Independent press necessary in free, informed society
President Duterte was quoted claiming in a late-night speech that was supposed to focus on the coronavirus pandemic that he doesn’t read well-written articles that show him in a bad light.
He also sneered at the “bright girls” (before naming Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and calling her a “fraud”) for being critical of his government. Mr. Duterte’s rants betrays his hurt ego and undisguised aversion to negative criticisms. Particularly as the nation’s top leader, he must always be mindful that the role of the news media is precisely to report and comment on events as they see fit, independent of those who wield power.
By its very nature, journalism’s task is to tell the truth, with the ultimate goal of serving the public. Despite their acknowledged imperfections, journalists are the best critics who are beholden to no one, from whom we can seek the truth and rely upon to make the democratic process of checks and balances work.
The only way to encourage and ensure people you agree with to speak the truth is to support the rights of people you don’t agree with. Historically, suppression of the freedom of the press has always been the hallmark and downfall of dictators, because they end up fed with lies.
To be sure, there is a limitation to any freedom pursuant to our basic responsibility to respect the rights of others, but the bar set for restrictions to the freedoms of the press and of expression is very high, on account of the important role the press plays in public affairs. That explains why it is matter-of-factly referred to as the fourth branch of government.
In the words of Albert Camus in “Resistance, Rebellion and Death”: “A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but most certainly, without freedom it will never be anything but bad.” It is a fundamental necessity of a free and informed society. As has been observed, to be well-informed is the greatest power one can achieve. Unless we have the facts, our wrong decisions arising from misinformation, or lack of it, can adversely affect our courses of action.
In the immortal language of Justice George Malcolm in US v. Bustos (1918): “The interest of society and the maintenance of good government demand a full discussion of public affairs. Complete liberty to comment on the conduct of public men is a scalpel in the case of free speech. The sharp incision of its probe relieves the abscesses of officialdom. Men in public life may suffer under a hostile and unjust accusation; the wound may be assuaged by the balm of a clear conscience” (as quoted in John Nery’s column “Who’s afraid of Maria Ressa?” 6/11/20).
DIOSDADO V. CALONGE
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