Restoring the Fourth Estate

Among the many colorful nicknames that have been bestowed upon the press, one stands out in its splendor:  the Fourth Estate.  This title aptly describes the role of the press as the watchdog of the government and the champion of the people.

With a bit of imagination, the Philippine press is comparable to an actual estate. The high walls symbolize the security it provides for both the journalists and the people.  The ornate structures represent the beauty of the justice it is accorded.  And, the vast and lush garden illustrates the robustness of freedom it enjoys.

In this analogy, it is disheartening to see that this estate is weathering harsh elements and is taking quite a beating. First, there are rampant mediakillings and enforced disappearances, acting as wrecking balls that weaken the fortifications of the estate.

Vandals are constantly using threats and violence as battering rams, trying to diminish the integrity of the structure. Then, there are storms of legal repressions battering the estate.

Bills like the Right of Reply coupled with numerous libel law suits serve up strong winds and torrential rains that break windows and flood the property.

Finally, the pests of poor working conditions and unethical practices are robbing the estate of its original beauty.

Instances of AC-DC, “envelopmental” journalism, plagiarism, and partisanship are weeds spoiling the estate’s garden.  Meanwhile, low salaries and risky working conditions are the termites eating away at the estate’s woodwork.

Forced with all these threats, this estate that we call the Philippine press is in a sorry condition. But, in no way should it be abandoned or, as with a building, condemned.  Because despite the bleak picture of a weathered estate, one thing is absolutely certain: the estate is still standing.

Without a doubt, this estate of ours is strong.   It has survived the elements.   It is still serving the people by being a shelter of knowledge and information, a citadel of justice, a stronghold of freedom.   Still, the forces acting against the estate must be neutralized.   Failure to act would mean risking the eventual collapse of the estate.

The restoration project is easier said than done.   Three considerations are essential in the estate’s rehabilitation: the security of the estate, the beauty of the estate, and the sense of freedom within the estate. Combating the wrecking balls of killings and violence constantly smashing into the estate’s walls involve the biggest work.   Constant vigilance is the key.   The perpetrators of the destruction must never be allowed to strike again.   Their devious acts must be brought to public attention and never forgotten.   Only then would these evils be accountable and defeated.

Meanwhile, justice from the government should serve as brick and mortar in repairing the holes left by the likes of the “Maguindanao Massacre.” The best way to prevent damages brought by the storms of legal hindrances is to prepare for it beforehand.   For repressive bills like Right of Reply, preparation equates to arming the people to block the flood of consequences that the passage of the bill will produce.  Another way to prepare is by gathering supplies that could be used during the storms.  In this case, this could be equivalent to the passage of the Freedom of Information Bill.
Finally, there are the weeds and termites of poor working conditions and unethical practices.  The solution is simple: extermination.

Publishers and network executives should put more effort in addressing the welfare of their journalists. Journalists, meanwhile, should be responsible in dispensing the “planticide” that will kill the roots of unethical practices.  It is, after all, stated in the Society of Professional Journalists Code of Ethics that journalists should be accountable to the integrity of the profession.

Done properly, these three measures would replenish whatever glory the estate has lost.  The estate would be restored to its original beauty and elegance.   More importantly, the residents of the estate would get to enjoy its magnificence and splendor.   The restoration project would be an expensive and laborious job.   But in the end, after the work is complete, everyone will realize that it was all worth it.

As illustrated metaphorically, restoring the level of justice, security, and freedom once enjoyed by the press is no easy feat. Numerous trials and challenges must be overcome before the press can get the true justice, true security, and true freedom it richly deserves.

True justice is when attackers of the press are held accountable and punished for their acts.  True security involves the absence of physical, financial, ethical, and professional impediments in a journalist’s life. True freedom is when journalists can write without fear of repercussions.
Achieving all these is an uphill battle.   Restoring the Fourth Estate is a herculean task. Journalists will face numerous obstacles that will require them to be constantly vigilant.  The public will also feel the effects of aweakened press.

But that is for now.  Once the restoration is complete, everyone will realize that all the effort was worth it.   For the journalists, it means the renewed glory of their beloved profession.   For the people, it’s the revival of the foremost defender of their rights and freedom. The Fourth Estate in its full beauty and majesty would surely be a sight to behold.  Brian Jedd R. Fernandez (20 years old, Fourth Year, Journalism student of UP-Diliman) First Prize winner, National Press Club Essay Writing Contest

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