“WHEN the public’s right to know is threatened and when the rights of free speech and free press are at risk, all of the other liberties we hold dear are endangered,” said former US senator Christopher Dodd.
In my 40 years in this profession as a broadcast-journalist, I have been through a lot of challenges. If not because of my passion for the profession and my strong determination, I would have shifted to a much safer profession, one with fewer challenges and hazards. As they say, “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.” But thank God, I survived all those challenges. That is why I’m still in this profession despite having faced a lot of challenges and adversities.
I have been charged with libel 28 times in my entire career. The recent four are pending before the courts. I was threatened, coerced and intimidated. I was mauled by a scion of an influential family and his goons in Mandaue City for exposing the overcharging of fare on the family’s barge operation when the first Mactan-Mandaue Bridge was closed after being damaged by typhoon Ruping in 1990. I was almost sent to jail by a judge in Barili for contempt of court after I lambasted him for his shenanigans. The judge was later dismissed by the Supreme Court. I was penalized together with former SunStar editor-in-chief Atty. Pachico “Cheking” Seares by a judge in Cebu City for contempt of court. But the Court of Appeals reversed his decision. While I was still practicing in Zamboanga City in the early ‘80s, a barter trader who was a subject of my commentary went to the station to explain his side displaying his .45 pistol in front of me. It was a good thing he did not threaten me at gunpoint.
Last Friday, I posted bail for my two cyber libel cases filed by the son of a “has-been” mayor after the Cebu City Prosecutor’s Office filed the cases in court. But before the court released the warrants of arrest against me, I surrendered and posted bail. Thank you to SunStar Cebu management for taking charge of the bail bond and to my lawyers Attorneys Joan Baron and Althea Vergara of the JP Garcia Law Office and Associates for accompanying me during the entire court processing until I was released. I will not discuss in detail the background and merit of these cases as it might be sub judice (a present case under trial) as there are two cases pending in the other court on the same subject matter. Besides, if I discuss it, the complainant might use this again as a basis for another complaint. These recent cases were based on my follow-up columns where I discussed the same subject matter.
Media plays a vital role in our society. Media is considered a catalyst for change. Without the media, evil deeds will triumph. Media exposes government abuses and shenanigans. People will come to us to seek redress against the government. We take the cudgels for victims of human rights abuses and excesses by powerful and influential people and agents in government. The underprivileged sector will come to us for financial assistance to buy medicines and for hospitalization. That is why media is also called the fourth estate, unofficially on equal footing with the three branches of government: the executive, legislative and judiciary. It is sometimes called the “Department of Last Resort.”
Risks and threats to journalists themselves come in many forms. For journalists around the world, the profession can be a dangerous one. The risks and threats stem from geopolitical changes as well as perceived loss of neutrality for journalists. There are direct and often physical and legal threats. And this is what I am facing now—legal threat. Media plays a key role in democracies around the world, acting as a watchdog on the state and informing citizens about the decisions that affects their everyday life. But media people face a number of new threats that limit their ability to fulfil their watchdog role.
Today, journalism as an industry and a profession is characterized by ever-increasing turbulence and change for better or for worse. Profound transformations affect every aspect of the institution, including the economic health of journalism, the conditions and self-understanding of its practitioners, its ability to serve as a watchdog on concentrations of power, its engagement with and relationship to its audience and its future prospects.
French-Algerian philosopher Albert Camus (1913-1960) once said, “A free press can, of course, be good or bad, but, most certainly without freedom, the press will never be anything but bad.” Sige lang, laban lang!