Journalism, according to GMA
Lessons from the president herself

President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo has her own standards on what can and can not be said on the air, online and in print. It smells like early martial law to me, but the key is that it is not. She gets away with these standards because she hasn't shut down any newspapers, broadcasters or other kinds of writers.

Nevermind about what it means if a president seizes a newspaper because of its alleged seditious articles. A leader worth his or her salt should be able to respond to accusations with elegance, that is, they don't attack messengers - they respond with actions that prove the messengers wrong.

She had recently granted an interview with GMA Network's radio DZBB, which was broadcast simultaneously over GMA Network Channel 7's morning show "Unang Hirit."

Arroyo said she chose to be interviewed by the GMA radio station because the media company practices responsible journalism.

Journalism itself is confusing to those who practice it - simplistically said, a reporter's allegiance belongs to only one entity, and that is his or her own media company. A media company's salt is proven by circulation. Circulation is determined by its readers, and apparently The Daily Tribune is doing so well that it attracts even the attentions of the president.

Arroyo has ordered seizure of the newspaper because she said the paper prints seditious articles against her. Regardless of when the Tribune was founded (in 2000), and for what purpose ("a paper that would be known for its free, but responsible journalism," according to its Web site), it calls itself a newspaper.

All newspapers have allegiances to certain things they know to be true. The Tribune has been known to be critical of the president. I suppose Arroyo let the scathing opinions about her go on for as long as she could until she couldn't anymore, and so ordered the seizure.

Presidents shouldn't order the seizure of newspapers critical of them on 20th anniversaries of a country's democracy, particularly if the hallmark of that democracy's restoration is the release of a suppression of media. They do not call for a state of emergency on the week when democracy was restored after twenty years of martial law.

Even to us here, living in the U.S., who were children at the time of the first EDSA revolution, it reeks the dawning of a new kind of dictatorship.

A friend of mine works at ABS-CBN studios. She says the first thing that her company does in the first seconds of political emergencies is lock all gates and keep all staff inside company walls. I've never been to her offices, but with the way she shared her experience, I imagine thick, impenetrable walls several feet high capped by sharp barbed wire, with armed guards posted every several feet or so. She said that during mass riots, all office gates are locked, an alarm system is enabled, and no one gets to leave or visit the office complex until after the rioting ends.

She says this is the case because the first thing that rioters will do, if they want to throw off the government, is to control the media.

In a society where prosperity depends on only the very few living in the cities, and the very vulnerable diaspora around the world, the media play a crucial role in spreading propaganda. Every new ideology hinges on every new member who has heard its message.

Filipinos should be proud that worldwide analysts cite our journalism as one of the most vibrant - therefore, dangerous - in the world. The seizure of the Tribune's offices contributes to that image.

To us laypeople in the U.S., a newspaper means a public just thinking out loud. A public who can think out loud is a sign of a healthy democracy.

The Tribune's offices are kept open, but seizure is bad form for a president who says she sincerely wants to help the country grow. Any country cannot grow into her full potential without a healthy press. It is disappointing and frustrating that this very simple thing isn't obvious to her.

this frustrating and disappointing column is scheduled to appear, at the mercy of her editors, in the april issue of the filipino-american community builder newspaper. if you are unaware of the newspaper, copies can be picked up from the UniMart on Clark Street, and the paper's offices on 5232 N. Western Ave.; telephone 773-275-4540.
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