A Journalism Of Hackers?

by Juan L. Mercado


“Gigi” in  today’s headlines is  not  the  love-struck girl (Leslie Caron), serenaded by  Maurice Chevalier,  in the 1958 MGM musical. Jessica  “Gigi” Reyes is chief of staff for the Senate President.  She co-signs checks and whips straying subordinates into line.  She also rides shotgun for Juan Ponce Enrile.  “Hypocrites” she dubbed  senators who assailed her boss’  P1.6 million “Christmas”  doles to 18 friendly  legislators.  Others closer to the scene will  discuss “Ma-am Gigi” in days ahead.

May we  focus  here on an equally relevant  issue tossed up by  the Supreme Court’s deliberation on the Cyberspace Law,  “Hacktivists  defaced government websites.   Among  sites hit  were National Telecommunications Commission, Banco Sentral to a  Camarines local government .  That’s vandalism, not cybercrime says DOST’s Louis Casambre. Since there is little accountability, more hacking is ahead.

The first inter-person link, on Internet, occurred in 1971. Facsimile followed shortly thereafter. Filipinos were first to wage “People Power” against President Joseph Estrada’s  soused regime with cell  phones.  Filipinos heft over 78 million cellphones  today.  Lebanon ’s “Cedar Revolution” and  Tunisia ’s “Jasmine Revolt” harnessed  this  new technology. Twitter, Facebook, Ipods, etc. stoke  the still uncertain “Arab Spring”.

All can have their say on cyberspace expressway. Many do without  cross-checking, “Everyone is entitled to his opinion,” the late Senator Pat Moynihan groused. “But not everyone can have his set of facts.”  Electronics whittled away the face-to-face oversight editors exercised. There are few gate keepers left.  Here is the “Global Village” that Marshall McLuhan foresaw. 

In  New Delhi , “hacktivists”  defaced  Information minister Kapil Sibal’s webpage by disparaging  his mental abilities.  Sibal championed  laws that his critics say muzzle social media.   A Filipino driver earlier  groused, on TV,  about lack of warnings in flooded areas.  Cyber bullies pummeled him. “Constitutional safeguards against defamatory speech became useless,” fumed  Inquirer’s Raul Pangalangan.  “Anonymous posts can unleash our worst selves.”

“Is blogging journalism?” asks Seattle Times’ Paul Andrews . The ‘Web generation’ made valuable contributions”. “Salam Pax” from inside  Baghdad   blogged eyewitness accounts during the war.  But  majority are personal web sites: a kid chatting up another.  Surf Google and you get established journalism sites. Bloggers do little independent verification.  Weblogs sometimes are  ahead of news reports and  nudge news sourcing. “For now they are a valuable adjunct to—but not substitute for—quality journalism”.

“The less obvious question is blogging’s  impact on  protections against libel and defamation,” writes Stuart Benjamin of  Duke University Law   School .”(This is seen in) journalist shield laws and possible reporter’s privilege. “  “In New York Times v. Sullivan, the Supreme Court required “actual malice”,  if  (a false)  statement is about a public official  and negligence for a private figure. Court opinions do not limit these protections to journalists, or to media more generally.

“Do freedoms extolled have the same resonance when everyone and his brother can publish false information at the push of a button? I’m not sure. Both the costs and benefits of the protections for false statements have increased in the blogging era.” ( Under the Sotto Law  or RA 53, Filipino print  journalists can not be arm twisted  to reveal sources of  information. Radio and tv are not covered to date. Are bloggers equally  vulnerable?)

Many bloggers bog down in chat  or, punditry.  “A new journalism of assertion ignores the discipline of authentication,” writes Tom Rosenstiel in “Elements of Journalism.”    His co-author  Bill Kovach  of Harvard University added :  “The essence of journalism is a discipline of verification. That holds for a network TV news division or a lone citizen blogging. At work is a new culture of impatient journalism not dedicated to establishing whether a story is true. The cost to society is high.”

”The new Information Age  must empower citizens to shape their communities based on verified information,” Kovach adds. “Distribution, organization, and sources of our work must change”. As citizens become more proactive,  journalism must not continue to see them as a passive audience. Instead, it should  help equip them for that role.  Unless journalists develop tools to do this, we will abdicate the role we once held — to provide the raw material of self-government.   Only if we  accompany citizens as they move into cyberspace will we be able to justify the hope placed in the press.”

“Classical journalism is waning.  But it  is not about to disappear”,  writes Peter Dalhgreen of  Stockholm University.  “It will accommodate itself to newer as yet unsolidified forms…The traditional story telling function, which helped provide perspective, will persevere. But  it will be complemented by larger   flows of socially relevant non-journalistic electronic information…New forms of specialized  ‘info-journalism hybrids may emerge. Will “cyber-graphers” replace journalists?

“Do not lose sight of the basic sociology of these developments,” Dalhgreen cautions: Cyberspace will remain a privilege of a small segment of insider netcitizens and powerful institutions. Majority will remain outsiders. “If we can readily discount cyber-euphoria, the challenge remains how we will avoid digital dystopia.”

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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