Photo from Makati Business Club, Inc.

VETERAN journalists spoke out against government efforts to control information and stifle the press amid the Covid-19 pandemic in the virtual forum, “Reporting in Pandemic Time: New Normal, New Challenges” last Monday.

ABS-CBN News chief Ging Reyes stressed how journalists have become more relevant because of the health crisis during the event that also marked World Press Freedom Day.

“Press freedom is an on-going battle. Any environment that would declare lockdown is a red flag for the media,” she said.

Reyes said attempts by the government to control the flow of information became an unprecedented challenge to journalists during the lockdown.

“Officials really prevent us from giving more substantive stories on several issues. As part of the ‘new normal,’ we have to be vigilant and do our jobs. We should be dogged in our questioning as before,” Reyes told the Varsitarian.

Rappler Executive Editor Maria Ressa urged journalists to act as defenders of democracy during the pandemic and to be critical in their reporting.

“Lies spread faster than facts. We became fact-checkers. One of the ways in trying to expand and bring civic engagements, [is] we have to protect our democracy,” she said.

On May 5, the country’s largest TV network ABS-CBN went off the air following a cease-and-desist order issued by the National Telecommunications Commission. President Rodrigo Duterte had repeatedly threatened to close ABS-CBN, which had been critical of his administration.

The task force handling the Covid-19 crisis has severely limited the movements of journalists by requiring accreditation, and reporters were banned from entering the Malacañang press briefing room as part of precautions against the virus.

Government officials have been holding only virtual press conferences where opportunities to ask questions were limited.

‘Technology as control machines’

Ressa warned social media users of how algorithms and artificial intelligence affect the point of view of an individual during the pandemic.

“That one then determines, changes how we act in the real world, which, [when] factored into our perspective and views … will go right back into machine learning to power artificial intelligence,” she said.

Ressa warned that online machinery could be manipulating audiences.

“Social media platforms are behavioral modification systems literally designed to come to us with the message they are paid to give us at the appropriate moment when machine learning and artificial intelligence says we are,” she said.

‘Journalism in time of populism’

Reyes marked World Press Freedom Day by urging aspiring journalists to help promote news literacy to the public.

“With the ambition to serve by becoming journalists, after all, in this time of populism, there are people who would want to be truth tellers no matter what,” she said.

Ressa said the quality of democracy is reflected in the quality of its journalists.

“If you come in as a journalist now with the right ideals, knowing technology in a way that old journalists don’t, there’s great opportunity,” she said.


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