NEVER have journalists been pilloried in the post-martial law period as they have been today. Ironically, the vicious attacks are coming from individuals and groups who spread lies and twist facts or gloss over weaknesses and failures of those they promote.
A few days ago, Pope Francis told leaders of Italy’s national journalists’ guild that journalism based on gossip or rumors is a form of terrorism, and that media stereotyping entire population or fomenting fear of migrants are acting destructively.
Spreading rumors, the Pope said, is an example of “terrorism, of how you can kill a person with your tongue,” particularly for journalists “because their voice can reach everyone and this is a very powerful weapon.”
The Pope advised reporters to do what they ought to do — go the extra mile to seek the truth, particularly in an age of round-the-clock news coverage.
These days when ordinary persons could hardly distinguish social media from mainstream media, misinformation and disinformation abound. Some groups even take advantage of the situation to further blur the lines and spread false information which, when repeatedly posted on social media accounts, would appear credible to unsuspecting readers.
Journalism in the Philippines is far from being perfect. Many of its practitioners, sad to say, allow themselves to be manipulated by vested interests and personal motives. But generalizing them as “presstitutes” is definitely unfair to those who work hard to tell stories as they are.
“Presstitutes” is a play on press and prostitutes. It was an oblique allegation that the media tailors or twists news to fit a particular agenda. The word blending implies that members of the press sell themselves for money.
Strangely, those who introduced the word to Filipinos were rabid supporters of President Rodrigo Duterte who have frowned over the mainstream media’s reporting of their icon’s verbal diarrhea.
The word “presstitutes” is not an invention of Peter Tiu Laviña, campaign spokesman for Duterte, and Mocha Uson, a singer-dancer who has turned to blogging. They copied it from India where General Vijay Kumar Singh, a politician and former Army general, took offense to the outrage in the media, labelling the media “presstitutes” in a tweet.
The TV channel reported Singh’s statement that visiting the Pakistan High Commission was “more exciting” than evacuating Indians from Yemen. The media and the Indian netizens considered Singh’s comment as insensitive.
In the Philippines, Laviña branded some journalists as “presstitutes” for their biased and “elitist” views against the government’s campaign against illegal drugs.
Oddly, he used the term to refer to an incident that did not exist in the Philippines but in Brazil and in 2014 yet.
“Truly revolting—nine-year-old raped and murdered and we haven’t heard condemning this brutal act from human rightists, bishops and ‘presstitutes’ who are derailing the government’s war against drugs and crime,” Laviña wrote on Facebook in early August.
He who accused mainstream media of irresponsible reporting posted on social media a story that did not happen in the Philippines yet blamed the local media and human rights groups for being quiet about it. How irresponsible indeed! And did anybody hear him say sorry? I haven’t.
Uson, who campaigned for Duterte and who has been writing one-sided articles on her blog that has a following of more than a million, adopted Laviña’s term to refer to the media, and even posted the company logos of the more popular television and newspaper companies in the country that have been coming out with stories critical of Duterte’s war on drugs.
They could not hide their intolerance and incapacity to hear any kind of criticism of their icon, and vent their ire on media outlets.
But then, those criticizing the legitimate media for being biased were those who deliberately tailor news to portray their icon in a positive light even when he was doing the contrary.
Their jeering should better be addressed to their icon who could not control his foul mouth from hurling invectives and curses, as well as their fellow rabid followers who twist the news on purpose. Some of them even fabricate news in questionable websites probably to please their icon.
These biased and social media “trolls” destroy at will the credibility of the legitimate journalists.
Perhaps, the disconnect between the mainstream and social media should give reasons to news organizations to cleanse their ranks and rid of those who sell their souls to corrupt politicians and businessmen.
In the end, those who spread misinformation and disinformation must be identified and exposed.