MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews/09 December) — These are trying times for journalists, I mean the professional ones, not those who have made it a calling to show off themselves as an alternative to the professionals who they routinely accuse of making a living by distorting facts, as well as peddling lies to their readers. No, I’m not saying that all journalists deserve a halo around their heads. What I’m saying is that there has emerged a deliberate, sustained and malicious campaign to develop among citizens — a specific segment of the populace to be exact — an attitude of hatred and contempt for media, again, to be exact, journalists whose stories appear to go against the fixed conception of reality of this closed segment of news consumers.
It would not have mattered had these individuals, who lurk in a minefield called social media, done the opposite of the supposed crimes of their objects of hate and derision. This has not happened. On the contrary, like quacks, they don’t offer real cures; they just beat the patients and rejoice at their cries of pain. No, it’s not just the absence of training in the art of fact-gathering and verification — although this, too, contributes to the malaise — that is to blame; the bigger culprit is the preset political agenda that shapes their behavior toward the “enemy”. This agenda draws the line between “them” and “us”, between “supporters” and “saboteurs”, between the toxic colors of the nation’s fragmented political rainbow.
Let me add that these quacks in social media apparently don’t understand that professional journalists are duty-bound to deal with as many sources as possible. War reporters must get statements from all sides of the conflict, that is to say, combatants as well as the affected civilians. Stories about HIV/AIDS will become more interesting and compelling for the readers if the sources include not just the experts but also the people themselves who are infected with the disease. And, yes, reporters who write about the war on drugs must approach not just the law enforcement agencies but also the suspected drug users and dealers — and the families of those who are killed in the process. They, I mean, these quacks, should know that the duty of journalists is never to satisfy a particular sector but to present a mosaic of the social situation along with its context and unfolding consequences.
It is this absence of understanding of a journalist’s job that has given rise to verbal attacks online directed at reporters who wrote unflattering stories about the war on drugs and other policies of the Duterte administration. Such online violence seeks legitimacy in the sheer number of participants. In fact, “shares” have become a regular tool of coercion that it could well be a dress rehearsal for another era of a police state where citizens are compelled to spy on one another.
The curse of “shares” doesn’t end there. Note the emergence of several fake news sites spewing, well, fake news and unverified rumors, heaps of crap that either praise Copernicus or persecute those who refuse to believe that the earth is flat. The potential of a bit of information (or in many cases, misinformation) to become “viral” has ambushed the need to provide facts that go through the rigors of investigation, multiple sourcing and verification. Such aberration has mutated to the extent of painting professional journalists as a species nearing extinction to be replaced by bloggers who define meteorology as the study of meteors. Perhaps dumbness can be cured by clicking Google or dictionary.com, but the greater malady for which there might be no prescription is the absence of accountability in social media; users define their own rules of engagement and label it as democracy, although it borders on anarchy.
In the days of typewriters and landline phones, it seemed difficult to draw adherents to a political cause. I’d like to believe it’s not because the people lacked patriotism then but because for the most part they were left on their own to discern without the pressure of having to decide fast, unlike now where the presence of agents like social media encourages mindless conformity. And when this latter behavior gets to dominate the discourse on any subject of public value, when people reject discernment and verification, you know it’s only a matter of time before the whole thing implodes. (MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. The author welcomes comments and feedback from readers with verifiable identities, and reserves the right to have them published in all their unedited glory.)