An interesting read I recently got was Media and Culture: Global Homogeneity and Local Identity by Rachel E. Khan. It has a chapter called Citizen Journalism and the Fall of Mass Media Hegemony, and it talks of how the Internet and other mass communication means allowed people to create their own posts, announcements and punditry that reach masses of other people, bypassing the “gatekeepers.” Ordinary people can reach a wide audience in a similar way to mainstream news anchors and talk show hosts. The chapter says citizen journalism (a term I feel is somewhat a stretch, since we GRP bloggers and online commenters do not claim to be journalists, as with many who post their opinion online) is not supposed to compete with mass media journalism, but to supplement it. However, due to mass media journalism having its own infractions of ethics, citizen journalism sometimes has to challenge what mainstream media posts.
One of the country’s prominent mainstream media personalities in this country posted, “Time to Take back the Internet. Time to take back social media.” Fancy words. “Take back” is often used in posts and calls to move people to action. Our very own Ilda has an article using it.
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However, I believe this use of “take back” by the mainstream media personality was misplaced. You cannot take back the Internet and social media. Because you cannot take back what you don’t own.
Indeed, I believe the media personality’s perceived opponent for the “take back” post was citizen journalism. However, the new media cannot be “taken back” from citizen journalism because it’s one check and balance for a “fourth estate” that’s gone rogue. We need people to question claims like “Yolanda funds all went to victims,” “Duterte is behind all death squads,” “Duterte is a psychopath,” “Number of Philippine poor is reducing,” and more. Now some journalists and others may go on the defense, saying, “you don’t know what we’re going through! You’re judgmental!” But questioning journalists is needed where you encounter things like Brian Walski’s photo manipulation, the Pangasinan “mysterious flesh-eating disease” fraud, the Carl Bernstein revelation that the CIA has been using journalists as spies, and cases of outright plagiarism. You make a mistake, you have to pay for it, no matter what you went through.
I took a peek in the book Feature, Editorial and Opinion Writing by Alito L. Malinao, while browsing in National Bookstore. I saw the columns written after the 2007 Peninsula Hotel fracas involving Senator Antonio Trillanes. One called for the laws on libel to be done away with. Another is a rejection of making journalists as “persons of authority.” I partially disagree with the former and agree with the latter. Libel and other things such as slander do happen, and journalists have to be called out on this. The punishments can be changed. And, who came up with the lamebrain idea that journalists are “persons of authority?” Journalists aren’t authorities! They have no right to give you orders and punish you if you refuse to obey. They’re not special people at all. They need freedom, but they don’t need privilege to do their jobs.
There may be trolls in citizen journalism, that’s for sure. But they also exist (and likely first existed) in mainstream journalism. Another book, Agents of Power by J. Herbert Atschull, mentions in Chapter 9, Spin Doctors and Media Managers, “In spite of appearances, the press is not an independent voice either in its AWA (adversary, watchdog and agenda setter) role or as an “objective” observer. Because the vision of journalists is clouded by the folklore, they are themselves more easily used as AWA. In that role journalists find it increasingly difficult to recognize they are being manipulated.” Perhaps mainstream journalists need to question themselves on whether they have been appropriated in truth-compromising manipulations of media.
Here’s another thing from the Khan book: The news is not what reporters report. The news is what editors and producers choose to broadcast. From this, one could surmise that vested interests in the top level, which may also include executives aside from editors and producers, are spin-doctoring broadcast content.
However, we won’t call for mainstream media to shut up. They’re free to do their work. But we’re free to question them.
Mainstream journalists should also stop assuming, much less insisting, that because their goal is looking for the truth, what they say is already truth. As demonstrated in the cases I mentioned above, it’s far from that. They should have fact-checked their reports by corroborating them with other sources. If others question their report, they should be open.
I’ll admit, my suspicion on what some “journalists” actually desire is simply this: they want to take away citizen journalism. That same thing I wrote before about “regulating bloggers:” they simply want to shut us up. They want to return to the old order. That if people want to broadcast their opinions or views to others, they have to do it through the “gatekeepers” and not on their own. The “gatekeepers” must edit and censor information as they see fit.
Not going to happen. The “gatekeepers” concept is obsolete thanks to the Internet that makes it easy for us to post our views to the world for all to see. If you want to shut us up, you’ll have to shut down the entire Internet. Also, instead of “gatekeepers,” mainstream journalists should have been the confirmers or mythbusters of reports by fact-checking them. Unfortunately, with most of mainstream journalism in the country being owned by corporate and political interests, and because incompetence in journalism is growing, there is a need to fact check what they post. Citizen journalism thus became necessary as another set of watchdogs for the watchdogs that got leashed.
I believe, as my cohorts here do, that what Filipinos embrace as their culture is what actually pulls the country down. And those who seem to be anti-dictators, who may also believe themselves to be “heroes,” are the real dictators.