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In a nation neck-deep in lies, journalism is a necessity

By Joel Pablo Salud Published May 23, 2022 3:30 pm

“Old age hath yet his honor and his toil; / Death closes all: but something ere the end, / Some work of noble note, may yet be done.”

My favorite line from Alfred Lord Tennyson’s Ulysses sprung the moment I received the invitation in my Messenger inbox. I was to be part of several newsroom “oldies” who will sit down and unpack the current situation to a group of young journalists over the weekend.

The invitation was sufficient to get me all motivated. However, my close to 60-year-old body couldn’t care less if the sky falls and the world burns. Pains exploded here and there with such dogged insistence that I spent a better part of my weekend strapped in bed. 

The combination of gout and what seems like neuropathy won that day. But as soon as the pain and swelling eased by Sunday evening, I lost no time limping to my writing corner. I sat for hours staring at a blank page. 

Are we seeing the specter of another assault against the press? With the shadow of the new administration hanging over our heads, it doesn’t seem far-fetched.

What would I have spouted to young journalists that would make a difference? Truth to tell, I’m at a loss for what to think. The current political landscape is just as black and blue for the young once as it is for the young ones. 

It didn’t help that a campus journalist — Manila Collegian’s Lloyd Manango — covering the recent protest march at the U.S. Embassy was hauled in jail on the morning of Saturday. Thanks to Rea Guiloreza of the National People’s Lawyers and Raymund Villanueva, Safety Officer of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, the young journalist was released by the Manila police late that afternoon. 

Police personnel prevent militant groups from getting near the US embassy during a rally on May 21 to protest the visit of US President Joe Biden to the Asia-Pacific region this May.

Are we seeing the specter of another assault against the press? With the shadow of the new administration hanging over our heads, it doesn’t seem far-fetched.

Investigative journalist and journalism professor Sheila Colonel said in her address at the 2022 Commencement Exercises of Kenyon College: “As Filipinos and others around the world have seen in recent years, the spell of authoritarianism is not so easily broken. Voters unhappy with democracy’s failed promises have elected strongmen.”

I spent the next several hours mulling over our predicament. We can do this the old-school way: encourage the young journos, even wow them with tales of daring and valor in the field, perchance tell stories of how journalists pushed back the claws of martial law back in the day. 

We are faced with a complex battle, and the arena doesn't give us a home court advantage.

In an upside-down world, this is easier said than done. Consider this possible scenario: a bunch of undesirables who couldn’t care less about human rights, jockeying for position as chair the Commission on Human Rights. Where universities are red-tagged and books banned on account of “communist” leanings, there is no shortage of anticommunist warmongers who might be wooing endorsements as heads of state universities. 

Cabinet posts will be so highly coveted that officials who may not possess half the experience, to say little of grey matter, could end up occupying sensitive tasks. In a country where fake news peddlers end up as senators, the possibility seems endless.

Since journalists take on the unpleasant job of gathering statements from people in varying positions of power, what happens now? Are we now confined to simply parroting the claims of people whose words may not even square with reality? Don’t get me started on the likelihood that State principalities will begin flattering owners of media companies to toe the official line, leaving editors and journalists threatened from within.

Campus journalists operating under state-run universities may soon feel the crunch of censorship if and when the State pulls of another martial law-style bowdlerization of the campus press. Remember Liliosa Hilao? She was the first journalist on campus to have been murdered while in detention under batas militar.

In a Twitter post on May 14, I said, “Filipino journalists must band together in the struggle against a massive disinformation machinery. We cannot do this separately. We are faced with a complex battle, and the arena doesn't give us a home court advantage. Solidarity, having each other's back, is a good first step.” 

The other thing I would’ve said is to break the one inviolable rule of the newsroom: that journalists are not the story. 

I think it’s time. The people’s ignorance of what we do in the field, in the newsroom, in the vetting of information, in the amount of energy, time, and resources spent to bring people the facts, has led to a general illiteracy of the profession among the everyday Filipino. So much so that a little rumor goes a long way to discredit the hard-at-work, often sleepless newshound. 

This should not be limited to exploits in the field, but stories that expose what journalists have to undergo during the most challenging situations. We’re human, too, part of a struggling and largely abused workforce, with rights that go past the freedom of the press. Relating these personal yarns should be par for the course, something we must normalize in order to tell the world that we are neither indestructible supermen nor a violent fringe group out to nuke the world.

That in a nation neck-deep in lies, journalists and journalism are, more than ever, a necessity and an inevitability.

I’m certain that the old newsroom fogies who braved the weekend despite the squeaks and cracks in their bones have done a great job without me that Saturday night. The job requires journalists to be vigilant at any age, irrespective of conditions. Tennyson had much to say about these great men and women:

“We are not now that strength which in old days / Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are; / One equal temper of heroic hearts, / Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will / To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.”

Write on. We don’t stop for anything.