CATHOLIC NEWS OF THE WEEK . Saturday, 17 February 2018

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Journalists risk death in pursuit of the truth

Journalists, writers, reporters, commentators will just have to curb their passion for speaking and exposing the truth if they want to continue to live. Too many end up as corpses in a cold dark morgue, with silence their only companion. That is just the way it is in the Philippines and elsewhere. More than 146 journalists have been assassinated since 1986.
 
Last November 23 was the 8th anniversary of the mass murder of 58 Filipinos 32 of them journalists, in Ampatuan town, Maguindanao province, in 2009. This was the worst of all violent assaults on the freedom of the press anywhere in one single blow. A powerful political family allegedly carried out the killings against their opponents and killed the journalists covering the elections. No one has been convicted for the brutal heinous killings.
 
The sheer audacity of politicians or corrupt business personalities in quelling the truth and the blind power behind the greed and personal vanity that orders killings of journalists is outrageous and there is little that can be done to stop it.
 
Journalists are just ordinary people with a story to tell, yet to tell the truth is to risk one’s life in many cases. Exposing what is corrupt and damaging to the public is to challenge the seat of political power and it has dire consequences. No vengeance is as fierce as that of a corrupt politician exposed, a shady business corporation laid bare, no ignorance as painful as an uninformed and uncaring public.
 
The killings go on to this day and the freedom of the press is at stake as some politicians try to control the message and cover up the truth about their inadequacies and wrongdoings. 
 
The task of the media is to report the facts, bring to the people the truth about the achievements, success and the failure and wrongdoings of government and the corporate world. That is at the heart of a democracy. Tyranny is the alternative and it descends like a dark cold cloud of threats and intimidation.
 
Media practitioners can be compliant, cowardly, or courageous and brave. The powerful make accusations against some journalists claiming what they publish is Fake News, when in fact it is the truth. The supporters of the politicians through blogs or biased columnists spread the Fake News, or propaganda.
 
Government officials are accountable for the billions in taxpayers’ money that too often ends up in their personal bank accounts as we have seen so many times in the past. 
 
It was the media who exposed the politicians who used fake non-government organisations to steal billions of pesos of government funds for their personal use. The Ombudsman is presently trying their cases.
 
That is the duty and role of the media and they need the constitutional freedom to tell the truth, which is essential to praise or question the policies and power of government. Without this freedom there is no institution or individual or group who will reveal corruption and plunder.
 
If evil persists unchecked, human rights will continue to be abused and the national economy will be damaged as it was during the Marcos regime. President Ferdinand Marcos closed newspapers and radio stations and controlled all the media and he plundered at will. Those who opposed him paid with their lives.
 
In the Philippines violence against journalists is frequently the response to media exposés of wrongdoing and corrupt practices. As many as 42 journalists have been assassinated since 2007 and no one has been convicted. The killers act with impunity and get away with murder.
 
However, according to the 2017 Global Impunity Index of the New York-based watchdog, Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ), the Philippines dropped from 4th to 5th place on the index.
 
Turkey is the biggest jailer of journalists. Turkish president, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, has arrested many journalists, and charged them with crimes to silence their critical voices. 
 
The Stockholm Centre for Freedom, says that Erdogan has jailed 240 journalists who have languished behind bars since 12 May 2017, more have been jailed since then.
 
So why do powerful government officials and politicians fear and try to silence journalists as happened to the dedicated Maltese writer, Caruana Galizia, who was killed when a bomb blew up her car. 
 
The Maltese prime minister, Joseph Muscat, was suing the her over allegations of corruption in that European Union country. Three suspects have been arrested but the mastermind behind it has not been named.
 
The state, corrupt tycoons or mafia have the power to silence the journalists. They can use bombs, bullets, incarceration, threats, false charges and accusations. Yet the power of the word, with one well-placed outspoken journalist, armed with the truth, and evidence of corruption, can be a bombshell.
 
The truth can bring down the corrupt politician, expose the movie mogul, or business tycoon—as seen in the #MeToo movement. 
 
That is why investigative journalists of integrity are a dangerous threat to the wrongdoers in society. They need protection and the freedom to speak and write the truth and tell it as it is.

• Father Shay Cullen
www.preda.org