Random Thoughts. By Patricio P. Diaz

6 Nov 2010

(Acceptance speech delivered at the 1st Agong Awards of the Mindanao Media Forum on 6 November 2010).

Thank you for the honor and of course, the dinner. My wife, who has to accompany me wherever I go, and I will long remember and cherish the memory of this occasion.

Now, may I share with you my random thoughts.

First, I admire the efforts of media leaders in Mindanao for the periodic holding of the media summit and regional media conferences. That will invigorate the spirit that sustains the Press [now, Media] as the Fourth Estate – a pillar distinct from the other pillars of democracy – the Church and the Government with its three branches: the Executive, the Legislative, and the Judiciary; Private Enterprise and the People.

To appreciate what the Fourth Estate is, let’s go back to MP Edmund Burke in 1787. He coined the term “fourth estate”, referring to the press at the gallery in the back of the Parliament, in addition to the three other estates of the Parliament, namely: the Lords Spiritual, the Lords Temporal, and the Commons.

In his essay, “French Revolution” in 1837, Thomas Carlyle modified the reference of the four estates — lauding the emergence of a strong “Fourth Estate of Able Editors” after the three other estates of the French States-General: the church, the nobility and the townsmen.

In the Philippines, may I repeat, Media – the fourth estate – is the fourth pillar of democracy along with four others: the Church, the Government, Private Enterprise, and the People – the Electorate.

Second, the men and women of media must keep Media — as a pillar of democracy in the Philippines — straight, upright, clean. The task is easier said than done but it must be done or democracy will collapse. What is the state of democracy in the Philippines now? It would be a revelation to find out the correlation of that state of democracy with the state of media.

Here are some gut questions:

How many in the media are still beholden to political leaders, business executives and other big personalities in government and private sectors? Many used to.

How many of media establishments in the Philippines are primarily for business – only secondarily for media – interest? The leading television establishments devote their prime time to entertainment to cater to commercial advertisements, the source of multi-billion revenue.  How many minutes are devoted to serious news reports? Discussions of issues are mostly in evening programs when most people are asleep.

Among the provincial and community journalists, how many are still tied to political and business patrons? Many used to.

What is the level of freedom of Philippine media practitioners? A mayor made a radio statement. His statement was aired. He said he was misquoted, then called and dressed down the radio reporter who had to apologize on air.

How committed are Philippine leading newspapers in their expose? In the United States, the New York Times published the Pentagon Papers on Vietnam War. The Supreme Court sustained the Times. The Washington Post expose on the Watergate scandal led to the resignation of President Nixon and the criminal conviction of many of his top aides.  The “Hello, Garci”, the ZTE and other scandals in the Arroyo era only reached first base.

The obstacles on the path of free, strong and effective media in the Philippines are daunting. In a nutshell: Ideals of free press or journalism against monstrous political, economic and pragmatic realities of life bar the way.

Third, Mindanao journalists should all the time focus on Mindanao – to borrow from MindaNews, “This is Our Mindanao”. There are many facets of Mindanao that don’t see print. Mindanao newspapers, radios and televisions should tell the world what Mindanao really is.

Correspondents must make a stand against the practice of some of Manila desk editors to disregard their facts that are contrary to facts in reports from Camps Aguinaldo and Crame. Mindanao newspapers, radios and televisions should correct Manila, if necessary.  They should tell Manila and the world what Mindanao is not.

The Mindanao or Bangsamoro Problem is one example. Most Manila media, even some leading opinion columnists, project the “What is Not” of the Problem. The real issues are either ignored or if ever discussed only half-truthfully, laced with historical bias.

Contentious issues are not reconciled but wedged wider and wider apart by fanning the fears of the Christians and the anger of the Moros. That was manifested in the MOA-AD controversy.

Have you realized that the Problem is a century old? For that long, the Moros – generation after generation – have been in pursuit of their right to self-determination and – generation after generation – national leaders in Manila, starting with Quezon and company and the Americans have been frustrating the Moros, with Manila media as among their instruments?

Can Mindanao media make the difference by doing their utmost to help close the gap?  That is our challenge.

Random thoughts must end. Thank you.