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Journalism is a thankless job

Daniel Moynihan once said: “If a person goes to a country and finds their newspapers filled with nothing but good news, there are good men in jail.”

Hateful online criticism of Philippine journalists has peaked nationwide for their alleged partiality. Some comments condemn journalists for their work, sometimes based on headlines alone and not on the report or its sources (this does not excuse those media that use misleading headlines for unethical “click bait”). We have become so empowered by the anonymity and hit-and-run tactics of commenting offered by the internet that we bully journalists who are merely doing their job.

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While “facts” are the cornerstone of journalism and sources must be meticulously vetted, there is no guarantee that news reports are perfect. A source may be incorrectly quoted or the intent of one’s words is changed entirely by the tenor of the presentation. When these occur, it is the people’s right to call out journalists on errors or misrepresentations.

But we have become a completely intolerant people, and we leave so little room for mistake that it instills fear in the profession. It is fear that inhibits the uncovering of stories that may be too difficult for people to accept. Yet stories of controversy are subjects of national concern, and they need to be told. For what kind of a people would we be without a free press and the courageous men and women who fight for and even die for their profession?

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“Only pain you will find if the comments section you go,” says a Yoda meme, reflecting the hate that follows almost every news article online. For every issue, there are generally three kinds of people who post comments: those who pick a political side and defend it rigorously, sometimes to the point of being dogmatic; those who don’t pick a side yet spend their time sharing unnecessary sarcastic animal memes (sometimes the only thing that makes the comments section worth reading); and those who constantly blame journalists for supposedly creating the very controversy they are reporting on. The third group is the bile of comments on the media because it thrives, not on debate over the issues presented, but on discrediting, insulting, and, worst, threatening journalists.

Born out of human progress and necessity, a free press is a fundamental pillar of a democratic nation. While the pursuit of truth may lead to its distortion on occasion (sometimes more often then not), the need for journalists to report on issues is necessary for debate. Without debate, there is no urgency for us to ponder on the direction our leaders have taken us. And the absence of debate promotes silence—a symbol of a people’s acquiescence to and implied approval of their leaders’ action and inaction. We should fear silence because it is the perfect breeding ground for a free nation to slide into tyrannical rule.

So we sit comfortably and nitpick or hurl an “innocent” profanity or two into the comments section about Philippine journalism. But we must acknowledge the journalists who do acts of courage for very little pay and who pay too high a price for it. The Philippines is, after all, one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists. They conduct secret interviews with sources harboring important information. Themselves cold and wet, they check the conditions of displaced families in overcrowded shelters in storm-lashed areas. They report on corpses in the streets, searching for answers to questions that sometimes no one else wants to ask.

Before you toss your two cents into the flood of online opinion, please be mindful that journalists also attempt to sit comfortably at home and will be reading your words of “appreciation.”

Rafael Lorenzo G. Conejos, 28, is a lawyer and former professor of literature at De La Salle University Manila.

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TAGS: Daniel Moynihan, free press, freedom of the press, Journalism, media responsibility, misleading headlines, Rafael Lorenzo g. Conejos, Young Blood
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