Today we celebrate, or at the very least mark, World Press Freedom Day.
And what a good feeling it is. We're surrounded by neighbors whose media is censored in one way or another. Our media was censored in the past, too; we fought for our freedom to express ourselves a quarter of a century ago; and now our media is bustling and boisterous.
The most important thing I learned when I was taking up my two journalism classes in college is this: a free press promotes public discourse. I realized that the most when I did that half-arsed report - I say it's half-arsed because I still believe I could've done it better - on colorum vehicles; when used properly, the press can inform decisions in a quite profound way. If there's a way to, more or less, legalize shuttles - and there are ways - then why are the colorum drivers not taking advantage of it? And if they are, why are they not being allowed to apply? That sort of thing.
I still see that sort of journalism on newspapers. Occasionally, understandably, because these things really take time. They're mostly limited, of course, to the English broadsheets. Tabloids, of course, have none of this sort.
Broadcast media? I still see good journalism, the sort that really opens our eyes and leads to some honest-to-goodness talking. Well, sometimes. And they're often buried in the second hour of newscasts, right after all of the day's other biggest news.
Exclusive! Rambol ng mga kabataan sa Caloocan, huli sa CCTV!
Isa pang exclusive! Tangkang pag-rescue sa mga sangkot sa aksidenteng pagkahulog ng bus sa bangin sa Benguet, nakunan ng news team!
To be fair, it's not all crime on our newscasts, although I'm dismayed that these little items always get banner treatment on national newscasts. (I mean, what do I get from learning about a shooting incident in Tondo when I live in General Santos?) Their political coverage clearly tells us who's leading and who's not; who's got a jibe in and who's forced on the defensive. I learn everything I need to know about whether our economy is growing, or whether our leaders are governing properly, or whether our sovereignty is still intact, from all the lovingly curated soundbites I hear.
I also learn a lot about what's happening around the world. More deaths in Syria! I thought there was a ceasefire already? Maybe there isn't - there's no mention of it. Just another bunch of deaths. Also, a car accident in China, a ferry accident in India, and the unveiling of the largest drum kit in the world in an Austrian theme park.
And then there's news that Derek Ramsey and Angelica Panganiban's relationship is on the rocks, apparently, and news that Manny Pacquiao gave his mother a luxury van (worth three million bucks, it must be stressed) for her birthday. I am not afraid for the state of public discourse in the country today.
One of my first major college projects (hello, Ian) was a look at why television news programs are so, in our terms then, sensationalist. Our resource person happened to be one of my future teachers, Sir Gary. The gist of his thoughts: the networks are giving what the masses want. As it turns out, they want news they can use, which definitely explains all the obsessive consumer items about rising oil prices and rising food prices and rising jeepney fares. I'm sure they mentioned something about how all these spikes play with the economy and everything else, but they definitely just mentioned it in passing.
That also explains why news programs (the worst culprit being TV5's Aksyon
) start with reports of every grisly crime they get access to. Exclusive this, exclusive that, close-up shot of the bloodied victim that will get pixelated in the post anyway. The masses, they want to know about the latest crimes so they can, as much as possible, avoid being victims of said crimes.
Also, why political coverage is reduced to a he-said, she-said - sure, you can blame it on how politics here actually work, but the press could always do better than delineating the sides and report on everything like it's a spectator sport. And no, I don't just mean when Manny Pacquiao enters the fore.
Speaking of Manny Pacquiao, obsessive celebrity coverage on national news programs. Luxury van! Sex tape! Bible study! Lovi Poe, tinaguriang Pictorial Queen dahil sa kanyang mapangahas na magazine pictorial! Pati na rin si Isabelle Daza! Alam naming nakabihis siya, pero magazine pa rin siya. Mapangahas na yun.
Are publishing companies paying our reporters to make a big deal out of a magazine cover? You know, the same way food supplements pay reporters to feature stories of the triumph of the human will, aided by some herbal juice of sorts? And don't get me started on our "PR-savvy" government.
Yes, we have freedom of the press. We have freedom to report on what needs to be reported without fear of reprisal from the authorities - although it hasn't stopped them from hatching hair-brained schemes like the restrictive Right to Reply bill. We also have freedom to use the press to keep everyone else where they should be. Nope, Mrs. de la Cruz, you should not understand the Middle East situation, even if your husband is working as a contractor in Lebanon. You should also not understand why he's not able to bring home more money than he used to. Is he having an illicit affair? Maybe, but shouldn't you just hedge your bets and join Wiltime Big Time
But what about the other decent members of the press, you might say? What about the work of the PCIJ
and the folks behind State of the Nation
, for instance? Well, what about the fact that these entities are limited to the fringes, in places where not as many people have access, tucked away in cable or on hard-to-reach time slots or on the inside pages of newspapers the masses don't buy? Or maybe, if worse comes to worse, dispatched away to a place where it can be blasted to smithereens for good?
I am not afraid for the state of public discourse in the country today. Go to any street corner. You'll see people talking, debating even, and you realize that they manage to wing it most of the time. It's fascinating how sometimes, if not most of the time, you get more insight about what's going on when you're allowed to think about it. It's not an easy process, though, especially when you're surrounded by the most respected journalists forced to deliver flashy coverage, escapist entertainment and brainless items about the biggest drum kit in the world. I don't know if we fought for press freedom for this, though. For the freedom to actually stop people from thinking, when they're supposed to let them... maybe we need a censored press after all.