New threat to Filipino journalists
Journalism is printing what someone else does not want printed: everything else is public relations,” George Orwell, author.
It seems like a tongue-in-cheek remark from a renowned author, but it is true in cases when journalism crosses the line that leads to the truth that stinks like “mackerel rotting in the moonlight.” As a friend and fellow journalist remarked the other day, “God sees the truth but waits.” Waits for journalists? I could have asked with mock self-importance.
In my more than 40 years in journalism, not a few times have I received requests from persons to investigate and write about issues that could endanger the lives of the persons concerned. The request comes with the plea to not mention the names of the whistleblowers, witnesses, and those who are privy to the matter to be exposed. In other words, I would be on my own to tread the minefield and blow the lid. My response: “Ah, papano ‘yan, ako ang mapapatay dito.” (How now, I could be the one to get killed here.) We are not invincible, I add, without having to add what I had gone through.
This threat is newsworthy as always, something that should make it to the front page. For who will stand behind one another if not journalists themselves? And so we join the Freedom for Media Freedom for All’s call to condemn the death threats against Vera Files, the media group that fact-checks and counters disinformation. Here is the call to close ranks:
“The Freedom for Media Freedom for All (FMFA) coalition, in solidarity with the media journalism community nationwide, condemns the death threats against VERA Files for fact-checking and countering disinformation. VERA Files is one of the internationally accredited groups for reviewing news stories posted on social media, particularly Facebook. It fact-checks and rates the accuracy of these stories.
“FMFA includes the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR), National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Philippine Press Institute, and MindaNews. The five NGOs (nongovernment organizations) have joined together to undertake campaigns and advocacy for media freedom, not just as a right of those working in the press but of all citizens in a democracy.
“Sent through Facebook messenger by a certain ‘Melbert Abarquez,’ the threats—accompanied by a photo of two men brandishing rifles—came after VERA Files published a fact check that belied Senator Ronald dela Rosa’s claim that former President Duterte’s comments about killing police linked to the drug trade were only said out of frustration.
“Some may see death threats as something that comes with the work of a journalist but these should not be ignored or normalized. FMFA notes the gravity of the challenge particularly during the Duterte regime when President Duterte publicly expressed his personal animosity against mainstream media.
“Subsequently, his supporters, including troll armies, launched a coordinated disinformation campaign against journalists. Propaganda popularized the labels ‘presstitutes’ and ‘bayaran’ (bribed) to describe journalists on social media. These led to actual assaults, surveillance, harassment, and intimidation as other government officials followed suit in their dealings with the media.
“In a climate of violence, words threatening to kill become inciteful of actual actions. Such words heighten the impunity with which attacks and threats are hurled at journalists and media workers. CMFR and NUJP both monitor and report the increase of such actions against journalists around the country and the involvement of state agents or public officials in numerous cases.
“President Ferdinand Marcos Jr. has stated that ‘fake news’ has no place in modern society. He has also expressed his intent to improve the low ranking of the Philippines in the World Press Freedom Index. He must back these actions with words and order the Philippine National Police, the National Bureau of Investigation, and the Presidential Task Force on Media Security to work together to find out who are behind these threats.
“FMFA calls on the media community to stand in solidarity with the victims of these attacks and threats. The attack on one is an attack on all. These threats weaken the media as an institution and as a community and erode the capacity of journalists to provide factual news that citizens need in a democracy.”
My condolences go to the Religious of the Good Shepherd (RGS), family, and friends of Sister Mary Regina Kuizon who passed away on June 26. Sister Gina had been RGS Philippines-Japan’s former province leader and cochair of the Conference of Major Superiors in the Philippines. A journalism graduate, she had worked in communications before she joined the RGS. In journalese, she wrote “30” at 61. (Journalists end their copies with a 30.)
To Shepherd One, my prayer: Take all—this hunger, this hymn—at eventide, at eventide.
Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org