April 20, 2024

Former President Fidel V. Ramos has been laid to rest at the Libingan ng Bayani and with the so many accolades given, official and personal, let mine be about his message to us at the third estate, which I paraphrase liberally.

At the annual Gridiron Night of the National Press Club early on his term, he was invited to “throw rocks” and speak after being the subject of “toasting” and “unflattering digs” at him and his government.

Quoting A. J. Liebling, he said “Freedom of the press belongs only to the man who owns one.”

Anyway, one redeeming value for which we should give credit to those who are trying hard is that they are always entertaining. In his time, Shakespeare quickly disposed of such perorations with his famous one-liner: “It is a tale told by an idiot, full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

In the old days a clear line was drawn bet-ween journalism and politics. Politicians strutted on the public stage while journalists stood in the audience and threw rocks at them. Now this distinction has been blurred. These days, it is both the politicians posing as journalists and the journalists themselves who occupy the stage and throw rocks at everybody.

But the real sensation is a new newspaper in town which is my favorite reading matter – The White Paper of Media Watch. I guess this paper is the media version of “Some are Smarter than Others”. A “Guess Who” or blind items are clear examples of untruths or half-truths.

While media should not be passive in the exposure of error or wrongdoing but when errors occur in reportage and analysis, which happen just as often as the hits, please be ready to make corrections. As Disraeli says, “To be conscious that you are ignorant of the facts is a greater step to knowledge.” The slogan of the press, taken from Holy Writ, was: “The truth shall set us free” and that the Gospel of St. John did not say: “The untruths or half-truths shall set us free.”

He continues, media practice has become a lucrative trade. A hat a media man gets paid for both saying something and saying nothing. A similar but slightly different modus operandi is that called “AC-DC” or “attack and collect, defend and collect.” Even papers with circulations so small that they only register as dots in the market surveys of opinion follow the ridiculing exercises, thus “the smaller its circulation, the noisier and more sensationalized the paper.”

Henry Louis Mencken said the main duty of a newspaper is “to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable.” Indeed, journalism in our country has gone a long way since Aguinaldo’s time. In the old days, newspapers and magazines carried fiction. Today dailies and weeklies carry modern fiction. I then wish for decency as a watchword, and for it to happen, the press must heed these words:

“I shall scrupulously report and interpret the news, taking care not to suppress essential facts nor to distort the truth by omission or improper emphasis. I recognize the duty to aid the other side and the duty to correct substantive errors promptly;

I shall refrain from writing reports which will adversely affect a private reputation unless the public interest justifies it;

I shall conduct myself in public or while performing my duties as a journalist in such a manner as to maintain the dignity of my profession. When I doubt, decency should be my watchword.”

The words are not mine. They are taken from the Philippine Journalist’s Code of Ethics. They reflect the highest ideals and aspirations of the profession.

I will not presume to tell you how to run your business, let alone how to discharge your profession. But is it possible that you would begin to have more readers if you in the press would grouse a little less and sympathize a little more, if you paid a little more attention to what is right about our country and a little less to nitpicking and faultfinding?

Hasta la vista, apo Tabako! Thank you for everything you’ve done for this nation, for us and for me.