Self-censorship biggest enemy, journalists told

By Delfin Mallari Jr.
Southern Luzon Bureau

TAGAYTAY CITY—Having shared the struggle of a noted Filipino press freedom fighter during the Marcos dictatorship, Edita Burgos has called on the country’s journalists to continuously fight what she says is the most dangerous enemy of the Fourth Estate—self-censorship.

“Self-censorship … is the more difficult obstacle to overcome. Barriers that are self-imposed are always more difficult to dissect and break down because usually they are born out of a natural instinct which is sometimes called ‘self-preservation’ and this is complicated by one’s ignorance,” said the widow of Joe Burgos, publisher of the alternative press We Forum and Malaya newspapers during the martial law years.

Burgos was keynote speaker during the 6th national congress of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) on Aug. 23-24.

Expounding on the congress’ theme, “Breaking Barriers, Building Strength,” Burgos acknowledged that the forces of the traditional “gatekeepers” of the press could break the resolve of any journalist to stay on the course of press freedom.

“As it was before, the gatekeepers—they who decide what is to be printed or announced—could be a barrier in the practice of one of the oldest professions,” she told more than 60 NUJP members at the CBCP Retreat Center.

Seek truth, share a vision

“We, of course, know that the gatekeepers, the editors and publishers, the owners of the companies we now call multimedia corporations, have their own motivations, their own reasons,” she said.

“Does the story not ‘offend’ any of the major advertisers? Does the story ‘help’ sister corporations or companies? Does the story ‘encourage’ support from policy makers, from decision makers, from those who can likewise grant ‘favors’ needed by these so-called gatekeepers?” she asked.

She advised journalists “to seek and live the truth and share a vision” and not to allow the “barriers” to pose a serious obstacle in writing the truth.

“It would be from the recognition of what keeps us from reporting the truth that we can start building our strengths,” said Burgos, mother of missing activist, Jonas.

For her, self-knowledge comes with an acceptance of one’s strengths and weaknesses.

“To accept that we are weak is the first step in solving that problem. In recognizing that we are being deterred from doing our jobs because of this weakness, we become open to turning that weakness to a strength. In simply accepting this weakness, it becomes a strength,” she explained.

“So even if external barriers have silenced you, it is no reason your beliefs should be compromised. And just as barriers come from both within and without, building strengths should likewise emanate from both dimensions,” Burgos said.

Challenges as motivations

She added: “To turn barriers into strengths they should be considered as challenges and these become motivations that are purified. These become truths that are freed.”

A devout Catholic and a member of the Secular Order of Discalced Carmelites, Burgos saw all her present challenges and tribulations as “God’s grace.”

“I believe in what St. Therese of the Child Jesus says, all is grace,” she told the NUJP members, most of them young to be her own children.

The 63-member council voted the NUJP’s officers for the next two years, including gmanews.tv editor Jose Torres Jr., reelected chair; Philippine Daily Inquirer correspondent Nestor Burgos Jr., vice chair; ABS-CBN editor Federico Fernandez Jr., secretary general; Inquirer reporter Marlon Ramos, deputy secretary general; IFJ Safety Office director Rowena Paraan, treasurer and GMA7 editor Alwyn Alburo, auditor.

Among those elected to the directorate are Inquirer correspondents Julie Alipala, Zamboanga and Desiree Caluza, Baguio-Benguet; John Heredia, Capiz; Cheryl Fiel, Davao City; Ilang Ilang Quijano, Pinoy Weekly; and INQUIRER.net editor Jose Jaime Espina.

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