used to advance an agenda, political or otherwise. The result is that the news becomes slanted. People highly regard straight news because they expect it to be more factual than a feature article.

But we should not also stop with whether we have the facts. We should also care about whether the facts of both sides are presented. News reports which are consistently positive or consistently negative about a particular party or individual should serve as red flags for gatekeepers in the mainstream media.

And speaking of gatekeepers, they are what separate the mainstream media from the social media. We still have the editors and news directors who will be quick to stop the flood of fake news. On social media, everybody becomes a “journalist” but a journalist without accountability and responsibility.

There lies the real danger. True, the mainstream media is far from being perfect. It is riddled with imperfections, not least of which is corruption. But it has features that cannot be dismissed.

This is not to say that social media is a curse. Like many inventions of man, it is a double-edged sword. We have yet to devise an effective method that will stay in the hands of manipulators who use social media to carry out their evil designs.

Another vital role of media is the role to educate, and let us use commentary and columns to do it. Whether we like it or not, society regards people in media as shapers of public opinion. Some issues are complicated, so there are people whose conclusions are based on the conclusions of their favorite commentators or columnists.

A columnist or commentator is responsible for presenting both arguments of an issue, but he is free to arrive at his own conclusion based on available evidence. Sometimes, he may be accused of being biased, but his bias should only be towards the truth. It’s an exacting demand, but that is what media is for. To constantly defend the administration or support the opposition is the role of their spokespersons. We in the media are not obligated to save the necks of either.

Let’s now go to the role of entertainment. For radio, there are drama or music programs intended for entertainment. Such programs are identified for that purpose, distinct from news and commentary programs.

Sometimes, discussion types of programs are mixed with entertainment. But in the attempt to entertain, we must always uphold our responsibility to be factual. It is still important to verify whatever is presented to us by our sources. It is not always what interests the public that matters. It is whether it is in the interest of the public. Some invent stories, exploiting people’s gullibility. At first glance, it looks like there is fun in it. There is none.

Happy Press Freedom Week to the great men and women of Cebu media. Mabuhay!

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