Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Writer's Block: On journalism

I admit I am one of those outraged by the massacre that happened in Maguindanao, Philippines.

For those who have no idea what that is about, 57 people were brutally murdered about two weeks ago -- among them were members of a politician's family, and several journalists.

The massacre is believed to be politically-motivated, allegedly ordered by a powerful political clan in the province.

I personally don't know any of the journalists killed, though I did hear from a former colleague that a wire stringer was one of the victims.

While no life is less valuable than another, this is also considered to be the worst assault on journalists in the world due to the number of media members killed.

The Philippines was once ranked the third most dangerous place to practice journalism, trumped only by war-stricken countries like Iraq. It still is third in rank, I believe, and this massacre has only put the country under closer scrutiny.

World press groups like Reporters without Borders continue to fight for journalistic freedom, but sometimes to no avail.

Before I continue however, allow me to clarify that what we are talking about here is real journalism -- not sensational tabloid reporting by people who have corrupted the profession for the love of money and power.

Journalists are often portrayed as nosy folks who meddle into personal business. But I would like to argue that freedom to follow celebrities and high-profile people paparazzi style is not really what most journalists are fighting for.

While journalism in the Philippines is considered to be free, there is no money in this profession.

Many journalists in the Philippines -- as in many developing countries -- make less than $500 dollars a month. And yet many of them are threatened, bribed and silenced by hired hit men on a regular basis.

I understand that the world has a love-hate relationship with the media, but believe me when I say there are those who despite all odds, remain in the profession out of principle.

Of course, there will always be bad apples in the bunch, just as there are good and bad doctors and teachers. One does not represent all.

It is difficult to imagine a world without the press, and perhaps for many, they would rather live in a world free of journalists. But the media is the watchdog of society. It is in general, a social barometer of what agitates the public.

When something bad happens, the media is there. Yes, bad news seems like good news to the press – but it is not as simple as it appears to be.

No one wants to be the bearer of bad news, not even the media. If we had our way, many of us would rather tell you about pleasant things. But that's why people hate the media so much. They are the bearers of bad news. It is a hazard of the profession.

Of course, the media is not always right. No one is. But when access to public information (note public, not classified information) is withheld or controlled, governments and people in power would have no one to answer to. It is because of the pressure of being accountable for their actions that some people hate the press.

In countries like the Philippines, plenty of journalists have already been killed -- execution-style -- over the decades. And yet justice has never been served.

Once or twice, such as in this massacre, there is a short show of how the government condemns and comes after the culprits. Investigations are held, and sometimes a fall guy takes the heat, just up to the time people forget.

It is usually just lip-service and a show. For once, I hope it won’t be so.