Media and journalism issues

[OPINION] Media, truth-telling, and the healthy traffic of ideas

Melba Padilla Maggay
[OPINION] Media, truth-telling, and the healthy traffic of ideas
'Dissent is to be censured by the light of truth, not by official action'

These days disinformation and outright lies crowd cyberspace. This widespread trampling of truth should alarm us to the same proportion as Jeremiah’s prophetic disgust at the way “truth has fallen in the public square.”

Scripturally, there seems to be a direct relationship between violence and oppression on the one hand and falsehood growing strong in the land on the other hand: 

Jeremiah 9:2-6

Oh, that I had in the desert a traveler’s lodging place,
that I might leave my people and go away from them!
For they are all adulterers, a company of treacherous men.
They bend their tongue like a bow;
falsehood and not truth has grown strong in the land…
They proceed from evil to evil…
Heaping oppression upon oppression,
and deceit upon deceit….

This makes very serious any attempt to paint a false or distorted picture of the national situation.

Citizens must resist attempts to conceal data or its manipulation toward a certain bias. Brainwashing by the state or the media cannot be countenanced. Not only does this rob us of the right to know and therefore to intelligently act, this violates our freedom to think.

Freedom of thought and conscience is premised on a free play of ideas. By a free play we do not mean the breaking down of categories as truth and error, nor do we simply mean that out of the dialectic of conflict would automatically arise truth. The Christian differs with the libertarian or the Marxist in this respect. Freedom may be exercised only within a structure, in this case the boundaries of truth.

Outside of this, freedom of thought is only illusory. Our tolerance springs not from the relativistic sense that all ideas are equally true and must be given equal space, but from the conviction that truth is stronger than error, and the respect that God himself has accorded human judgment.

Our commitment to truth means in practice that we shall work for the healthy traffic of ideas on how best the government may serve its people. Ideas must be backed up solely by the force of truth, not by the force of law or some contrived policy for silencing critics under the guise of “libel” or “cyber crime.” Dissent is to be censured by the light of truth, not by official action. 

To the extent that a free press is helping in providing facts for intelligent judgment, we are committed to defending it.

Also, we must stand against the use of media as a tool for mental coercion. The media is for communication, not for manipulation. It may not be used for purposes other than what God has ordained for it. 

Mass media practice is sovereign in its own sphere. The state exceeds its territory in trying to control it. Media censorship violates the doctrine of what the Dutch statesman Abraham Kuyper has termed as  “sphere sovereignty”: that art, politics, science, or the church derive ultimate authority from God and may not be encroached upon. 

In the same way that artistic produce ought to be free from the utilitarian tendency to subsume its integrity or usefulness to the interests of the state as in totalitarian regimes, or even of the church as in medieval times, the media must be allowed free exercise of reportorial responsibility. Its accountability lies in its faithfulness to the principles ordained for its practice, e.g. accuracy and concern for truth. It may not be censured in terms other than this. 

It is not an accident that the first thing dictators do is to muzzle media. Media censorship in any form not only puts undue pressure on its practitioners, but impairs the capacity of citizens to make sound political judgments and ultimately leads to a failed state. –

Melba Padilla Maggay is President of the Institute for Studies in Asian Church and Culture.

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  1. ET

    The Marcos and Duterte Tandem (even though there are already cracks in their so-called “Uniteam”) will become stronger due to better long-term social media disinformation campaign, imposition of “real time, real justice” type of media censorship and the use of money and power to strengthen and expand Political Patronage. Hence, the citizens’ ability to make sound political judgments will be very impaired to the point that they will be lead to believe that the state under PBBM and future presidents SD, Imie and Sandro will never ever fail.