No less than the venerable Inquirer.net is now in the spotlight now that one of its own — the late Melinda ‘Mei’ Magsino — lies dead, a victim of the Philippines’ banal tradition of murdering journalists. It is, indeed, quite ironic that an industry supposedly feared and pandered to by the country’s most powerful oligarchs and business taipans trembles under the shadow of politically-motivated assassination.
In the case of the Inquirer what is it going to do now? Is the mighty bastion of “free speech” going to make good on its commitment to lend itself to the worthwhile cause of overseeing the delivery of swift justice to Magsino and her family? Will the army of reporters and journalists in its payroll rise to the task? Or are they just as cowed by the threat of death in the guise of an unseen predator lurking around every street corner ready to pounce then disappear into the country’s teeming traffic-choked streets?
Perhaps we are going about this the wrong way by highlighting that these victims are media people. At first, this may seem to be a counterintuitive way to regard the issue of media murder. But there is something about the way those who champion “justice” use profession to pitch the urgency of the situation. The media profession in the Philippines, after all, defines sort of an elite clique in our society. You can see it in the number of followers the social media accounts of revered reporters attract. Journalists are not just people, they are media people — or so Filipino-style thinking would have us believe. Whenever the Maguidanao massacre of 2009 is remembered, for example, writers and TV hosts never fail to emphasise the subset of victims who happen to be media people.
So, yeah, the outrage. A media person has been killed again. That the medianess of a victim needs to be highlighted to elicit outrage says something about Philippine society. What happened to the notion that a person is a person first before he or she is a journalist?
Journalists like everyone else are people. When a person is murdered, that person is entitled to swift justice and, if said justice is delivered too slowly if at all, is worthy of just as loud an expression of indignation from the public as the previous or next victim.
People have a right to justice. Not just the rich and powerful. Not just the famous. Not just journalists.
The Philippines has a long way to go towards taking its place as a modern society in the global community. Filipinos remain a people who measure the value of human life on the basis of who or what they are in the context of their primitive social hierarchies and traditions rather than on any notion of sanctity that is blind to social convention.
Finally, there is that inconvenient question the media industry needs to anwer: What gets to be “news” in the Philippines? Mei Magsino is “newsworthy” to Filipinos because she is a journalist. She is “newsworthy” to the Inquirer because she is one of theirs. Beyond the shareholders’ criteria of what is deemed “newsworthy” is there any other criteria the editors and producers of our media outlets consider when deciding what gets a place in their front pages and prime time programming schedules?
We are inundated by idiotic slogans that follow the template “_________ matter”. Put any label that describes a supposedly marginalised sector of society on that space — gay people, women, the poor, African lives, journalists’ lives, etcetera, etcetera — and, presto, you get a nifty slogan for a trendy selfie. But to be a truly modern society, we need only one such version of that slogan: People matter.
Truly modern societies are, quite simply, all about people. No qualifiers to that last word in that previous statement are necessary. Start with that and we will go a long way towards curing the scourge of media murder in our society.
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