Both mainstream media and personalities associated with the increasingly desperate “voice” of the mainstream continue to screech about “fake news” and their imagined “assault on press freedom”. These two things are nebulous notions at best as “fake news” had become a mere catch-all used to describe anything someone finds personally disagreeable and “press freedom” is downright oxymoronic considering that the traditional “press” is an industry made up of for-profit private enterprise (and therefore not “free” in the real sense of the term).
By continuing to issue their shrill cries, they merely highlight even more the reality of Big Corporate Media’s irreversible slide to irrelevance. At present, the stink being raised surrounds the on-going circus involving the alleged tax evasion charges of “social news network” Rappler and the impending arrest of its CEO Maria Ressa. It is easy to see what Ressa and her Rapplerettes are really up to. They are acting more like activists and less like real journalists. If there is a “fight” to be had by Ressa in this instance, it belongs in court between lawyers. Instead, Ressa is going out to the Wild Wild West of the so-called “free market of ideas” to campaign for support. The objective of this campaign is to get popular opinion on the side of Rappler and Ressa. It has nothing to do with the merits of the legal case.
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In that regard, what Ressa is doing has nothing to do with journalism and everything to do with a sophomoric appeal to emotion in the court of public opinion. Ressa is behaving the way any garden-variety politician would behave when pursued by the law. She follows that all-too-familiar template response and she is just short of barricading herself in some sort of safe domain — much the same way her pal “senator” Antonio Trillanes did when he turned the Senate building into his personal safehouse when his arrest was imminent. Funny, indeed, that Opposition “activists” make fun of the way politicians use wheelchairs and neckbraces to divert public attention from legal charges made against them. Ressa is doing exactly the same thing. Or, perhaps, she reckons she’d hand herself over to the authorities “voluntarily” following the script of “national hero” Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr — you know, the whole “martyr” playbook, right? Still, tax evasion. The fact remains, that is the case that remains whatever way she plays her drama.
One expects more of a CEO of a “major major” news outlet and one who purports to be God’s Gift to Philippine Journalism. The way Ressa is stepping up to the legal challenges she faces lacks grace as it amounts to no more than a monumental temper tantrum characteristic of a spoilt brat who feels entitled to preferential treatment. Perhaps, to be fair, the tax evasion charges Ressa faces is news. The trouble with her approach is that she is not “reporting” it as such. Indeed, rather than report it as news she is using Rappler as a tool in a dishonest campaign to frame the issue in a manner that misleads the Philippine public.
This is an opportunity for Rappler‘s competitors in the Philippines’ media industry to step up. Because Rappler has so far exhibited the very behaviours that cost their industry the much-valued trust of the Filipino people, the other media giants like ABS-CBN News and GMA News Online can simply start behaving in all the ways that Rappler is not. They can stay focused on reporting balanced news objectively, avoid making themselves (and their officers) the news, ensure they maintain a staff of professional, competent, and seasoned journalists, and, most important of all, remain sober and conservative and not style themselves as the trendy snowflakish borderline “social justice warrior” millennialesque perversion that Rappler had become.
For democracy to mature in the Philippines, a culture of critical evaluation needs to be embedded in its society to ensure Filipino voters are not unduly swayed by emotionally-charged rhetoric. It is time Filipinos learn to habitually apply the sort of intellectual heavy lifting needed to get the most out of their freedom to choose. Maria Ressa is being a very bad role model in that regard, choosing to make an issue emotional rather than one demanding that facts be used as currency for deciding logically on the most appropriate pathway to take.
benign0 is the Webmaster of GetRealPhilippines.com.