Journalism is a crime in a fake world

Journalism is a heinous crime in a place where people feast over online disinformation like a smuggled high-grade marijuana.

This deception scheme that has gone global is the devil of our lifetime. It reeks of hate, lies, and absurdity. It has propelled the corrupt, liars, and mass murderers into power. (READ: Who were targets of disinformation in 2018?)

However, it is the online garbage that makes sense to vulnerable social media users because it feeds their egos. That is why it is also extremely addictive. (READ: Understand platforms, content to fight disinformation – experts)

People are so exposed to online disinformation that when legitimate news debunks lies, it is reduced into propaganda in their perspectives. And when the battle of credibility between an award-winning veteran journalist and a paid blogger takes place, the crass and unverified claim of the latter wins.

In the middle of all these online clutter, could truth-tellers still stand a chance?

The answer is yes. But journalists need to pay a hefty price – they would be branded as criminals, destabilizers, and evil. For telling the truth, they would gain enemies from their circle of misinformed friends. To be fair, this is not shared by all journalists.

This happened to me and my fellow campus journalists in college. Since freshman year, I’ve been the Editor of Fulcrum, the student publication of Palompon Institute of Technology in Palompon, Leyte. It is in this time that I witnessed the changes in leadership and how it shaped regulations and fiscal power in the process.

In February 2017, I wrote an editorial piece that debunked accusations that our campus publication is a “purveyor of lies.” The ramifications were unparalleled. The person who accused the publication told a friend of mine that a libel case awaits me.

Terrified, my staff asked me if they would be prosecuted too. Indeed, that was a horrible time for everybody in my team. No one knew exactly what to do.

My thoughts raced: “Did I write a libelous statement?” “Are we all going to jail because that was an editorial?” “What about my future?”

Despite what happened, we continued to be fearless in our reports. We dove deep into mounds of paper trails that were once regarded as not newsworthy.

One story, the most controversial of its kind, was the investigative story I wrote along with my Deputy Editor 1. We looked into the finances of our student council and we found out that they had been operating without following the standard financial protocols of a student organization.

That was not good for the image of our school. Well, at least, in the perspective of our school administrators. Those unleashed a period of administrative intimidations and ridiculous rants about our individual characters. Asserting their expertise, administrators started questioning the validity of our operations.

Just last year, administrative summons intended to covertly censor our stories and limit our activities have become episodic. Some of our key officials asked us to suspend the publication of the investigative story on the student council’s financial discrepancies. A new policy restricting student operations until 7 pm was also imposed to stop us from operating since we usually work at night to adjust with our overlapping student schedules. (READ: The different faces of press freedom violations vs campus journalists)

In the same year, we posted about our stance condemning the atrocities committed during the Marcos dictatorship. Our statement earned us flak from netizens who were Marcos apologists. Some of them red-tagged us, called us “yellowtards,” and accused us of accepting bribes. But apparently, those weren’t enough because someone sent me a death threat shortly after.

Those same or harsher intimidations are continually being experienced by other campus publications across the country.

Sure, there is Republic Act 7079 or the Campus Journalism Act of the Philippines, but it has become outdated that it has no teeth against violators anymore. Ill-intentioned individuals could interfere with editorial policies. Worse, student journalists could be prosecuted, harassed, threatened, and intimidated without penalty.

In the national scene, deliberate weaponization of the laws to subdue brave journalists like Maria Ressa is at play. While the government argues that they had no hand on the series of cases filed against Ressa and online news network Rappler, it is obvious that the legal attacks were meant to paralyze their operations. (READ: LIST: Cases vs Maria Ressa, Rappler directors, staff since 2018)

Last month, the Manila Times published an "association matrix" that "links" Rappler, Vera Files, PCIJ, and NUPL to the destabilization plot against the Philippine President. Two days later, managing editor Felipe Salvosa II resigned because it encroached his beliefs.

Whether we like it or not, the curtailment of press freedom extends beyond the corners of campuses. Now, it wreaks havoc in newsrooms where uncompromised journalism takes place.

Indeed, the forces of evil are gaining momentum through the online space. We have seen the power of online disinformation over past, present, and future. It creates a sphere of deception that cripples critical thoughts and consequently, our democracy.

While there are still journalists like Ressa and Salvosa who do not allow evil forces to prosper, journalism still has hope, and campus journalists like me still have the right people to emulate in fighting our own little campus battles. (READ: [EDITORIAL] #AnimatED: A revolution against disinformation)

In a world that is drugged with online disinformation, journalism is treated like a crime. But this is where the real job of a journalist takes place. After all, a misinformed society needs the power of the truth to convict the real criminals and condemn the real crimes. – Rappler.com

Marthy John Lubiano is a Rappler lead mover in Palompon, Leyte. He is a graduating Bachelor of Arts in Communication student of Palompon Institute of Technology and is the Executive Editor of Fulcrum.