“WE ALL know the function of the media has never been to eliminate the evils of the world. No, their job is to persuade us to accept those evils and get used to living with them. The powers that be want us to be passive observers,” says a furious, artistically hand-rendered actor in Richard Linklater’s opus Waking Life.

The grain of truth is hard to overlook, but even harder to consider just in passing is the path to a solution. And taking things into the Philippine perspective does not make the little meditation any easier. “Guns, Goons and Gold” still constitute the major tools for moving society, and apathy still appears as the safest attitude in the face of such naked greed for power.

The media, in this scheme of things, retain a certain mystique as a defender of the weak. Even with their obvious weaknesses, they no doubt hide a huge potential for enlightening everyone. But the Right to Reply Bill does not hold the answer to the current weaknesses of mass media for a number of reasons.

First, a law which behooves media practitioners to chase answers for the sake of “fairness” and “accuracy” is from every angle only an external intervention. In a field that is a mélange of both technical requirements and highly eccentric creative talents, solutions that arise from entities outside the media come across as artificial and cosmetic. With journalism set to retain its strongly artistic roots until time’s ending, changes in its practice cannot but be born from the heart of the field reporter. Personal initiative is the fuel of the media—is it such a great puzzle that the power-hungry get the greater chunk of media space?

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Second, given the constant flood of information, relevant and otherwise, the impassable barrier is the limited awareness of the Filipino people. To change the ingredients making up the deluge into the endless dialectic of public figures does not help. Literacy and proper news valuation are the things to be addressed. There is no point in trying to add to material to be absorbed when so many people are still unable to even understand the why and wherefore of society’s controversies.

Finally, given the localized and highly clandestine hegemony of the many personalities who populate the news, the Right to Reply tightens the noose around the necks of pureblooded investigative journalists. This may not be much of a worry for reporters working the capital, but community journalists, under the dark cloud of the Right to Reply Bill, will have to face virtual warlords who upon seeing the reporters’ faces will no doubt put the pressure on the dying breed of truth-seekers.

As for the media, the lesson is clear: if there is not enough responsible pen-wielding roaming both newspapers and news broadcasts, pretty soon even the public will learn to distrust the fourth estate as a profit- and power-hunting beast no different from the corrupted members of the other three estates.

On the other side of the argument, it is also true that the media are also fond of making a farce of their role. With a fresh expose, the media play the messianic image card; in the face of tough personalities either trying to clear issues or to assert their own agenda, the media take out the cornered-lamb card. This will not suffice. But still, to refuse the Right to Reply Bill poses the greater imperative as They (in the paranoid sense of the term which encompasses those powers that move the world) cannot be allowed the quality of stealth which only the media can effectively counter. For as Mahatma Gandhi put it, “The important thing is to make the injustice visible.”

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