|'Journalists must overcome self-censorship'|
|Written by Ronalyn V. Olea|
|Monday, 01 September 2008 11:13|
Editha Burgos has been brought to the limelight since the involuntary disappearance of her son Jonas. Abducted on April 28, 2007, Jonas remains missing to this day.
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Everybody knows she is the wife of the late press freedom icon Jose "Joe" Burgos Jr. But Editha herself was part of the We Forum, the alternative publication the family put up against Marcos’ crony press on May 1, 1977. She was, Editha said, the general manager and janitor. She even helped in distributing copies, talking with the newspaper’s dealers.
Editha reminisced the days the “mosquito press” irked the Marcos dictatorship in her keynote address at the Sixth Congress of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) held Aug. 23 to 24 in Tagaytay City.
The alternative press
The We Forum was a weekly independent newspaper. Editha said they had one typewriter and a borrowed table.
She said that the whole family was involved in the publication. Editha recalled that her two daughters, then only 15 and 14, would write articles. Jonas, only nine years old, wanted to be the photographer. When Benigno ‘Ninoy’ Aquino was killed in 1983, JL, the youngest, insisted on joining the funeral march.
Editha said what they wanted was to ‘seek and live the truth and share a vision.’
“Twenty five years after, parang nandoon pa rin tayo kung nasaan tayo 25 years ago,” (Twenty five years after, it is as if we are still where we were 25 years ago.) Editha said.
Editha said, “Are there still barriers today? With the latest in technology, traditional barriers of time, geography, distance have diminished if not completely eliminated. Today it is just a matter of looking for a wi-fi area to send a story.”
She recalled, “In Malaya, we did not have a telephone. Reporters fall in line and wait for their turn to use the typewriter.”
On Dec. 7, 1982, Joe was arrested, along with other We Forum columnists, including Dean Armando Malay. A few months after his release, Joe founded the Ang Pahayagang Malaya (The Independent Newspaper) in early 1983. We Forum resumed publication in 1985.
Editha said they usually had pandesal and sardines as merienda (snack). Every one would dip their pandesal in a bowl of sardines, she related.
Editha said, “When we did not have money, somebody would say, ‘Para sa inang bayan.’ (For the Motherland.)”
Defining barriers to truth, Editha said that the gatekeepers - they who decide what is to be printed or announced- could be a barrier.
She said, “How often have I been told, that a story has been written yet not printed, or an investigative project has been submitted yet not aired over radio or television.”
Still, she considered this as one of the ‘mildest or the weakest barriers that could deter journalists from coming out with the truth.’
She continued, “Our experience in We Forum and Malaya told us that those who worked with establishment newspapers, whose stories were ‘killed’ by their editors, did their job anyway, of reporting the truth. They gave their stories to us, and the stories saw print, of course, minus their bylines.”
She said that the gatekeepers, the editors and publishers, the owners of the so-called multimedia companies have their own motivations, their own reasons. “Does the story not ‘offend’ any of the major advertisers? Does the story help sister corporations or companies? Does the story encourage support from policy makers, from decision makers, from those who can likewise grant ‘favors’ needed by these so-called gatekeepers?”
Editha said that current practices and the low standard of practitioners in the beat could also be a barrier.
Editha said a young journalist was ostracized by her colleagues because the latter did not rely only in the releases handed to them by the information officer but did her own "investigation" for her stories. “She unwittingly showed (them) what they weren’t,” she said.
Most dangerous barrier
She said that the "greater and more dangerous barriers are those that come not from without but those that come from within."
“Self-censorship, to my mind, is the more difficult obstacle to overcome. Barriers that are self-imposed are always more difficult to dissect and break down because usually they are born out of a natural instinct which is sometimes called self preservation and this is complicated by one’s ignorance,” said Editha.
She asked the journalists, “Let us ask ourselves. Why does one story, one issue, one concern attract more attention than another? What is it that catalyzes you? What is it that paralyzes you?”
She asked, “Would there be a place for the disappeared if Jonas were not abducted?”
She cited a few reasons given by her friends and ‘non-friends’ in the media - the danger of losing one’s job; the frustration that after trying and trying, stories don’t see print anyway; deterrent from getting the juicier coverage; incurring the ire of one’s boss; stories that will not bring the needed ‘bonus.’ “These are only a few but even these can take a heavy toll on one’s chosen path as journalist,” she said.
Editha said, however, that there is a kind of self-censorship that comes from the right reasons. It must be, she said, a result of conscience. “Will the story do injustice or cause more harm or will endanger someone’s life?”
She said, “It would be from the recognition of what keeps us from reporting the truth that we can start building our strengths.”
She added, “Internal barrier can be exposed only after self-knowledge. Acceptance of weaknesses, recognizing that we are being deterred from accomplishing our mission is the first step. Upon recognizing that weakness, we can start our renewal.”
She called on journalists to look inward. “There is a greater need to purify our motivations.” She said that motivation should be for the higher good.
Quoting Joe Burgos, Editha said, “We cannot back out on this commitment. We have our duty to continue pursuing the profession we have chosen.”
She said further, “There is a need for courage to come out…Even if external barriers have silenced you, it is no reason why your beliefs should be compromised.” Bulatlat