Recognizing ‘The Guardians’
Journalists all over the world share in Time magazine’s recognition of their colleagues—two individuals (one killed in horrific circumstances), a pair behind bars, and the surviving staff of a newspaper attacked by a gunman—as its “Person(s) of the Year” whom it dubbed “The Guardians.”
This is the first time that media folk are being honored by the magazine in the last 91 years that it has chosen outstanding persons of the year. This is also the first time that a posthumous recognition has been bestowed: on the Saudi Arabian Jamal Khashoggi, who wrote a column for the Washington Post while in exile in the United States and who was set upon by assassins while visiting his country’s consulate in Istanbul.
The Philippines figures in this year’s honors with the selection of Maria Ressa, cofounder and CEO of Rappler, a news website that has come under relentless attack by the Duterte administration.
Time’s other “Person(s) of the Year” are Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo of Reuters, who are currently serving a yearlong sentence in Myanmar for their coverage of the persecution of the Rohingya, and the staff of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, who lost five colleagues in an armed attack on their offices.
The unusual choice for this year’s citation, said Time, was in reaction to the “manipulation and abuse of information, along with efforts by governments to foment mistrust of the facts,” but also in hopes that it would remind “people outside of journalism about the importance of the work.”
Indeed, with the proliferation of social media and the ease with which information technology has made the sharing of information and opinion a matter of a few clicks, the work of journalism and journalists has seemed to have been sidelined. Why the need for filters and gatekeepers, after all, if anyone with access to a computer or device wins instant credibility and a following?
The work of Ressa and Rappler is especially valuable because aside from unflinching coverage, they have also trained a light on the way social media, mainly through Facebook, has been manipulated and exploited. There is, for one, the widespread use of “troll farms,” entire troops of paid anonymous posters who seek to overwhelm those with whom they disagree through a deluge of abuse. More alarming are so-called “bots,” preprogrammed content released in a steady, unrelenting stream.
While the digital revolution was viewed in the early years as a benevolent and convenient development, all too soon has it proved to be vulnerable to those using it as a cheap and anonymous platform for abuse and falsehood.
Thankfully, Facebook itself has responded to these concerns. It has taken down several sites identified as virulent sources of fake news and abusive attacks, and reacts quickly to complaints of inappropriate content which has irked netizens on both sides of the opinion divide.
To be sure, Ressa and Rappler, and all other independent-minded media and journalists, still face formidable obstacles. The case lodged against Ressa became an imminent threat when a warrant for her arrest for tax evasion was issued on the day she arrived from abroad where she had received a slew of awards. The administration has yet to ease up on pressure on newspapers and broadcast outfits—as well as journalists, owners and stockholders—who do not toe the party and presidential line.
Certainly, the outspoken Ressa deserves the Time honor for the way she has, as she puts it, held the line for Philippine journalism. But the recognition also bestows its own mantle of protection on like-minded journalists, and even a nonjournalist like Jover Laurio, one of the Inquirer’s Filipino(s) of the Year in 2017, who used a blog to respond to the lies being peddled by the President’s allies. In fact, Laurio has since received another honor, from the DW Freedom Project, which champions activism and freedom of expression.
In today’s fiery media environment, being a journalist and truth-teller remains fraught with danger. But the world is paying attention, and leaders today lie at their own risk.
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