THE nightmare repeats: Last June 30, suspect Jarrod Ramos shot and killed five people when he carried out what the police call a “coordinated attack” in the newsroom of the “Capital Gazette,” a community paper in Annapolis, Maryland.
While Ramos has not explained his motive to authorities, it has been reported that he sued the newspaper in 2012 for defamation and invasion of privacy when it reported that Ramos had pleaded guilty to criminal harassment.
After a circuit judge dismissed the complaint in 2013 as not having established that the “Capital Gazette” column contained a falsehood and an appeals court upheld the decision in 2015, Ramos posted his rantings against the paper in a website he created.
The mass shooting targeting the Maryland journalists reveals the vulnerability of journalists to violence arising from those discontented over their performance of an essential service to the community: reporting and interpreting of news that are crucial for the public.
The expression, “all in a day’s work,” associates journalism with more than the garden variety of workplace stress and risk. Coverage of “deadly situations,” such as “an air strike, an artillery bombardment, or a suicide bombing,” turns journalists into “collateral victims,” according to the international media watchdog, Reporters Without Borders (RFS), in a report Rappler published on Dec. 19, 2017.
In that same report, the Philippines emerged as the “deadliest country for journalists in Asia” in the RFS yearend report, which ranked the Philippines in a list of the top five countries where it is dangerous to practice as a journalist, along with Mexico, Iraq, Afghanistan, and, “the world’s deadliest,” Syria.
The Maryland tragedies have a deeper significance for Filipino media workers because authorities consider the “Capital Gazette” media workers as victims of “targeted and crossfire killings,” which means that, unlike “collateral victims” of “deadly situations” or journalists felled while on the field, they were singled out by an attacker with a grievance against them.
“Targeted and crossfire killings” already claimed two Filipino journalists in 2018: Edmund Sestoso, a Dumaguete broadcaster, and Dennis Denora, a publisher and columnist in Davao del Norte.
As the media that is not just “on the ground” but voluntarily “embedded” with their public as residents and citizens, community journalists have a connectedness with the locality that gives them an unparalleled perspective in covering concerns and issues that are ignored, bypassed or even taken out of context by media based in the national capital.
Many community journalists expose corruption and human rights violations, which require sustained investigation and commitment to persist despite threats to safety and financial sacrifices.
The “stakeholdership” practiced by many community journalists is balanced by civil society, serving as media watchdogs to demand accountability from journalists but who also defend the press from encroachments on their freedom to report and interpret responsibly.
The public’s feedback on media’s performance, especially vigilance and criticism of errors, lapses, omissions, and abuses, safeguard journalists as channels for democratic participation and public good.
A media-literate audience does not only engage with the media but also educates itself on how the media works, especially how one can point out how the media has erred; explain a perspective clashing with the coverage or interpretation by the press; or, when the channels for the audience’s right to reply have been exhausted, seek redress through the courts.
The importance of a local press to the vibrancy of the community cannot be underestimated, especially in the age of “fake news” and social media attacks against mainstream media’s credibility. Shooting the messenger does not just attack the press but erodes democracy, founded on civility, rationality, and the Law.