Thoughts on the role of community media

Notebook Opinion & Analysis Jan 13, 2017 at 4:40 pm

Hermie-ID-NotebookKeynote Address, PPCO holiday party, Dec. 8, 2016, Toronto

Let me acknowledge first the bountiful harvest of recruits PPCO has this year. More importantly, we have a new batch of new members composed mainly of young talents in the community, most with journalism education and/or currently active in community or mainstream media. For sure we can now get rid of our perceived image of senior age-bracket media practitioners.

Also, about our honorary members: Kris Reyes of Global News Toronto, Marivel Taruc of CBC, and Zuraidah Alman of CTV. Marivel has said yes to our request for her to help train our new members and to brief them on how to break into the mainstream Canadian media. Zuraidah has also expressed her intention to be more visible in our events and activities. Isn’t this good news?

Briefly, let me summarize the events since the 2016 Philippine presidential elections:

The Duterte phenomenon, a presidency almost totally unexpected and unpredictable.

a. Bloody anti-illegal drug campaign, raising human rights issues

b. Shift in foreign policy, anti-US pronouncements, closer ties with China, and Russia

c. Resumed stalled peace talks with CPP-NDF-NPA rebels, released political prisoners, declared unilateral ceasefire

d. Appointed leftists and progressives to top cabinet posts

e. Other policies: free irrigation in agriculture, end of contractualization in labor, 1-800 numbers for emergencies and corruption reports, reduced red tape in government

f. Pro-Marcos policies, re: Marcos burial at Libingan ng mga Bayani, preference for Bongbong Marcos as Vice President, VP Leni Robredo resignation from Cabinet

At the home front, what’s going on in the Filipino communities in Canada?

a. Continued de-professionalization, non-recognition of professions of immigrants

b. Continued poverty or economic difficulties of families, new professionals, workers, OFWs, temporary foreign workers

c. Family reunification continuing to be difficult with temporary status of OFWs and caregivers and super visa replacing sponsorship of parents and grandparents

d. Practically non-participation in political/electoral activities despite our fast increasing population in Canada (PH single biggest source of immigrants in 2015)

e. Absence of community-wide leadership and community-wide unified activities, resulting in:

f. Under representation in political participation in Canadian society

g. We are known as good employees, good caregivers, friendly and hospitable people. But not as good leaders or good civic leaders with significant following that result in electoral victories. We have lots of musical concerts and good performers, beauty pageants and beauty queens, but less spelling bee or math champions, less people winning outstanding immigrants awards or outstanding Canadian awards as doctors, engineers, lawyers, scientists, entrepeneurs, civic leaders, etc.

h. In short, our community is under-performing. Why is this so? Where are our leaders to help us find out what is our problem?

How do all these relate to us as media people in the community? In short, what’s the role of media in an immigrant community like ours?

a. To help people understand what’s going on in our home country, in our adopted country, in our communities, in our work place, in our schools, in our neighborhoods.

b. How? By reporting the events and issues truthfully. By dealing with the major issues that affect our lives, our families, our livelihoods, the education of our children, their future, health and well being.

c. By being faithful and loyal only to the truth and not serving as Public Relations of politicians, business interests and other vested interests. Our accountability is to our readers, our viewers and listeners. And no one else, not to the government, not to public officials, not to interest groups, not to friends and colleagues in the industry.

d. Not by unleashing obsessive campaigns to bring down enemies, not by spinning stories whose only purpose is to slander and destroy the reputation of people under the guise of exposing wrongdoing. If the sole purpose of a story or series of stories is to “bring down” or defame a person or an organization, or the friends, associations and colleagues of enemies, the truth no longer matters and it is no longer journalism. It becomes a smear campaign that does away with objectivity and fairness and that spins stories and distorts the truth to achieve its objective.

