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A compelling book has just come off the press. “Philippine Communication in the Digital Age” leads with an understatement: “The world of mass communication has changed dramatically.” And in 25  documented chapters, author Crispin Maslog illustrates the sweep of those alterations: from blackboard papers, in a remote Cebu town, to cell phones unleashing People Power 2.

A former journalist, Maslog taught at Silliman University, then at the University of the Philippines Los Baños. In his latest book, he tries to track the genie that the new media technology has uncorked. It is loose in a “global village” foreseen by the scholar Marshall McLuhan four decades earlier.

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“We used a manual typewriter for our first  book, published in 1987,” Maslog recalls. That first edition went through five printings. This time around, “we used a Pentium 4 computer” that can electronically juggle functions from revision to publication, all in cyberspace.

This book will serve today’s students who “were not even born then.” They cluster in “a sound chamber of competing voices from computers to cell phones.” The shrill can, all too easily, drown out the significant.

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The new edition is anchored to seven chapters, retained but updated, from the 1987 edition. The titles indicate their relevance: Chapter 1, for example, is a capsule history of Philippine mass communication while Chapter 15 focuses on “Traditional Media.”

Chapters 4 and 5, however—“People Power” and “The Role of Communication”—have a special resonance. They “document the central and compelling role of communication during the two People Power Revolutions” here, compressed in just a span of 15 years (1986-2001), Maslog writes. “These are historic feats that became a model of non-violent change to other oppressed nations, which today’s young generation too easily forgets.”

People Power 1, in fact, sparked Czechoslovakia’s “Velvet Revolution” and Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolt.” Add to that the “Arab Spring,” which started with uprisings in Tunisia, Libya and Yemen. Stalled, these still confront uncertain outcomes.

A core issue is addressed in Chapter 6, “Mass Media and Values.” Have yesterday’s ethical standards been devalued into today’s suggestions?

Today, surveys tell us, eight out of 10 Filipino students barely recall former senator Benigno Aquino Jr. or why he was gunned down. “Indeed, we have little collective memories of the past,” Ateneo’s Bienvenido Nebres, SJ, told a conference on the legacies of the Marcos dictatorship. “We tend to live in a perpetual present. Thus, we cannot see well into the future.”

And in the media, we’re always moving on to the next headline, so we never develop a vocabulary for the long haul. We tend to treat

every story with equal importance. A bicycle accident is often made out as the end of civilization, George Bernard Shaw once snorted.

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Worse, we often fail to pinpoint consequences beyond the immediate headline or bulletin. The victims are “people who draw the short straw”: always a meal short and often school dropouts.

The book’s last five chapters probe the new frontiers of journalism in the still-evolving cyberspace. Chapter 21 tracks “New Trends in Journalism” while Chapter 22 deals with the prickly issue of “Civic Journalism.” Is anyone who can roam the Net a journalist, as some claim? Or are they just unedited cyberspace buccaneers, as others argue?

Maslog considers this debate in Chapter 23, “Philippine Online Journalism,” and in Chapter 24, “New Media in the Cyber Age.” Will they converge? Chapter 25 provides some emerging trends. Ever the professor, Maslog titles Chapter 26 “Communication Education: An Overview.”

Since 1984, the Internet has recast newsrooms. Webpages today are “rematted” every 15 minutes, even less. News reports—or rumors—no longer go by carrier pigeon or the newspaper “extra.” A click of the computer mouse will do it.

More “citizen reporters” clamber on the Net. Some send useful data, others dump unchecked information, plus an overdose of opinion.

Accountability is often given short shrift.

Speed paradoxically increases the need for working in depth. Technology is made for man, not vice versa. Are we standing that yardstick on its head? “[Technology] diminishes the importance of news, which is the ultimate journalistic standard,” Nobel Laureate Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote. “Never has this profession been more dangerous.”

The discipline of verification separates journalism from entertainment or propaganda. It is focused on getting what happened down right. The press’ duty is to challenge, not to entertain or be cowed into silence. “The greatest threats to press freedom are journalists who act as megaphones for the powerful,” the late publisher  Eugenio Lopez Jr. once said.

“In journalism, it is easier to sound off than it is to find out. It is more elegant to pontificate than it is to sweat,” SundayTimes editor Harold Evans wrote. “The press is a frail vessel for the hopes it is meant to bear. Yet, the best it does never measures up to tasks that a complex world imposes.”

In the film “Absence of Malice,” the editor muses: “I know how to report the news and how not to hurt people. But I don’t know how to do both at the same time.” Indeed, the best journalism can hurt someone without meaning to.

Values that “endure even after the sun goes out” offer the only basis for resolving such dilemmas: fairness, balance, respect for dignity—and old-fashioned integrity.

Take time out from today’s scandals for this book. It provides insights. And we are privileged to say so in the foreword on the 28th

anniversary of People Power.

(E-mail: [email protected])

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TAGS: books, Digital age, internet, Journalism, Juan L. Mercado, Mass Communication, opinion, Viewpoint
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