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Trouble in the fourth estate

As evident in the turn of events, self-entitlement is not a Millennial problem. Lately, as the world at large expressed indignation over what was reported as President Rodrigo Duterte’s insensitive Hitler comment, likening himself to the vilified Nazi leader, German dictator, and mass murderer Adolf Hitler and, by so doing, insulting the memory of the millions of Jews that the Nazi regime oppressed and murdered.

(Photo courtesy of Bill Ward/Flickr)

(Photo courtesy of Bill Ward/Flickr)

The report was far from the truth, if context were king. I watched the press conference in which the President delivered the statement upon his return from an official visit to Vietnam and I watched it again, playing back the relevant parts a few times, although I knew without a doubt just watching it once that he did not liken himself to Hitler—he was defending himself from his critics portraying him repeatedly as Hitler. There’s a big difference.

The President has since issued a public apology, but only to the Jews around the world. Last week, he also paid a visit to the Beit Yaacov Synagogue in Makati City and the Jewish Association of the Philippines to further and personally apologize to the local Jewish community.

In the wake of these controversies, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) expressed concern over the “vilification of media.” I doubt, if only for lack of evidence, that the journalists who are being accused of blowing the story out of proportions, particularly in the international media, put President Duterte in a bad light on purpose. Anything less explosive than the headline “Duterte likens himself to Hitler; wants to kill millions of drug users” will be a weak headline, after all, but if it troubles you so much, you have to trouble yourself enough to find out the exact context in which such a statement was made, though I’m not sure watching Duterte’s speech in its entirety, delivered in broken Tagalog, accented English, lots of sentences trailing off, and lots of “colorful” words thrown in, would be clarifying to any foreigner, US State Department spokesperson Mark Toner and U.N. special adviser on the prevention of genocide Adama Dieng included.

In its overreaction, however, NUJP appears to put journalists above reproach. If you ask me, they are making another mountain out of a molehill, reacting to a viral blogpost in an official statement that suggests there are “attempts to lay the predicate to muzzle freedom of the press and of expression.”

Maybe, there are death threats, but who has died in the hands of Duterte supporters since they were first portrayed as vile, vicious, virulent people, even trolls or bots or paid hacks in a recent Rappler report? I do not justify any violent reaction, not from institutions, not from individuals, especially not from readers, but journalism is no walk in the park and feedback from irate readers is par for the course. You cannot stop people from expressing their displeasure toward your work, even violently, while you cry for freedom (of expression).

The NUJP statement also said: “It is doubly unfortunate and ironic that among those who have joined what is practically an online lynching mob are people who are or have worked in media or the performing arts and related professions, and even activists, who would not have been able to thrive if not for the very same freedom of the press and of expression they are now suggesting should  be suppressed.”

I stand by my position that I posted on Facebook as soon as I read the NUJP letter signed by Ryan D. Rosauro, NUJP chairman: I am a journalist, but my loyalty, come to think of it, is to the reader.

I am a journalist, but I am also a citizen and in both aspects I accept I am subject to interests greater than mine. I will be the last to tell my readers, for instance, to take what I put out there as gospel truth.

The reader is free to see wisdom or drivel in what I write. I will not hide under the skirt of the ideals of the fourth estate or the extensiveness of my experience when my credibility or objectivity or expertise is in question.

I will not use journalism as a license to be disrespectful or overly critical or, yes, seditious, inciting disaffection and disloyalty or rebellion.

As a journalist, I should warn the reader, to whom I should be devoted most of all (though I’m not always), to keep their eyes open because while journalism is a thing of honor, journalists not always are, and newspapers and news agencies not always are, human as they are, run by people, owned by individuals and corporations.

I do not see why it should be a loss to journalism to ask readers to be critical of what journalists put out there. Discerning readership should keep us on our toes. Our loyalty is to the truth not to our co-journalists, not to journalism, the truth (though the truth is subject to many interpretations and is often used as a shield or a weapon even in journalism).

And we cannot always cry “freedom of speech, freedom of the press,” every time we are called to task. Our credibility is earned, not given, not through the years, but with every last thing we put out there, especially where free speech ends and sedition or treason begins. Because journalists, we are, but we are also citizens.