Seeing The World Whole

by Juan L. Mercado

What can would-be journalists learn from those who’ve slugged through “the social upheavals of the 70s, democratic restoration of the 80s, instability of the 90s and crises and deepening poverty in the new millennium?”

You have “a chance to make all things new “,  journalist –turned-activist Jurgette Honculada told students of Silliman University ’s  School of Journalism. In 1968, Honculada was one of the first five graduates of the new  school.

Excerpts from her insightful paper  “Developing Citizen Journalists Through Service Learning” follow:

The first is the need for balance and perspective.  Lines of information and entertainment have blurred.  “Infotainment” has become news staple.  “What went wrong with KC and Piolo” is prime time. 

The journalist must  “see the world steadily and to see it whole”.  He links fragmented reporting with significance. Casualty lists of Typhoon “Sendong” make sense only when casualty reported in context of shabby  Cagayan de Oro governance that resettled the poor in sandbars and illegal logging and mining in Misamis and Lanao.

“To see it whole is to call to account corrupt and public officials,  long after the body counts have stopped and  screaming headlines died down, to ask: Why,  why, why?

The peace lens compels journalists to go beyond the body counts,  to go deeper than “them vs. us” reporting.  Learn the roots and ramifications of armed conflict that bedevil much of our history and islands, particularly Mindanao.

There is truth, and there are truths.

Two decades ago,  Filipinos were agog  when Zamboanga Little League baseball players won as global champions.  But  Inquirer reported that some players were over-aged. Furious fans charged  Inquirer with “treason and betrayal” as it’s  expose dethroned the Philippines.

The Inquirer was right pursuing its unpopular investigation and going public on its findings. It slammed into “the truth of national pride.  But there was simply the truth.

Truth assumes many shapes. Take mining. Does one  simply follow the categorical call of No? Or is mining is more complicated than Yes or No? If so, what are the terms of engagement?

”In  grey areas a journalist proceeds in fear and trembling, with facts and sources unimpeachable — and  knowledge that, in spite of best efforts, one can still get the picture wrong.”

Modeling and mentoring are indispensable.

“We learn most effectively from example, not from books. This is particularly true of journalism whose archetype is a Lone Ranger riding into battle.

Consider outstanding journalists like New York Times Anthony Shahid and Caluctta’s Amitabha Chowdhury who won the 1961 Ramon Magsaysay award for investigative journalism.

Shahid covered the Middle East with insight and compassion for two decades for the New York Times, until his death from an asthma attack this month. He was then covering the Syrian bloodbath.

Chowdhury introduced a humanized style of writing “in the great  movement of refugees in Bengal. He exposed more than 250 cases of abuse of power in high levels of government.

They unearthed and shared  untold stories of people victimized by conflict, people standing up to oppression. They highlighted smaller threads that make up the big narrative. But it requires dedication and raw courage to do this, make it one’s life’s work.

“Not only was Shadid a role model (as someone said, sometimes he himself was the headline), he was also a mentor, something he started doing as the editor of a college newspaper.

Cyberspace irrevocably changed  mass media and present complex. 21st century issues of verification and oversight.

Internet, Twitter, Facebook boosted  ‘citizen journalism’.  News gathering and sharing is undertaken by people who have not undergone the training and period of apprenticeship required of reporters.

They are not subject to the discipline of editors, who cross check facts, verify sourcing and insulate against  infractions of law.  (We now have  first case  by a citizen who claims to have been slandered, in Facebook,  by a nurse in Saudi Arabia ).

Who will orient citizen journalists on  fairness and balance, accuracy and credibility. How does one encourage freedom of expression balanced by discipline and editing?

Three final calls:  Pass the Freedom of Information bill!. Now. Bear Witness. Speak power to truth.

The task of journalists is to match the broad freedoms granted by the Freedom of Information bill  with higher standards of competence and responsibility. These help create an atmosphere of relevant reporting from a plurality of voices …”

Countless Filipino journalists, including those who died in Maguindanao and Cotabato journalist Marlene Esperat,  bore witness to the injustice and oppression inflicted daily on the poor and powerless. 

Being fair does not mean a cold neutrality or blind impartiality. The best journalism is informed by passion and compassion.  There are many ways of bearing false witness—envelopmental journalism, for one, quietly killing a story, for another.

Journalists have spoken truth to power: calling the Ampatuans and mobilizing for EDSA 2 when the Senate voted not to open the envelope. 

The chance to make all things new, of fresh beginnings, is what puts fire in the belly of the NGO activist, the labor organizer, the gender advocate, the crusading journalist.

(Email: juan_mercado77@yahoo.com)

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