“Thousand Cuts” Death

by Juan L. Mercado

“The past is never dead”,  William Faulkner once  wrote. “It is not even past.” But  are we shackled by perpetual amnesia?  Is evening of September 21, in 1972, beyond our capacity to remember?

Slavery was the price tag for democracy to survive,  Ferdinand Marcos told us that night.  And 14 years of the “New Society” (a.k.a. dictatorship) followed  with looting, murder and mayhem.

Majority of  students  today, surveys tell us, have sketchiest notions of  Marcos’ “unanimity of the graveyard”. The sense of stewardship, for nurturing restored, freedoms is patchy.

“We are made wise, not by our recollection of the past, but by the responsibilities for the future,” George Bernard Shaw cautions. Some press groups, therefore, make efforts to burnish memories.

In Dumaguete, journalists use the annual World Press Freedom Day, in May, to focus on today’s liberty of expression issues.  In Cagayan de Oro  they’ve   marked, since May 1982, Press Freedom Week. The  exercise blends professional discussions, exhibits, freedom walks and socials.

Cebu uses September for it’s Press Freedom Week for 17 years now.  Five dailies, 34 radio and eight tv stations, set aside fierce competition, to recall how Proclamation 1081 suspended human rights, padlocked Congress, censored the press.

Cebu has the country’s only press museum. It displays newspapers from the 1900s, Japanese occupation  up to those of  today. An ancient linotype and Minerva press recall the “hot lead” era.  The “cold process” of computers rendered them obsolete.

Cebu’s PFWeek joint editorial, this year, considers journalism beyond the “Guttenberg Parenthesis”. This refers to the 1463 invention of the printing press, by Johannes Guttenberg, and onset of the digital age thereafter.

“Filipinos were the first to wage People Power Revolt with cellphones in 2001,” the 2011  editorial says. That span off into Lebanon’s “Cedar Revolution” and Tunisia’s “Jasmine Uprising.” The new media plays a key role in today’s Arab Spring.”

Beyond the rites’s rhetoric is a demographic fact: a generation of bright, young journalists are moving, on the geriatric escalator, into key posts within a dynamic complex.

Many of the new generation  are post-martial law “baby boomers — and female”, says this earlier pooled  editorial. Some are better trained than their elders.

“They’re emerging decisions makers in an industry aptly described as  ‘controlled chaos’. “We start each day with blank pages,” a  Miami Herald editorial notes.  “Yet, the paper is never the same twice.”

Like many seniors, many young journalists fret over infractions that  bug the press elsewhere: moonlighting as PR agents; arrogance; press release addiction; “envelopmental journalism”, etc. (ATM drops seem the in-thing.)

Shallowness is a silent rot.  Daily, it corrodes the soul of our craft.  Press  freedom can be killed by a thousand cuts of tawdry sloppiness.

Our reading is spotty. Skip the sham that is the 1973 Marcos charter, the late PCGG commissioner Haydee Yorac bluntly told a World Press day meeting: “Many of you have not even read the 1935 or 1987 constitutions.” Grizzled newsmen squirmed in their seats.

We rarely probe deep enough. Did anybody ferret trends below the press release? Far too many TV interviewers seem forever glued to police blotter sleaze.

Fourth rate tripe, bereft of research and thought, are inflicted on our audiences, in a glut of columns and ‘block-time’ commentaries. “Better to appear in hell than in your newspaper,”  more articulate readers explode.

Still, there is growing awareness of the need to move on to reporting what statesman Jean Monet called: “deep running currents” underfoot. These impact on human lives and society’s structures.

Cyberspace , ecology, globalization, etc. render much of old traditional news beats irrelevant. Already, new sections on Internet, economic zones are appearing.

The pressing need is for depth, not chutzpah. Far too few work at the grueling chore of reporting significance. Relevance of media, in the new millennium,  will hinge on professionals with intellectual and moral depth. “Deep calls unto deep,” the Psalmist writes.

“Newspapers are school-masters of the people”, an old axiom says. Print was yesterday’s medium. Radio and tv dominate  today. Facebook, Twitter, iPod and social media could dominate tomorrow.

Our Founding Fathers provided, in the constitutional provision on press freedom, legal flak-jackets for those who serve in media.  Amidst change, Press Freedom Week holds up, even for the jaded newsman, unchanging values: truth, accuracy, fairness, context, a sense of the ethical—and less of arrogance.

These help create an atmosphere of relevant reporting from a plurality of voices. Our task is to work at being ‘school masters of the people.

The unacceptable alternative is gad about — in the words of English parliamentarian  William Pitt — as  “chartered libertines. In today’s English, that reads: “constitutionally-protected prostitutes.”

(Email: juanlmercado@gmail. com.)

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