Sunday, September 16, 2007

Way of the dodo

LAST Thursday, I asked my journalism class at the University of the Philippines in the Visayas Cebu College for volunteers to answer a few questions about the Sandiganbayan’s rules on media’s coverage of their decision on former President Joseph Estrada’s plunder and perjury charges.

Of the nearly two dozen students that took down my questions, I got back only four replies. Rachel Mae Sarmiento, 18, believes that the media should be allowed to cover the reading of the verdict because of the people’s “right to know.”

At the same time, she speculates that the anti-graft court rules may have been passed to prevent the media from “exploiting too much” the former president’s reversal of fortune.

Rachel’s classmate, 18-year-old Arianne Jenille Manzo, believes the Sandiganbayan was right in curtailing coverage. Unrestrained reportage, she fears, might stir up again the “people power culture” that has at times become a “democratic deficit.”

But these Mass Communication sophomores agreed with their other classmates, Frances Claire “Chezka” PeƱalosa and Lucille Wagas, that they have no choice but to trust the media.

“Most of the time, I should (trust the media) since they are the only ones who give information about current events. If not them, who else?” rhetorically shrugs Jenille, also reasoning out that any “average reasonable person” will know enough to “filter and scrutinize what the issues are rather than believing what the idiot box could be feeding the audience.”

Lucille is bleaker about democracy’s guardians. Some mediamen, she contends, “exaggerate stories” and “pick out information from rumors just to make their articles sizzle.”

Even media rivalry reflects for this 17-year-old that, though there may be journalists who “labor… to serve the masses,” many are just driven to “sell their stories” and “build a reputation in the journalistic world.”

Realizing that the press has feet of clay, do they see themselves in a newsroom someday? Rachel’s interested because deadline-chasing gives a whiff of adventure, which always “keeps the adrenaline pumping.”

She qualifies though that she may just be keen for “journalism on the lighter side,” meaning assignments that require “a lot of travel” and “meeting other people.”

Best friend Chezka draws a smiley beside her emphatic, “I DON’T SEE myself as a journalist… but I’m still open to possibilities.” Asked to choose between the national and local media, she picks out the latter for “practicing press freedom.”

Jenille concurs, singling out the local media’s expose of the overpriced lampposts purchased for the Asean Summit held in Cebu.

Lucille though has the last say. The social use of the media is they’re “like trained K9 dogs. They have the knack for sniffing out bombs.”

Actually, after the classroom had emptied and I was through noting their candid answers, what I had in mind were not German Shepherds but dodos as not unlikely mascots when the local tri-media usher in Press Freedom Week on Sept. 16.

A flightless bird that once lived in Mauritius, the dodo is the archetype of all things extinct because the last specimens died out during the late 17th century.

Yet, before its extinction made it literary to observe an obsolete thing was “as dead as a dodo,” the living bird languished under a black reputation.

According to Wikipedia, its name is said to be derived from “dodaars”
(meaning "plump-arse") because of its ungainly behind and waddle. It is also the Dutch that called the dodo the “walghvogel” ("loathsome bird" or "nauseating fowl") because it was exceedingly bad to taste, let alone eat.

Unlike the dodo though, the Cebu press is spirited and feisty.

But remembering the many colleagues that have moved out of the newsroom—from death, burnout, career shifts—I wonder where can be found the new blood to infuse a profession where no one gives the journalist a bonus for signing up and taking on the lonely task of upholding democracy.

More unsettling is the thought that, while I was discussing how to make leads sing or organize inverted news pyramids, my future journalists were checking out my past and speculating about the future of one of the last dodos. 09173226131

* Published in Sun.Star Cebu’s Sept. 16, 2007 issue

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