ON this anniversary of our 116th year of existence, we are proud to tell the world that for the past several years we have been receiving messages of gratitude from readers who tell us that The Manila Times “is back.”
They tell us in emailed letters and comments posted online that The Manila Times is once again the country’s No. 1 Philippine daily for being the best in the performance of a good newspaper’s civic duty.
Day in and day out we do indeed try to do what we can to help in nation-building–and to expose and fight with our writing the forces that seek to destroy our Republic.
Our guide in this daily struggle is our conviction of what the press should be in a democracy.
The Chairman Emeritus of The Manila Times, also the Chairman of our sister-institution, The Manila Times College, enunciated this conviction in a speech he gave at a grand convocation of the Thammasat University in Bangkok on the occasion of its 80th founding anniversary on August 14, 2014. Here are excerpts from Dr. Dante A. Ang’s speech “The role of the press in nation-building.”
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[Our] government does not respond to the ills that plague our country. So, in the absence of positive actions to address the challenges that confront our country, what does our government do? It resorts to Public Relations in the guise of news. It conceals the truth and releases instead official statements or comments highlighting its achievements without providing the answers to the questions: “How did the so-called achievements benefit the people or how did the so-called achievements change people’s lives?”
The media, on the other hand, dutifully “report” and quote what the government’s mouthpiece says in press briefings and formal press conferences. Instead of challenging the claims of the spokesperson, media publish or air the statement en toto, thus giving it an air of accuracy and authority. By failing to be critical, the press, in effect fails in its duty to check the facts and therefore could be guilty of disseminating false information.
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And that’s exactly what happens when statements and stories from the authorities are published and aired without being challenged by the press for accuracy. People accept bogus statements or outright lies as gospel truths when in fact, the truth lies somewhere in between, or worse, at the other end of the spectrum.
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Almost every story that emanates from our government, for instance, does not inform, much less enlighten the public on relevant issues.
On the contrary, what passes off as news is actually Propaganda or PR. Instead of informing the public, what it does is to condition the minds of the unsuspecting audience to support what could be illegal acts.
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The press has been largely remiss in its job of being critical. Reporters fail or do not dare challenge the statements by the authorities and their spokespersons and allies. Very little effort if at all, goes into checking the facts and squeezing more information from government sources. In effect, the reporters simply echo the narrative offered by the spokespersons. This is not news gathering. This is journalistic mediocrity at its best. In this instance, the press cannot escape responsibility for writing or airing official press releases aimed at sanitizing or worse, covering up what could be a commission of a crime by the powers-that-be.
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Our political leaders often confuse performance with press briefings, issuing press releases and public relations initiatives. They are so preoccupied with maintaining their popularity and high acceptance ratings rather than providing the people what they really need – jobs, food, shelter, quality education, affordable health care, among other basic needs of the family.
They issue daily news releases and appear on TV talk shows on issues that don’t really matter to the ordinary people. Instead of informing the public, they dish out convoluted propaganda. They confuse effective governance with high ratings and public relations.
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The Press when it does its job should really be critical. The press exists not to trumpet the good deeds of government or to lie in bed with our public officials.
The role of the press is to check government abuses. As such, the press should be suspicious of the acts and pronouncements of elective and appointive officials. It should guard against disinformation or outright lies by public officials. Otherwise, the stories published or aired do nothing but serve and promote the propaganda goals of the powers-that-be and the Press, in effect, would have abandoned its sworn duty as the vanguard of truth and keeper of the faith.
And when the Press abandons its public duty, shenanigans and corruption in government would worsen, poverty would deepen, injustice and human rights violations would sharpen and our hopes and dreams for our children and our country would be dashed.