Monday, 04 July 2011 13:05
When I arrived in Manila last June 14, Adrian Dimacali, whose family kindly accommodated me in their home for my 3-week stay in the Philippines, told me that being a journalist is really brave. Then he informed me about the unfortunate bloodshed in the Maguindanao massacre, about reporters being under a lot of pressure due to political and economical reasons, and we found a lot of coincidences between Philippine media and their counterparts in my country.
I am from Buenos Aires, Argentina, I am 26 years old, and I have been working for the only newspaper written in English in my nation (the Buenos Aires Herald) for the past three years. I came to the Philippines thanks to a scholarship by AFS (www.afs.ph) inter-cultural Exchange programme to carry out an internship in local media, and ABS-CBN Corp. welcomed me in their family.
I have been observing the reporting methods in ABS-CBN Corp. and what caught my attention is how responsible journalists they are when it comes to deciding how to deal with information.
Talking to Cheryl C. Favila, Head of News Production, she expressed the company’s desire to be unbiased, impartial and accurate. In fact, they have a Code of Ethics that works as a guideline for them to decide which data should be aired or not, according to the audience’s needs and interests.
It also surprised me how many English-written newspapers are published on a daily basis in Manila, and I think Filipinos should be proud of it because having wide variety of media means that citizens have great tools to find out more about the society they live in, their government. Pluralistic means of expression always protect democracy.
In Argentina, there aren’t as many newspapers as there are in the Philippines. In fact, there are two major mainstream newspapers (tabloid Clarin and broadsheet La Nacion), and the former is actually a multi-media corporation that has several TV channels (including TN, which is the biggest 24-hour news channel), a cable operator and online services.
The current government, led by female President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner (widow of former President Nestor Kirchner), accuses Clarin of being a monopoly due to the concentration of several media in only one corporation. Congress passed a law (called “media law”) to renew the scenario of broadcasting companies. The bill states that new regional media should be founded, and that the current main players of the industry should get rid of some units of businesses so that there should be a diversity of audio-visual journalistic products.
On the other hand, Clarin claims that this media law is an ill-attempt by the government to censor freedom of expression, and they argue that all the president wants is to promote pro-government media and restrict the power of independent media.
Indeed, a few months ago, members of a relevant union blocked the distribution of Clarin newspaper on a Sunday, when the tabloid usually sells over 300.000 copies (the figure was doubled on Monday, when the Sunday`s edition finally reached the readers` hands).
So, the current scenario is challenging because it means that journalists must, now more than ever, stand up for their belief in the so-called “Fourth Power” to control other social spheres, by delivering accurate information.
At present, most Argentine newspapers are committed to communicating the injustices of the everyday world and the cases of corruption of current and former officials. The war between media and the government has helped Argentine media recover the concept that journalists must always be merciless--by bringing information closer to people, and readers and audiences, in general, always express their desire to hear what is often left unsaid.
But everything that shines is not gold. There are hidden interests that underlie the discussion between mainstream media and the government. Let’s not forget that the media are always (whether they want it or not) political actors, because the news they convey affect people’s perception of reality, the way they see their lives and their shared concerns.
When Argentine media corporations report that there are cases wherein journalists are not treated with respect, the whole country freaks out because we have a dark past that is not yet solved.
From 1976 to 1983, Argentina suffered from a terribly violent military dictatorship, and human rights organizations said that over 30,000 people aged between 16 and 30 went missing.
In 1983, with the return of democracy, the population found out that these people (mostly left-wing political activists but also residents without a specific political affiliation) were kidnapped, taken to illegal detention centres, tortured and murdered. Their corpses were thrown into the River Plate. There were pregnant women whose babies were robbed and whose identities are still being recovered, thanks to human rights groups' actions which are supported by the government.
Back then, most media would turn a deaf ear to society. They mouthed exactly what the dictators wanted reporters to say: journalists had to paraphrase official, authorized reports; there were censors who previewed the content of TV channels. By no means could they tell the truth about what was actually happening in the country. Many journalists were murdered, others were forced to go into exile or to change jobs. All of them were afraid of what would happen to them if they spoke their minds.
If you notice any resemblance with what happened to the Filipino media at the time of dictator Ferdinand Marcos, it is not a coincidence.
Like in the Philippines, with democracy, media blossomed in Argentina. If the Philippines witnessed a great development of newspapers and free channels, Argentina discovered new artists whose productions were not aired during the dictatorship--in theatre, dance, journalism and art in general. The whole country talked about the crimes that had been committed, and we promised as a society that we will never let the loss of press freedom happen again (“Nunca mas”, in Spanish).
I guess Argentine media learned from this experience. At present, there is criticism in newspapers, radio and TV channels, and also in dotcom websites, and the more we discuss about what is going on in our nation, the better we are as citizens. It is positive as long as we don`t overdo it. Like Don Hewitt once said: “Confrontation is not a dirty word. Sometimes, it is the best kind of journalism as long as you don`t comfort people just for the sake of a confrontation.”
I have never felt, like my friend Adrian said, that journalists are brave. Maybe because my generation isn`t as afraid as the older generation used to be. And now, with worldwide threats to the press (as the extreme example of the Maguindanao massacre proves, or like the attempts to silence Argentine dominant media illustrate), journalists must be on alert to fulfill our duty responsibly, not letting the powerful interfere with our daily tasks.
For me, the core of modern, free, unbiased, independent journalism is learning from our mistakes of the past, and knowing where we are heading to in order to make a better reality possible.
* Mariana Marcaletti majored in Communication at Buenos Aires University with outstanding grades, she specialized in journalism. At present, she works for the Buenos Aires Herald and she is also a freelance writer and ghostwriter. Over the past four years, she has worked for several international (TVMAS, TodoTV News) and local publications (Ambito Financiero, Accion, Nuestra Cultura). She won the AFS AAI Journalism Scholarship Grant to get to know the Philippines and write about the country`s culture. Last year, she won the first prize of two essay contests for her works “Family-focused theatre and dictatorship” by AINCRIT, an organization of Argentine critics, and for “The audiovisual industry in Buenos Aires city: cartoons, videogames and telenovelas”, sponsored by Buenos Aires city government. In 2008, she was granted a research scholarship to develop her 300-page thesis “The representation of youth in television during the return of democracy in Argentina” and she currently researches about media history in the University of Buenos Aires` research institute Gino Germani.
By Mariana Marcaletti*
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