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National Press Week - Lopez Museum

The second week of February is National Press week in the Philippines. According to The Atlantic in 2016, the average number of news stories brought out per day is a whopping five hundred articles for the Washington Post, excluding blog entries and basic info graphics. Twitter can generate thousand tweets for a hashtag in a span of minutes of an issue blowing up. Facebook over the past year has introduced a Live Video option, along with Instagram where users are able to broadcast anything and everything to their audience at any given time in real time. This inevitable bombardment of information in social media sites that have become echo chambers, has the world fast becoming a breeding ground for the proliferation of what is now branded “fake news.” Slowly, in the trigger-happy community of social media sharers, reputable news sources are mixed in and nuanced among tabloid articles, third party sites, and blog sites that masquerade both intentionally and unintentionally as official press. This has become the battle field that many journalists have found themselves fighting in. What then becomes the role of the media and journalists in the all but joyful world of free speech, loud and overlapping?

“The issue is less to do with freedom than with responsibility,” journalist Vergel Santos quips when he is asked about the distinction between those in the field of journalism and those freewheeling agents who post on personal social media sites the updates on current events. “Journalists are trained in certain disciplines and skills; yet, their practice remains subject to layer upon layer of checks, and they are made to assume their share of individual as well as collective responsibility.”  What seems like a sudden upshoot of fake news articles in the past year coming from personal Facebook posts, 140 character Twitter declarations, etc. has fast become an epedemic and has therefore caught the attention of many legitimized news sources. The New York Times, during the recent presidential elections of the United States, conducted a study on the trajectory of fake and euphemistically called alternative news on the internet. The tendency of a fake news item, in whatever social media form it takes, is to rocket off into the viral sphere with the right hashtags, and the right amount of tantalizing incriminating content. Once the right nerve has been nicked, the story will go on to be shared by thousands. Unfortunately, the leveled sound of fact-checking is sometimes left unheard amidst the noise of immediate response and frustration fueled by a short and sweet headline.

In 1960s Philippines, it was the opposite. There were no big blaring headlines that could be skimmed through, no dissenting voices from readily available sources. Former president Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law in the Philippines, and across the nation reverberated an eerie silence. “A nation of 39 million awakes to a day without newspapers, a day of soundless and pictureless television, a day of voiceless radio. Radio plays some music, but music of the funereal sort, doubtless meant to heighten the sense of graveness in the air,” narrates Vergel Santos in his recalling of the days under the dictatorship for Lopez Museum and Library's forum Newsroom Shutdown, and reiterated in his piece for the Philippine Daily Inquirer.  Santos was among the journalists who were forcibly pushed to the sidelines. He admits that he had it easy, compared to the others who were repeatedly harassed and tortured, those who were imprisoned and killed for printing out facts and criticism against the administration of dictatorship. "Troops have descended on the media to ensure that no newspaper copy gets out in the streets and no voice gets out on the airwaves. Censorship works as a first salvo of artillery that intimidates and softens the target.

In time, media voices are heard again, but only as mouthpieces. Any voice that strays out of line is again silenced, its possessor punished."

Censorship ironically brought out the most potent, and the most relentless in the profession of journalism. Marites Vitug talk about the journalists who went before her and inevitably shaped her perception of the press, “they could speak truth to power and not be hindered in their work. I have always thought of journalists as courageous souls. Pete Lacaba, Nick Joaquin, Greg Brillantes, the old man Teodoro Locsin and his editorials, they were unrelenting. And they wrote with such power, unafraid of rebuke from the authorities.”

“I also remember reading the Manila Times (I hope my memory is right) where this young reporter, Rod Reyes, penetrated a drug den, and exposed it. That was a feat. This further reinforced my thinking that journalists do good for the country, even at their own peril.”

Vitug goes on to say, “it is the duty of media to present the facts honestly and fairly, with loyalty to no one except to the public. Thus, credibility is a must--and this is built by news organizations through the years, by establishing a track record.” Trust and belief have become beaming badges lauded to those who the public deems reputable in their eyes, or rather sings to same tune. All those who create air waves are those who pander to personal interest. “I've never imagined that Philippine media would be fighting another battle after the struggle during the martial law years: this time, it's the battle for legitimacy and credibility, anchors for our survival. Because if no one believes us, then that would be our defeat, a painful one,” Vitug explains. If the mission of presenting truthful histories has before become a passive endeavor, now more than ever are institutions of education called to take pro-active steps to further historical continuity.

Much like the institutions of education, the press does not actively impose a view on the reader, instead it presents truth, backed up by hard facts to be digested and analyzed. Reactions come from the reader, assumptions are created by those who attempt to make sense of the issues written down. The goal now is to encourage critical thinking and revisiting of facts in a world that so easily jumps the gun at judgement. It becomes the responsibility to inform. When asked about the different methods the press has taken in order to stay afloat amidst the sea of fake news stories online, Vitug suggested,  "[To] make fact-checking a must, a regular feature. Daily, if possible. Answer reasonable criticisms, engage these types, not the out-and-out bashers who are clearly promoting partisan interests. [To] conduct media literacy campaigns: let the public know how media organizations work, be transparent. This could be done online, or lectures in universities, talks before various groups, etc."

"We will be bruised--look at all the trolls and online threats!--but we will defend our work and our calling. How? By doing what we do best: reporting the facts, backed by solid research, fairly and honestly," Vitug expresses. The Lopez Museum and Library recognizes the efforts of honest journalists, and the relentless press crusading for truthful narratives, and their pursuit for factual stories amidst injustice, and in spite of threats. It is the aim of the Lopez Museum and Library to further prevailing relevance of our national narrative and to educate by retelling the story of the Filipino, from the loud voices, to the muffled cries of the oppressed.