It was unfortunate for organizers of the ninth Media Nation conference that the event was held on the third anniversary of the Ampatuan Massacre. The anniversary drew scores of media practitioners to the streets of Mendiola rather than the cushy confines of Tagaytay City hotel where the summit was held.
A statement was released by those who joined the Mendiola rally to explain their absence. The time conflict forced them to choose which event to attend.
They also noticed that community journalists in the provinces, especially those in the Visayas and Mindanao, skipped the Media Nation this year because they couldn’t afford the plane trip to Manila. There was better attendance when the event was last held in Cebu.
Nevertheless the Media Nation conference was invaluable. By tradition, the frank discussions and self-critiques remain off the record. But the talking points of the guest of honor, former Polish president Lech Walesa, who led his country’s transition from communist rule to democracy, were inspiring notes on press freedom and responsibility.
Like any other leader, Walesa expressed his own grievances to media when he was in power. He said like any other institution, media can be vulnerable to corruption which results in the publication or broadcast of false accusations that “can destroy politicians and the country’s economy.”
Still, Walesa said while false reporting should be guarded against, it shouldn’t result in the infringement of press freedom.
“You should stop the corruption but not impose censorship. You do not limit freedom,” Walesa said.
We hope President Benigno Aquino III, whose mother was a president herself before Walesa came to power, takes Walesa’s message to heart and uses his influence in Congress to pass legislation ensuring not only press freedom but the right of the public to access to information through the Freedom of Information (FOI) law.
Those attending the Media Nation conference were treated to a toned-down version of Aquino’s sermon about the need to set up standards of responsible reporting to avoid the temptation and lure of corruption.
Rather than live up to his promise to pass the FOI bill, Aquino sought to allay media fears about the Right of Reply provision in the watered-down version of the FOI bill by saying those who practice responsible journalism have no need to fear it.
Walesa, meanwhile, credited Poland’s media for helping propel the revolution to overthrow communist rule. Now retired, he asks the Philippine media to do the same and help “shape the future” of the country.
With an empowered citizenry, such a goal is not beyond our reach.