PPCO is doing its limited part but it should do more. PPCO’s public forum series with speakers who are authorities in their fields; the occasional events where candidates from various sides of the political spectrum are allowed to speak. But PPCO can do a lot more by organizing forums about the burning issues in the Philippines and in our community. Like the Marcos burial at the Libingan ng mga Bayani; the bloody anti-illegal drug war of Duterte that has claimed 6,000 plus lives in less than 6 months; human rights issues; the continuing poverty and joblessness in the Philippines that is driving 6,000 Filipinos everyday to leave to work overseas; the peace talks with the communist-led rebels; the Duterte Presidency itself.

The increasing practice of community newspapers and radio programs that deal with public issues is a positive development. But there should be more. More burning issues of the day topics, Philippine and community issues mentioned above.

But just a reminder on conflict of interest and non-PR role. In our newspapers and radio programs, a strong independent editorial policy should be upheld and practiced. In other words, no promoting of politicians, public officials and other vested or commercial interests. We can inform the public by interviewing them and questioning them on public issues but our objective is to inform our audience, not to promote our interviewees, not to help them look good. We should even have an adversarial attitude toward them when it comes to holding them accountable on issues that affect the public. This is not new in the mainstream media but this is a concept that is practically not understood in our community. Here is where the PPCO should lead in educating our community.

Let me mention the theory of journalism as a neutral profession. Being fair is not the same as being neutral. Journalism is not a dead and neutral profession. Journalism is for the people, for the public interest, for the majority of the people. It involves the public as readers, viewers and listeners. It does not allow neutrality on issues of public interest. Objectivity is not the same as neutrality.
In witnessing or reporting a crime, for example, a journalist cannot be neutral between the criminal and the victim. Reporting truthfully the crime serves the victim and serves justice. The truth here works for one side of the conflict. It is not being neutral. You cannot be neutral between truth and falsehood.

On conflict of interest. This is when a media organization or journalist takes on supporting a private interest and receiving benefits out of it. Benefits that compromise the very purpose of journalism which is to expose the truth and shed light on problems that affect public interest. Like using a newspaper or airtime to promote a politician without challenging that politician to answer questions on issues to enlighten the public. How? By raising issues, the important issues that affect our community that I mentioned earlier. This includes public officials, Filipino or Canadian. We should make them accountable. People are paying them through their taxes to serve them and advance their interests, the people’s interests, not to advance their political careers. This is in regard to our relationship with public officials and politicians.

In regard to private interest groups, businesses, media should also have arms-length relationships with them. They have their interests to serve, we have the public interests to serve, the interests of our readers, listeners, viewers, in short the public. We should never compromise our public duty and responsibility as journalists. In short, we should serve the people. Not the public officials, not the politicians, not the political parties, not business interests, not vested or commercial interests, not friends, not our selfish private agenda. But the people and the people alone.

Back to our role as media, as journalists, as radio and TV anchors. Our role is to inform the public with the truth and hold accountable those in power and in positions of power in business and other private interests. To educate the public on important issues of the day. And also to advance views on what is good for the public, by providing context for the issues that affect our daily lives. For example, why are there so many Pinoys in Canada? Why do Filipinos all over the world work overseas to feed their families in the Philippines? In other words, we should first understand the answers to big questions like these before we can perform our role as media, as journalists. We should do our homework and study and learn our history. Why should we oppose the burial of Marcos at the Libingan ng mga Bayani? How can we understand this when our media are full of stories about mindless showbiz items and gossip? About our more-of-the-same beauty pageants, and endless dinner dances, anniversaries and independence day gala nights that glorify politicians and public officials and repetitive folk dances whose value in our history is never explained? (An exception are fund-raisings that help disaster victims and village civic projects.) National day celebrations should extol our heroes and should be used to explain to the youth our glorious history as a nation, not occasions to feed the frenzy for movie stars and cater to the need for escape of our people who long for home and miss their families. Even holidays like Christmas should be occasions for family and friends not to hold events that have become too commercial and full of raffles that only get your emails to spam you with promo messages.

These are my thoughts for tonight in a gathering of media people and guests. Some of them may be seen as harsh or unforgiving but no, they are well-meant for the good of our profession and our community. I have seen enough in our community in the past more than three decades. There is just too much to say. But let me stop here. Happy Holidays to all. Thank you.