By John Reiner Antiquerra

THE PRESIDENT has made it well known that he is no fan of the press, but what about the Filipino public?

Judging from the posts on PCIJ’s “Shout Out for Press Freedom” wall at the recent Alinday Advocacy Fair at the University of the Philippines, the campus crowd at least appreciates the importance of media freedom to sustaining democracy.

PCIJ was among those invited to set up booths at the event, which coincided with the state university’s fair that was held last Feb. 13 to 17. The Shout Out wall was one among several activities that the Center had lined up for its Press Freedom booth. Each night of the fair — except for the first when PCIJ allowed people to freely express themselves on topics they feel most connected to — fairgoers were asked to respond to questions related to media and press freedom.

But even during the first night, the posts on the wall already included expressions of support for press freedom. Said one: “Malaya at mapagpalayang pamamahayag para sa pagbabagong panlipunan (Free and liberating reporting for societal change)!” Another post said, “Yes to responsible journalism, no to fake news,” while yet another said, “Do not silence the media! No to fake news!”

For Day – or rather Night – Two, the Shout Out wall’s question was: “How do we fight ‘fake news’?” Many of those who responded cited the importance of being critical, as well of verifying the information they see or receive by checking with various sources. Several also mentioned not sharing unverified information.

“Fake news is the devil’s deception. Do research. Do analyze. Do think,” wrote one. “Be ‘factboy’ and ‘factgirl’. Be factual, search for other news sites before we believe anything we read on the net. Let’s (re)search first.”

Others suggested more proactive measures, such as reporting or blocking on social media, pages and accounts that spread “fake news.” Several of the posts mentioned in particular PCOO Asec. Mocha Uson, saying that people should not listen to her and to stop reading her blog.

Education is also something that most of the Shout Out wall posters saw as a way to fight “fake news.” One of them even suggested, “Promote the media information literacy to all students and to fellow countrymen so that many people will become critical reader(s)….”

By Night Three, fairgoers were being asked to tackle the question: “Why is press freedom important?”

Many of the responses underlined the importance of a free press in telling and learning about the truth. As one of the posts put it, “Dahil hindi tayo makakapagbigay ng tamang impormasyon kung hindi malaya ang pagpapahayag. Dahil karapatan natin malaman ang katotohanan! (Because we will be unable to give the right information without press freedom. Because we have the right to know the truth!)”

Another post said that a free press helps the public to remain aware of the issues that affect them, as well as to open up the mind of each citizen. (“Kailangang magpatuloy ang malayang pamamahayag upang manatiling mulat ang mga mamamayan sa mga isyu na sila rin ang maapektuhan. Upang mabuksan ang kaisipan ng bawat mamamayan.”)

A free press also helps provide the necessary checks and balances in governance, according to other posts, with one calling the media as “our extra eye on the government” and “one of the main sources of information.” The same post said as well, “Freedom is essential for showing the truth.”

Several of the posts on the Shout Out wall acknowledged free press as a right, with at least one saying that it should be given value: “Ang malayang pamamahayag ang pundasyon ng demokratikong pamahalaan at lipunan. Isa din itong basic civil right na dapat pahalagahan. Press freedom is a cornerstone of democracy!”

Night Four’s question — “What should media cover? — unsurprisingly drew a variety of responses. The top two suggestions, however, were extrajudicial killings and the Duterte administration’s so-called “war on drugs.”

One post explained why the media should cover extrajudicial killings this way: “Life is sacred. Instead of censoring this, we must raise awareness and put a stop to these killings.” It also encouraged more stories on Tokhang victims “because we have to remind the people they are human.”

The UP fairgoers though also thought issues on mental health, LGBT, and gender equality, and the Lumad are more than worthy of media coverage. According to one post, the media should cover mental-health issues because “it’s about time to focus on things that every Filipino go through every day.” Another pointed to the need to talk about the “persecution” and “struggles of the indigenous people.”

Other topics suggested for more media coverage included poverty, corruption, cyberbullying, human rights, labor rights, education, issues related to Benham Rise, TRAIN Law, transport system, health care, HIV awareness, teenage pregnancy, fake news, and environment issues.

As the event drew to a close, PCIJ decided to give fairgoers a break by offering a dugtungan or a fill-in-the-blank on the Shout Out wall on Night Five. The responses, however, remained serious and intense. Asked to fill in the blank after “Ang media, ang bayan (Media, the country/society)…,” many fairgoers said that media and society have to work together for there to be truth. A post said, “Ang media, ang bayan, magkatulong sa pagpapahayag ng katotohanan. Ang media, ang bayan, daan sa kamulatan. (Media and society work together to bring forth truth. Media and society are paths toward awareness.)”

“Ang media, tulay ng komunikasyon. Ang bayan na kapos sa impormasyon (Media would be the communication bridge. Society lacks information),” another post said. “Ang media, ang bayan ang magkasangga sa pagkakaisa’t pagtigil sa opresyon na dala ng gobyerno (Media and society are allies in fighting against the oppression caused by government).”

A third post said that media and society should be heard and protected: “Ang media, ang bayan ay ating pakinggan at protektahan.”

But while fairgoers recognized the role of the media as enablers of free flow of information and platforms to inform the public, there were those who thought the media were not really objective. A few of the posts: “Ang media, minsan is unfair!” “Katotohanan please!” “Ang media ay bias. Ang bayan ay ignorante.”

One post said that media and society should take the side of truth and be faithful to the public they serve: “Ang media, ang bayan, dapat pumanig sa katotohanan. Ang media, ang bayan, dapat ay tapat sa mamamayan!”

PCIJ had actually accepted the invitation to set up a booth at the advocacy fair, an initiative of the UP Student Council, as a way to reach out to the general public and engage them on issues related to press freedom, access to information, and democracy. With the theme “Highlighting the Resilience of the Filipino Spirit Toward Progressive Change,” the advocacy fair had aimed to promote campaigns for human rights, equality, peace, and democracy.

Visitors to the PCIJ booth were given free copies of “Know Your Rights!” primer on basic human rights produced by PCIJ with the Free Legal Assistance Group or FLAG.
They were also treated to free face paint, glitter tattoo, and photo booth sessions.

Photojournalists Raffy Lerma and Vincent Go were invited to present their coverage of the government’s anti-drug war, while other journalists were present for meet-and-greet sessions. — PCIJ, February 2018

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