Is media today wedged into the outer side of the “Gutenberg Parenthesis”? “The what?”, blurted Cebu’s Press Freedom Week pooled editorial Monday.
Every third week of September, media in Cebu tamps down fierce competition. Together, they mark how martial law shackled liberty of expression in 1972. In Cagayan de Oro and Dumaguete, the press holds, on first week of May, similar though shorter remembrance rites.
“Remembering with undiminished intensity, over time, need not make us curators of our ancestors’ grievances”, Columnist Ellen Goodman insisted. “We can honor the past, without being trapped in it. “
Surveys tell us that most of today’s youngsters have hazy notions of the Marcos dictatorship. These kids will weild power tomorrow. Yet, their insight into what People Power wrested back is tenuous. So is the sense of stewardship.
Cebu’s 2011 program, thus, includes conferences for mass communication students, films to roundtables on professional issues J.V. Rufino of Inquirer Mobile led a session on “Where is Journalism in a Digital World?”
Memory is both treasury and guardian. “It is right that media recall how Proclamation 1081 suspended human rights, padlocked Congress, censored the press, and co-opted many,” Cebu’s new archbishop Jose Palma told journalists, after their traditional Press Freedom Walk.
““Some of you were in kindergarten in February 13,1986”, Palma recalled. . “The Catholic Bishops Conference ( then ) issued a pastoral, declaring the snap elections as fraudulent. Speaking the truth helped to spark People Power I… Filipinos were the first to wage non-violent revolution, with cell phones for People Power 2 in 2001″.
“There “are two freedoms”, Palma added. The false, where a man is free to do what he likes. And the true where man is at liberty to do what he ought. The cyberspace revolution made that task more complex. In Filipino homes today, average time weekly spent trawling Internet has doubled.
Is this the other side of the “Gutenberg Parenthesis”? Over two millenia of press history are compressed, by scientists, into this bracket.
On the “Parenthesis” earlier side is the world’s first-ever “newspaper: the 35-meter “Trajan’s Column” in Rome. Completed in 113 C.E., the tower depicts, in bas relief, Emperor Trajan’s victory in the Dacian wars. This was “an incredibly expensive way to publish a story” News was also passed on orally for centuries. Scribes handwrit letters and books..
.Until the year 1436. Using an 800 guilder loan, Johannes Gutenberg in Germany, invented a machine that used moveable wooden letters. Books and newspapers proliferated over the next six centuries. This launched the “Print Revolution” . It is at the “Gutenberg Parenthesis” core.
Ferdinand Marcos padlocked newspaper offices and broadcast stations. “Slavery was the price tag for democratic survival, Marcos told us that fateful night,” the first pooled Press Week editorial recalled. “Salvage victims and corruption…exacted an awesome penalty exacted propagandists masqueraded as journalists…Never Again ( Indeed ) revisiting enforced ‘unanimity of the graveyard’ is essential….”
Yet, even as Marcos gagged the mainline press, the “Digital Revolution” uncoiled. The first inter-person communication, on Internet, occurred in 1971. Fax and thereafter cell phones followed. Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution” and Tunisia’s “Jasmine Revolt” harnessed new technology. In London’s 2011 riots, looters deployed Blackberrys to dodge police.
No government today can confiscate 78 million cell phones that Filipinos heft. There are. 168.2 million Indonesian cell phone owners. About 29.7 million Filipinos are wired into the Net. Chinese censors “firewall” it’s 477.8 million Internet clients.
“(Decades) ago, there was no Internet, no cable tv, no online newspapers, no blogs,” recalls Richard Posner in his book “Bad News”. “The public’s consumption of the news used to be like sucking on a straw. Now it’s being sprayed like a firehose.” Today, 7/24 news is the rule.
Twitter, Facebook, Ipods, etc. stoke the uncertain “Arab Spring”. All can have their say on the cyberspace expressway. Many do so with little cross-checking, or ethical concern. . “Everyone is entitled to his opinion,” the late Senator Pat Moynihan groused. ” But not everyone can have his set of facts.”
The new technology, radically recasts journalism’s tools. Electronics whittled away, to cite one example, the traditional face-to-face oversight that editors exercised over reporters. There are few gate keepers left.
This is the “Global Village” that Marshall McLuhan foresaw. It unfolds in a country where the needy — over 27 million at last count — are peddled for a pair of sandals. “The greatest threat are journalists who act as megaphones for the powerful.”
The new media today can move truth—or falsehood— with the click of a mouse. “News organizations are abandoning the race to be the first to break the news,” the Economist notes. “[They’re] focusing instead on being the best at verifying”.
Beyond the “Gutenberg Parenthesis”, confirming truth emerges as the pivotal concern in tomorrow’s journalism. Then and now, the journalist’s first obligation is to the truth. That is also the bottom line for Press Freedom Week 2011.
“Babel is the ancient image of conflicting views with scant regard for truth,” Palma said. “But the Truth shall make you free. Truth spelt with a Capital T.”