DIGITAL technology has made it easy for one to claim being a journalist. You just need a smart phone with good Internet signal and you can already break the news about something via Twitter or Facebook. You can create a blog site and post news and opinions there for everyone to read.
But merely engaging in journalistic-like activities does not make one a real journalist. This issue has long been the subject of debate, particularly in regard to ethical standards and the processing of news before these are disseminated to the audience.
Not everything new can be news. Not everything new is newsworthy. That’s where journalism matters. It involves a process of verification and storytelling to make a subject newsworthy.
In a public forum I attended last Thursday to mark World Press Freedom Day, the speakers spoke about the ideal journalism work as well as the realities on the ground that make the real work of journalists far from being in ideal situations.
On one hand, US Ambassador Phillip S. Goldberg defined what “real” journalism is as distinguished from the social media “journalists.” On the other, Rowena Caranza-Paraan, chairperson of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) shared the sorry state of journalism in the communities.
Their statements showed the clear divide between the first world’s view about journalism and the third-world situation.
“Not anyone who knows how to write these days could call themselves journalists,” Goldberg said at the forum entitled “Let Journalism Thrive: The right to life, the right to know, the right to free expression.”
“In so many ways,” he said, “you could get your message to the public, through the Internet, through blogs. In fact it seems anyone who knows how to tweet these days can say they are journalists.”
But real journalism, he said, “is a unique and venerable vocation that requires many different attributes: ethics, dedication, and, more than ever, bravery.”
Being a real journalist involves something more, Goldberg emphasized. “It involves real truth-seeking, truth-telling. It’s not fabricating stories to make money or exaggerating the headlines to sell the paper.”
“They give voice to those without political or economic power.
Journalists do this because they have heart, they have heart to expose the truth,” he stressed.
“Professional integrity is the cornerstone of a journalist’s credibility. Ethical journalism means dedication to accuracy, fact-checking, and credible sources. It means educating oneself on a variety of topics to ensure stories are well-informed,” the ambassador pointed out.
Terence Jones, resident coordinator of the United Nations who was also at the forum, was on the same page as Goldberg. “Quality journalism enables citizens to make informed decisions about their society’s development. It also works to expose injustice, corruption and the abuse of power,” he said in the same forum.
The UN has declared May 3 every year as World Press Freedom Day. This year’s theme for the celebration is “Let Journalism Thrive!
Towards Better Reporting, Gender Equality, & Media Safety in the Digital Age.”
The forum, organized by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), was held at the Bayleaf Hotel in Intramuros and attended by media practitioners, political bloggers, journalism students, and human rights advocates.
While both Goldberg and Jones recognized the “significant” decline in the number of extra-judicial killings (EJK) in the Philippines in the last few years, they also emphasized that much more needs to be done to bring the number down to zero.
“There is still a tragic number of deaths” recorded the past recent years, Goldberg said even as he noted that the number of EJKs, including those against journalists, have declined from a high of over 200 per year in the late 2000 to around 50 to a hundred per year in recent years.
“We’ve seen some positive development with regards to press freedom in the Philippines over the last few years. But it’s not there yet. We all have to work so that number becomes zero,” he told the forum.
Jones, for his part, noted that “at least one journalist is killed each week in conflict and non-conflict areas (around the world).”
“For peace to be lasting and development sustainable, human rights must be respected. Everyone must be free to seek and impart knowledge and information through media online and offline,” he said.
The Philippines is touted to have one of the freest, if not the freest, press in Asia but it is also ironically ranked as one of the most dangerous places in the world for journalists.
The International Committee to Protect Journalists has ranked the Philippines as the third-most dangerous country for journalists next to Iraq and Syria, with at least 77 deaths.
In 2013, the World Press Freedom Index placed the Philippines in 147th place among 180 countries, and 149th in the succeeding year.
Paraan, for her part, said that Filipino journalists, particularly those in the rural areas, are equally concerned over threats to their press freedom and their economic well being.
“When we talk about threats to press freedom, the first things that come to mind, especially if in the context of countries like the Philippines, are the killings of journalists. But some threats to freedoms are not always as obvious as a .45 caliber gun or as loud as a gunshot. Some attacks happen quietly and hit us where it hurts the most: in the stomach, or sikmura,” she pointed out.
“But, ironically, many journalists have gotten so used to the situation that they no longer see or they fail to understand how it already undermines basic rights and freedoms, including the right to a free press,” Paraan noted.
If Manila-based journalists complain of pittance pay and inadequate benefits like health insurance and hazard pay, the situation is far worse in the rural areas where reporters serve as editor and advertising agent at the same time to have a little money come pay day.
As Paraan narrated, “Community reporters usually have neither medical insurance, social benefits nor bonuses. But there are still far more horrendous ways that community journalists are exploited.”
“There are media outlets that do not pay at all their reporters, leaving them to find ways to earn money using their press cards. “Diskarte” is how it is usually referred to. This may entail knocking on the door of officials, letting them hear the recording of the commentary or news report that aired recently wherein the official is given much prominence. With fingers crossed, the reporter hopes that the official is grateful or happy enough to slip him or her a Ninoy Aquino bill, depending on how much pogi points he will get from the broadcast.”
How sad indeed! In such situations, how can a “real” journalist survive without compromising one’s principles?