ADVOCACY MINDANOW: “Journalists” without mercy

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/23 Dec.) — Public officials, beware! Nowadays, it’s so easy to be whacked endlessly for some misconduct or mistake by the so-called “netizens” or those who are hooked to the internet. They have their own domain or platform, or media facility to express their views fearlessly. Or mercilessly.

This is the latest innovation in the communications world that will revolutionalize even the traditional press. Everyone is now a “journalist”, a blogger in his own right, publishing and maintaining his own private medium in Facebook or Twitter or somewhere in the cyberspace and expressing his own mind in unlimited ways — bounded only by one’s taste or discretion. Or lack of it.

The ” coming of age” of this new weapon in the hands of citizens was made manifest in the latest controversies on the pork barrel, PDAF, the Yolanda handling and this week the incident involving the Makati mayor in Dasmarinas Village. Elsewhere in the world, the so-called “Arab spring” civilian uprisings that toppled governments in the Middle East were triggered by social media .

In an instant, private messages and video clips become viral and events or incidents are now scrutinized and commented no longer as the exclusive prerogative and domain of journalists and commentators but by all and sundry. Everyone has the chance to interpret and comment. This used to be the exclusive preserve of professional journalists and mediamen only.

With this potent weapon, we can only imagine its reach and power. And the numbers. It can advocate for reforms and change, cajole, lambast and even crucify unfortunate targets or make instant public villains of the “bad guys” . It acquits and even convicts swiftly. It can even threaten to destroy political ambitions and in the same vein also build up new heroes overnight.

Take the case of DILG Secretary Mar Roxas who got bashed — rightly or wrongly — for his perceived mishandling of the Tacloban incident. Then the latest about the case of Makati Mayor Junjun Binay in his alleged tiff with subdivision security guards that left the presidential ambitions of his father, Vice President Jojo Binay somewhat suffering in its wake. Or the case of Davao City Mayor Rody Duterte who suddenly became the anti-thesis of others with his previous good deeds juxtaposed with those who had earned the netizens’ ire of late. I have no doubt that Mayor Rody detests this role with great discomfort. He even expressed indignation over the growing public sentiment for him to consider seeking the presidency. But what of that? This is the spontaneous verdict of the social media crowd sitting in judgment.

We will see more of these in the days ahead. But gone are the days when only professional mediamen exercised that prerogative. Each individual now is being heard and insists on being heard. As a matter of fact, traditional media, meaning the print and electronic media, must relate and link up with the fast-clipped pace and focus of social media if they want to remain in business, if it wants to remain as the fountainhead and principal purveyors of information and views and opinions. To survive, orthodox media must provide depth and context to breaking events and see to it that raw data that social media posit stand the test of accuracy and reality. They cannot compete with real time postings and comments. A flick of a finger transmits one’s thoughts to the world without borders.

Failing in keeping pace with this, newspapers especially, will become irrelevant and left by the wayside.

The biggest problem though with this new kind of public “reportage” is quite obvious. Mostly lacking in initial verification and depth at the outset, the tentative output of social media will be more characterized as “journalism in a hurry” where perception initially rules the day. Then of course, there are those who prefer to remain anonymous and therefore non-accountable. It is in this light that we must make a call for all netizens to also exercise restraint and due diligence. This can only be done by themselves — no one else. For if they can put some pressure on those publicly accountable, then so much should there be public pressure on those who breach normal borders of decency and propriety.

But wait. Pope Francis has something to say on being judgmental of others. When asked for his comments and guidance on gays and homosexuals which the conservative guardians of morals have consistently viewed with disdain, his answer simply was: “WHO AM I TO JUDGE?” (Lawyer Jesus G. Dureza was government peace panel chair in the negotiations with the MILF under the Arroyo administration from 2001 to 2003 and was later named Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process (2005 to 2008). He heads Advocacy MindaNOW Foundation, Inc. and was recently named publisher of the Davao City-based Mindanao Times. This piece is from his syndicated column, Advocacy MindaNOW).