Verified information can be a matter of life and death — especially in the face of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) disinfodemic, which has contributed to confusion and division about the virus and any possible recourse against it. Journalists are not so much gatekeepers as navigators in this regard.
“Journalism is engaged in verified information. As such, the information journalists put out works for the public interest,” said Yvonne T. Chua, a journalist and associate professor at the University of the Philippines College of Mass Communication, in a May 3 forum organized by Ateneo de Manila University’s Asian Center for Journalism in time for World Press Freedom Day. “This is what makes journalism a public good. It requires public support and protection.”
At the same forum, Horacio “Howie” G. Severino, a journalist and documentarist at I-Witness, a television documentary show, added that the goal of journalism is to make what is significant interesting and relevant.
“The operational word is ‘significant.’ Every day, journalists ask themselves one question: ‘What is important?’ That’s what leads to the top of the news,” he said. “In terms of the universe of information we’re now swimming in, we need to provide a life vest, so people won’t sink and have a better chance of navigating in it. … If you go to the places we publish, you can trust that it’s gone through a process.”
Ms. Chua said that journalists are partly responsible for the lack of public appreciation of journalism’s role in society. Being so used to the thinking of letting stories speak for themselves, “journalists don’t take the time out to engage the public,” she said. “Journalists also need to find a way to share what they do, and why they do what they do.”
A way for journalism not to become a public bad is to have external mechanisms for actionable feedback, as well as for newsrooms to make their standards publicly available, Ms. Chua said. “If newsrooms don’t make their standards publicly available, then how can the media be held to account? This is how the public can say, ‘Okay, are you hitting your standards?’”
May 3 is World Press Freedom Day. This year’s theme is “Information as a Public Good.” The United Nations, in its 2021 World Press Freedom concept note, underscored the importance of accessing reliable information, particularly through journalism, especially in times of crisis such as the pandemic. — Patricia B. Mirasol