“The war against truth is at its fiercest.”
ABS-CBN Integrated News and Current Affairs chief Ging Reyes said this on Sunday, August 2, as she spoke to graduates of the University of the Philippines (UP) College of Mass Communication in a virtual ceremony.
Herself a UP graduate, Reyes said journalists have “the constitutional right to seek truth and report any matter of public interest without censorship or punishment.”
“That right came under attack as soon as populist leaders began their assault on truth,” she said.
“The attacks against press freedom and the demonization of the news media culminated with the shutdown of country’s leading network, ABS-CBN,” she said.
Following years-long tirades from President Rodrigo Duterte, lawmakers rejected ABS-CBN's bid for a renewed franchise, shutting down the Philippines’ largest network – a decision widely condemned as politically motivated.
The first time ABS-CBN was shut down was during the late dictator Ferdinand Marcos’ Martial Law, when he seized control of the network and other media outlets.
The shutdown of ABS-CBN comes as the Duterte government steps up its attacks on independent media, including Rappler. Other populist leaders worldwide have made similar moves – as in the case of Hungary, where Prime Minister Viktor Orban is tightening his grip on independent news outlets, the latest of which is the news website Index.
In her speech on Sunday, Reyes added that journalists are not perfect and must learn from mistakes. But when politicians interfere, Reyes said journalists should not back down.
Reyes earlier testified before the House committee on legislative franchises, which later on rejected ABS-CBN’s franchise renewal. Lawmakers questioned the veteran journalist for the faults of ABS-CBN News, with some even lecturing her how journalists should do their job.
“Many would say that my trip to Congress last month was a lesson on media accountability. And humility. I couldn’t agree more. I owned up to mistakes we committed in the past. But I also learned how the war on truth can take an even more dangerous path.”
“When politicians try to tell you how to do your job – how headlines should be written, how long you should wait till they give their side, how bad news hurts their image – you do not back down. You do not apologize for the journalism principles on which you stand. You do not abandon the constitutional right that allows you the freedom to say and do something about what’s wrong in the world. Our values should keep us grounded and resolute in our convictions about right and wrong.”
Despite this, Reyes told emerging media practitioners not to lose hope.
“Not a few media owners have acknowledged that news is the heart and soul of any great media company. Why? Because while it is not always a profitable business, it is the service that has a big impact on the world.”
“And even if our freedoms are in peril and our world seems headed toward destruction, there is always hope.” – Rappler.com
Camille Elemia is Rappler's lead reporter for media, disinformation, and democracy. She won an ILO award in 2017. She received the prestigious Fulbright-Hubert Humphrey fellowship in 2019, allowing her to further study media and politics in the US. Email email@example.com