Journalism is not a game or a joke
Who elected the press?” is the title of a 1980 piece by Letty Jimenez-Magsanoc, who was editor in chief of the Inquirer for 25 years until she passed away on Christmas Eve of 2015. She wrote the piece when she was the editor of Panorama magazine. It was one of her pieces that displeased the Marcos dictatorship and was therefore censored—the last straw that caused her forced resignation. Truth to tell, I did put her in trouble then, with several of my own risky pieces in the magazine.
LJM’s “Who elected the press?” was on my mind while reading the Dec. 30 statement of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) titled “Di po laro ang pagbabalita, Mr. President!” (Journalism is not a game, Mr. President!) The statement is in crisp Filipino, with an English translation provided.
First, let me share excerpts from LJM’s piece that was written because Ferdinand Marcos and his minions tried to keep a tight grip on the press, which kept fighting back during the dictatorship’s waning years.
“Who elected the press? No one…
“Yet it is the only private institution that is protected by the Philippine Constitution as it is by other democratic states… (She cited provisions in the Constitution.-CPD)
“By the fundamental law of the land, the press has the right, the authority, the moral obligation, the duty to ask questions, to dig up facts and winnow fact from fiction and present them to the public in the free market of ideas, to hold up a mirror to society reflecting both the potholes as well as the smooth, concrete highways, to focus on the raw display of power of public officials, to promote the living arts as well as the art of living, to record, dramatize, applaud and celebrate the events, the men and women who are sobering, civilizing and inspiring forces of society.
“Because of the unique role and function of the press sanctified by the Constitution, its practitioners have to be women and men who look on their work not only as source of income but as a vocation that demands continuous study, curiosity, enthusiasm, a level of joy, inspiration, integrity and laughter… Our motives must be free, as free as the press itself is envisioned to be.
“So help us God, unelected as we are.”
Now from the NUJP:
“With due respect, Mr. President, the NUJP deliberately wrote this statement in the national language to stress the importance of clear communications and to ensure everyone understands what we wish to say.
“In your interviews with media on Thursday, you again said you were ‘playing’ with us and are ’fond’ of ’joking around.’ Which is why it is the responsibility of reporters to examine everything you say, if it is true or not, and we are to blame if our reports do not reflect the message you wish to impart.
“We beg your pardon but, we reject outright your point of view. Not because we have no wish to examine your words—it is part of our job to do so—but because, as President of the Philippines, you have the responsibility and the duty of being clear in all your statements to the nation and the world.
“There are times for joking or even nonsense. But because you are the President, all your public statements are considered—and it is only proper to do so—administration policy. Besides, many of your ardent supporters consider even your jokes as marching orders while the corrupt and the criminals inside and outside government also use these to justify their heinous designs. In such a situation, would it not be more prudent if you stopped playing with us and tamed your penchant for jokes?
“…If your statements are not clear and if it is not clear whether you are serious or joking, the problem lies with you and not with us or with the people. We are serious in our work and obligation to treat seriously and report faithfully everything that issues from the President’s lips.
“Do not foist on others your obligation to speak clearly, Mr. President.”
And you keep mumbling to yourself, we noticed.
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