Those who remember a grim past are naturally wary of allowing a similar future. Those who remember the terrible facets of dictatorship in the Philippines are naturally restless at any sign of it occurring again. And none seem to be more restless about this than media practitioners, whose battle cry is always the upholding of the freedom of the press especially when it is threatened by formidable rulers.
Following the revocation of the registration of Rappler, a media outlet known for its critical stance on the current administration, the cry for press freedom has risen to new levels. Yet, instead of unifying the nation against what is seen as oppression, the case has polarized the rest of us.
On one hand, the revocation is understood as faithfulness to the Constitution, a victory for the rule of law. On the other, there is fear that legal technicalities are being twisted and turned to favor certain parties who would benefit from the silencing of the critical press.
In the midst of all this, many are confused as to why press freedom has become the central issue in this one particular case of corporations and clauses.
It is because those who remember a grim past are wary of allowing a similar future. The history of this country is littered with political maneuverings and legal manipulations, and at one point, these led to an authoritarian regime whose injustices have deeply scarred thousands. It was an era when the free press was tactically crushed to the ground, reporter by reporter, station by station. It is no wonder why, given the current clash between the government and the media, the government’s gesture against one media outlet raised alarm bells.
The validity of the revocation is, of course, the primary question to satisfy. But even if everyone agreed that revoking Rappler’s license was the most constitutional thing to do, in the eyes of those who remember our past, it would still only be an initial stroke in the big picture. That big picture is the possible repetition of a history where the press was no longer free to operate independently from the government.
This matters because the free press is our hope for truth. We cannot form valid opinions if the stories that reach us are lies orchestrated by a ruling party. We cannot focus on causes worth fighting for if we are gag-fed with distractions and misdirection. We cannot attempt change if all we hear and read tell us that there is nothing to change.
All this said, it does not have to take a totalitarian government to kill press freedom. All too often, the rot starts within the press itself. The media give up this freedom with every gift accepted, every favor received from those it is supposed to scrutinize with objective watchdog eyes. Press freedom dies with every fluff piece, every misquotation, every massaged truth woven into for-sale stories. Press freedom dies when the press lets itself be shackled by profit. And this, sadly, is a culture among media circles.
This leaves the people—the readers and listeners of every mouthpiece—groping in the dark for the truth. Many have lost faith in the government, which now appears to them as an oppressor of facts. At the same time, many have lost faith in the media, which have abused their independence and used it for cold, hard gains.
This distrust blossoming in every direction can make anyone feel helpless and paralyzed. But that should not be so. Now is a time when readers and listeners have to be smart and attentive. While the current reality is bleak and uncertain, an active audience can still dig through the rubbish, make intelligent judgment, and call out those who threaten the freedom of truth—whether this threat comes from ruling oppressors or from paid messengers themselves.
You, reader, have a stake in this. Remember the lessons of the past, pay attention to the intricacies of the present. Stay watchful.