The Manila Times : Betrayal of vocation

2 April 2022

By Antonio Contreras | The Manila Times

THERE is a reason why the onus is on soldiers and the police to uphold the law even in relation to crime suspects, and why rules of engagement exist even during times of war, particularly with regard to dealing with prisoners of war. This is because the burden falls on state actors.

Thus, even as rebellion and terrorism are criminalized, state agents do not have a free license to inflict inhumane punishments and torture on rebels and terrorists.

An entire government apparatus of the United States was taken to task when it was proven that war prisoners in Guantanamo Bay were subjected to inhumane treatment.

After all, legitimate holders of power and authority are expected to have the moral ascendancy to exhibit legitimate behavior. Similarly, those who claim to have legitimate authority to perform certain tasks, because they are licensed, or it is the code of conduct of their profession, or it is in the very core of the duty that comes with a particular job, are always expected to likewise behave accordingly.

This is precisely why it is scandalous when you see priests who are supposed to be bearers of the gifts of understanding and forgiveness that emanate from God are the very same judgmental beings who label people evil and undeserving of hearing Mass just because they support a particular candidate. It is likewise anomalous for licensed psychologists and therapists to behave like trolls in social media.

It is particularly galling to see those in the teaching profession joining the fray and labeling people ignorant and stupid. It is depressing to witness seasoned researchers with hundreds of scientific citations added to their resumé, now become enablers of challenges to the ethos of science, as they abandon their healthy skepticism when they become enamored of particular political narratives as if these are biblical truths. But certainly, nothing can beat the scandalous sight of people who teach statistics now turn against the very principle of scientific surveys just because the results of those that have been published do not conform with their preferred candidates.

There is now much talk about the prevalence of disinformation in social media, which some studies conducted allege to favor one candidate while being disadvantageous to another. Much energy has been focused on fake news being peddled in social media by accounts that are mostly partisan, or if not, are coming from purchased trolls. While efforts should be exerted to address this problem — with this not being taken to mean that we have to condone the peddling of fakery and disinformation — it is important to recognize that this behavior is coming from people who are combatants in a political contestation and are advocates of their own biased positions. They are not expected to uphold some code of professional conduct, and they can even plead that they are just exercising their free speech rights.

There is no question that peddlers of fakery and disinformation should be dealt with accordingly under the terms of acceptable community behavior which social media platforms impose, and if warranted, under the ambit of criminal law, such as the laws on cyberlibel.

But the bigger question is when professional journalists in mainstream media are the ones that break their oaths of being impartial bearers of news. They are now akin to armed government personnel who break rules of engagement and inflict unwarranted violence on suspects, simply because they both betray their commitment to their professions. There is not much expectation from a partisan who is blindly loyal to a particular political personality and who peddle lies in social media. But the bar is definitely higher for news anchors, or field reporters, or even to network managers and desk editors, to exhibit professionalism in everything they do. The infraction is greater the moment they break their codes of ethics and begin to be subservient to their own political biases.

I read one journalist allege that his commitment is to truth, whoever may be hurt by it. This is however not a blanket warrant and cannot be used as a justification for biased reporting that has become a pattern against one personality and paint it with the façade of fairness. Biased journalists should stop assuming that all people are gullible, and that they can always make people believe their feigned fairness. Many of them own social media accounts where they openly flaunt their own biases. Their on-cam and off-cam behavior reveal these biases. For example, a simple content analysis of Rappler, in terms of the frequency and content of their reportage and coverage, undeniably reveals what it truly is: an unabashedly pro-Robredo and anti-Marcos online news platform. We can see this in the political leanings of its managers, editors and writers.

Truth can never be used as an excuse to gloss over partiality, particularly in the face of these glaring realities of partisan agents and stories. In the same manner that soldiers can rationalize their unwarranted political violence on suspected terrorists and rebels as simply making the lives of citizens safe, biased journalists often use truth as their excuse for zeroing on a particular political personality. Truth is not one-sided, and it is always completed by looking into the other side, no matter how inconvenient it may be. How can there be truth, for example, if Rappler fact-checked me without even asking for my side?

There is an epidemic of disinformation that upends truth. While it is easy to label trolls and partisans as peddlers of fakery and disinformation in social media, the greater culpability lies with those who use the power of their privilege as minted journalists working in mainstream media to distort truth. Worse, they further use that privilege to claim that their versions of stories are always true regardless of whether they have indeed interviewed all sources and examined all angles.

When trolls peddle disinformation, they are just being themselves. But when journalists do it, they betray their vocation.