Care to comment?-A A +A
Monday, September 16, 2013
SNARK is an old-fashioned word that’s gained new meaning in the 21st Century’s version of freewheeling commentary. We find it in comment boxes, blogs and social media spaces, and that’s hardly surprising. Anonymity makes it easy to fire off snide and sharply critical remarks from one’s keyboard or cell phone.
“Just feed Napoles to the hungry already” was among the mildest comments when Janet Lim-Napoles surrendered on Aug. 29 to Malacañang.
Hundreds of others were far less civilized and don’t bear repeating. Perhaps some find the online bile therapeutic.
Who wouldn’t be angered by reports that billions of our hard-earned taxes went to dummy non-government organizations (NGOs), when these could have fed millions of children, funded measures to prevent floods, eased the burdens of the jobless and
There is some comfort in the echo chamber, in considering only those whose ideas and opinions mirror ours. But as free and responsible journalists, we are asked to do more than add to the anger and noise. We are asked to find and present the facts, especially the facts few of our leaders will take the initiative to disclose. We are asked to get as close as we can to the truth, yet be willing to re-examine old certainties in the light of new information.
The misuse of public funds by false NGOs also means that we in the media have fallen short in our duty to help watch those who govern us. How did these organizations avoid scrutiny for so long? Were we distracted by the latest case of celebrity misbehavior or too busy promoting telenovelas to find and tell some inconvenient truths? Perhaps there were kittens doing cute things on the Internet.
We mark Cebu Press Freedom Week each September so that our country’s “dark night of the soul” will not be forgotten. We also celebrate, sometimes at the risk of sounding too self-congratulatory, the advantages we enjoy in practicing journalism in the relative peace and stability of Cebu.
Which is not to say that we sail in always-smooth seas. This year, the experiences of two of our most prominent commentators in broadcast and print, Bobby Nalzaro and Leo Lastimosa, remind us that when the powerful are afflicted by what we say or write, there can be trying consequences.
Nalzaro’s columns resumed in Sun.Star Cebu and Super Balita after a one-month suspension early this year, but vitriol spilled out of online comment boxes long after the situation was resolved. Lastimosa, who has vowed to appeal his recent libel conviction by the Cebu Regional Trial Court, was alternately praised and pulled to pieces online. It bears pointing out that the mostly anonymous souls who weighed in on their ordeals never had to face the risks these two men took and continue to take.
Because commentary, even in a free society, entails risk. Some use bullets to silence those who provide it. Others, like certain senators, choose to dangle for the media incentives and accreditation, when they could better spend their time thinking of ways to make pork barrel spending more transparent.
Care to comment on the day’s events? Hold fast to the facts. That’s a challenge for everyone, but especially for journalists. Cynicism is easy.
Anyone can speculate and slander. But it takes hard work and humility, open-mindedness and careful thinking to dig for the facts and present them in a context that attempts to offer meaning.
Snark is cheap. Free and responsible journalists have more important jobs to do. And the communities that support and protect them deserve better.
Published in the Sun.Star Cebu newspaper on September 16, 2013.