JOURNALIST TELLS the truth. Powers-that-be get furious. Powers-that-be hire assassins. Journalist is murdered. Public outrage follows.
One hopes, dear karikna, that the sequence is always as simple when a member of the media falls, but, sadly, there are complications.
One is tempted to say that media is to be blamed, too, for making the Philippines one of the top three most dangerous countries for journalists in the world (along with Iraq and Somalia), and Ilocos Norte a killing field for members of the Fourth Estate. Corruption, impropriety, and unprofessional behavior cloud the practice of journalism here and in other parts.
Ergo, the death of a journalist is not always an attack against the truth. It could also be a screaming statement against lies, spins, and half-truths, which are even more dangerous than lies. A media worker wields tremendous power, which, if used irresponsibly, could backfire, and with fatal results.
There is no justifying though the ruthless killings of journalists which, from 1986, now number 137, 104 of which transpired under the Arroyo regime. Not even the shadiest journalist deserves to be at the mercy of an assassin. We have very strong libel laws to punish a malicious blabbermouth, and to redeem the dignity of an aggravated fellow. In a supposedly civilized, democratic society such as ours, there is just no room for motorcycle-riding, gun-firing cowards.
The rampage should stop even as the truth must always be pursued. This is not always easy because the world hates those who speak of inconvenient truths. Socrates, Jesus Christ, Mahatma Gandhi, Jose Rizal, media men and women who did their craft with untainted integrity, and other martyrs of freedom and democracy know this very well. However, when a journalist goes overboard, commits abuses, and gets killed because of it, it is not heroism, it is self-destruction.
Conrado de Quiros, in a speech he delivered to the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication graduates last April, outlined, in a manner no human being could have done better, serious dilemmas journalists face in their line of work. More than assassins, it turns out, it is one’s own self that one should watch closely, and constantly be wary against. Portions of the speech read:
“You have a chasm between power wielded and pay wanted, that chasm will be bridged by corruption. In theory, with much power comes much responsibility. In practice, with much power comes much extortion. I suspect that the darker nights of the soul you will face will not be those where you ask yourself if accepting a risk is worth it but those where you ask yourself if rejecting a bribe is worth it. That is so if you are serious about being a journalist. If you are not, it’s easy: Just avoid the risk and take the bribe.
“I myself have always admired the journalists outside of Metro Manila who have managed to be brave and clean. That is so because life outside Metro Manila puts the choice more starkly to journalists. Be principled and you could die, be unprincipled and you could get rich. It takes a lot more for the journalist outside Metro Manila than for the one inside it to be a serious journalist. But the accomplishment is all the greater when they rise to it. And the grief is all the fiercer when they are felled by it.
“As journalists you will come face to face with the rich and powerful, who are the natural subjects of your profession, and the infinite danger is not that they might become your enemies but that they might become your friends.
“Easy to deal with enemies, not so easy to deal with friends. I do not now recall the American journalist I read a long time ago who warned about the dangers of getting too close to your subjects you can no longer see them objectively. Which poses a quandary, because if you do not get close to them, you won’t be able to make scoops about them, but if you get too close to them, you might not be able to tell the truth about them. How to balance closeness and distance, friendship and objectivity, familiarity and contempt? It’s not easy. The American journalist himself advises not being friends with them at all.
“Indeed, ours is a culture where criticisms are taken very very personally, with dire consequences, the least of them being the proverbial sulian ng kandila, or the revoking of the bonds forged by kumparehan. …The only real friends you have are those you can disagree with violently but who will continue to hold you dear.
“What can I say? We know the famous aphorism from “The Godfather,” which comes from Sun Tzu: “Keep your friends close, and your enemies even closer.” If you’re planning to be a journalist, I can only add: Keep your enemies far, and your friends even farther.”
I have never befriended any politician. If there is one I could consider almost-a-friend, it would be Kris Ablan, not at all because he is a politician, but only because he is a truly decent and well-meaning man. And yet I occasionally write things which are not exactly flattering to Kris, and a gazillion times less flattering to his father, but he continues to hold me with respect. Any human being would be lucky to have such friend.
In more than one occasion, dear karikna, I have been approached by politicians to write for them. There’s a wide space for my name in their payroll, I was told. Herdy would have felt happy, for who does not want more money? But no, Herdy felt insulted. Herdy is not for sale.
Perhaps it was easier for me to refuse because writing is not the source of my bread and butter (and SanMig Light). Cheesy as it may sound, I write because it is my passion, I write because it is my vocation. But, most importantly, I write because there is something to write.
It would have been more difficult if I were a starving writer. Temptations to prostitute my craft would have been stronger. I look at colleagues who extort or accept bribes, not with high eyebrows of condemnation, but with flashes of compassion. In most cases though, some journalists play the dirty money game not much because they need to, but simply because there is something to collect. Greed, like bottomless iced tea, knows no limits.
Fame, too, can blur good judgment, such as when the media worker feels he has become as important as his subjects. He then acts as kingmaker, and that is if he has not decided to be king himself.
Bloated egos notwithstanding, some journalists lack competencies and proper training. There are broadcasters, for example, who try to compensate poor analysis and shallow insight with the use of offensive language. The subjects are raged while the public are insulted and shortchanged. Enlightenment becomes more elusive than before they spoke.
Journalist tells the truth. Powers-that-be get furious. Powers-that-be hire assassins. Journalist is murdered. Public outrage follows.