All the recent hullabaloo about Rappler and similar journalists likely come from the opinion that journalists are a special breed. Because the self-declared mission of journalists is to uncover the truth, journalism is supposed to be a “special profession,” and journalists are “special,” and so they deserve “special” treatment and protection. Really, all sorts of problems come from claiming to be special (especially where Filipinos are concerned).
There’s the claim that journalism is an especially risky job. There’s this post on Facebook that showed a lot of journalists who were injured, maimed or killed in the line of duty. It calls for the stopping of the killing of journalists. But really, is that call going to be heeded at all? It would be better to call for all the violent events to stop so journalists – and everyone else involved – won’t be killed (and that would mean nothing sensational to cover).
The truth is, in life, everyone is at risk. Construction workers who build the offices journalists work from are at risk from falling debris, accidents and other things at work. Drivers and everyone on the road are at risk from accidents because of how fast cars are. The good police and the military put their lives on the line to protect us from criminals and terrorists. No matter your profession, if you find yourself in a warzone, you’re at risk. As a friend said, the moment you are born, you are at risk. Journalism is thus not a significantly riskier profession than others. At the places where the journalists were injured or killed, do you believe they were the only ones so affected? They were there to witness certain violent scenes, and in many cases, violence doesn’t choose its victims (for example, stray bullets).
The local call for some special treatment for journalists mostly came after the Maguindanao massacre, where certain journalists were killed. Some politically correct people called this an attack on journalism. But it isn’t; it’s an attack on a political opponent, and the journalists were caught in the crossfire. Journalism wasn’t the target. Yet journalists after this called for special protection for themselves.
The attitude seems to be that journalists should be treated like Red Cross or medics in wartime. The Geneva Convention calls for all combatants to not attack medics in the field. Those who kill medics will be treated as war criminals. President Duterte himself ordered the creation of a committee to specially address violence against journalists, the Presidential Task Force on Media Security. I however believe that treating of journalists like medics is needless. The thing is, who will follow that? Killers will kill who they want, and it is the challenge to bring them in to face justice. Also, I believe the job of medics is more important than that of journalists.
One other argument is that since journalists are committed to telling the truth (ideally), they should be treated like they never lie, or even that they should be exempt from libel charges. But everyone in an honest profession is supposed to tell the truth. Engineers are supposed to be truthful in the plans and calculations they make, or something like a building collapse will happen. Pilots have to be truthful on the job or they risk crashing. Journalists are not special in this regard, and like in any profession, some have been caught lying.
There should be a clue in the institution of the journalistic ethics subject itself. That journalists have to be reminded to stick to reporting the facts is itself a sign that journalists do not automatically tell the truth. This set of rules of journalists would not exist if journalists were actually being truthful all the time. The fact is, ever since the first newspapers printed and the first reporters went on their beats, they have been prone to sensationalizing, shilling and lying. As the late Singaporean figurehead Lee Kuan Yew said of Filipino reporters, and it can apply anywhere else, “reporters can be bought.”
Perhaps the glamorization of journalism comes from its being unchallenged for a time. Journalists used to be the only source of information for many people. Before, newspapers, then radio, and then television were the only ways people could know what’s happening around the world. That’s not true anymore with the Internet. Even before Facebook, when Friendster was still around and blogs, e-mail and other websites were already up, people could already share content right away without going through “gatekeepers.” People who knew someone already at a certain event setting could get videos or details directly. All the press could do was “re-share,” vet the items and bring it to a wider audience.
It also seems to me that some “journalists” dream of becoming opinion columnists, where they can spit out their opinions and influence people – tell them what to think. Rappler seemed to be that, where journalists are encouraged to put out opinions and not just report facts. But as one level-headed experienced journalist said, this desire to just spout out one’s opinion is ruining journalism. Better to follow the advice of Ruben Navarrette of Newsday, who advised journalists to keep their opinions to themselves, and do other things to stay safe and not be a martyr. Glamorization also seems to reflect how some journalists want to become celebrities or, I mentioned before, “persons of authority.” It shows that egoism could be considered another real threat to journalism.
Certainly, journalists who are willing to risk lives to cover events should not be put down. However, that doesn’t make them special. They are just people doing their job. Same for people who return something lost that they found or help disabled people on the street. Those are not something special, but duties.
In the end, either everybody’s special or everyone’s ordinary. No one needs special respect. Better to respect everyone who’s doing a good job and be critical of those doing bad things. The idea of a “special breed” comes from old traditions that create inequality – a good example is the caste system of some societies. Discouragement of the “I’m special” mentality has been our message for years for Filipino society, and it is applicable anywhere else as well. Many of us bloggers here support the concept of meritocracy, but it cannot be the basis for promoting that one is more special than another As I said before, sometimes one does good, sometimes that same person could do the very opposite, because humans are that inconsistent. Once we accept this, we are better able to live and act justly towards others.