Diverse opinions: The essence of free media

Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez
The Constitution grants that the press is fundamentally free as it allows the press to define negative or positive in different ways. This is the diversity of opinion at the heart of democracy

(Editor’s note: Philippine Daily Inquirer President and CEO Alexandra Prieto-Romualdez delivered this speech at the 9th Media Nation Summit on Nov 23, 2012 in Tagaytay City.)

I’m delighted to be part of Media Nation, this annual attempt by members of the country’s news profession to address issues of concern. And because it takes place towards the end of the year, it seems to me our reflections this weekend can be good source of valuable personal and institutional New Year’s resolutions in a few weeks’ time.

But first may I digress. Since I can’t help but notice that I’ve been asked to speak first. Surely, this is not about age. Sa mga babae, bawal pong gamitin ang age as a basis for sequence so I think Maria [Ressa] and Jessica [Soho] will object to that.

But at second thought, however, I realize that in fact, it is according to age — age of the medium we represent. Print is the oldest of the news media and its culture influences even other news forms.

The basic questions we ask of any news story today were first asked and refined several generations ago by print journalists: Is it accurate? Is it solidly attributed? Is it fair?

Because print was first, those of us who work in it have also struggled with the problems and pitfalls of journalism the longest, including corruption.

I must tell you that from my own experience and that of others in similar situations, one of the most disheartening, disappointing and frustrating things is for one to find out that someone you’ve tried your best to support and whose independence you’ve nurtured breaks that trust by selling valuable editorial real estate.

This betrayal weakens the institution deeply and must be addressed with great conviction.

From print’s long experience have come certain remedies such as gift policies, correction boxes, performance reports, assessment in news, ombudsman. But we all know that the media landscape is changing and changing fast.

The impact on print has been dramatic. In Europe and Northern America, newspapers are in what some commentators call a death spiral but the impact of rapid change has also been uneven. In Asia, the biggest newspapers not only print in the millions but are even growing.

We in the Philippine Daily Inquirer remain confident about the medium-term prospects of print.

We recognize the dangers and opportunities that newer platforms pose and even though the right business model remains to be proven, we are moving decisively in that direction.

The cornerstone of our digital strategy is Inquirer.net, konting plugging lang po, the country’s leading news website.

But we have exciting plans for our print products, too, because we are learning the right lessons from the turmoil in Europe and Northern America and taking encouragement from our neighbors in Asia.

Despite a rapidly changing environment and despite the growing number of news platforms, however, the role of the news professional remains the same. Yes, more and more newspapers now work with so-called citizen journalists or content contributors.

This is a welcome development but those of us tasked to be stewards of news enterprises cannot lose sight of our main responsibility: to employ professional journalists who are dedicated to the canons of the profession.

It is a profession given special privileges by the Constitution because of the role that its members play in a democratic project. If democracy is best understood as government with the consent of the governed, the role of journalism is best understood in the same terms. It is to help form informed consent.

Mr President, like everyone in this room, I’m glad you have taken the time to be here. Your accessibility is humbling.

Mr President, you have sometimes spoken of being bombarded with negativity. We feel for you. When you speak in this vain, the presidency is burdened enough without the added weight of negative news.

But the Constitution grants that the press is fundamentally free as it allows the press to define negative or positive in different ways. This is the diversity of opinion at the heart of democracy.

All of the news organizations here have had their own encounters with negativity, from critics who define negative and positive in their own way. Like you I’m sure, you have often wanted to challenge someone and say, “Sige nga, kayo nga ang gumawa nito.”

I don’t know if it’s simply human nature to look at the glass half-empty but even if our own critics deny that the glass even exists, we cannot disengage with them or tune them out. They form part of a community that we choose to serve. – Rappler.com

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