OPINION: Veritas vos liberabit

Buddy Gomez - Cyberbuddy

Posted at Jan 05 2018 04:00 AM

A little bit of additional erudition could enhance the beginning of our New Year. In the Bible’s John 8:32,  “veritas vos liberabit”  means  “…the truth shall set you free.”

Let us begin our 2018 tour with a little bit of contemplation upon this oft used quotation.

Truth as an indispensable element of a free and democratic society. Truth shall not only set us free but shall otherwise, unite us. 

More than at any other time, however, the Filipino is under severe siege of intentionally manufactured disinformation most prominently espoused by those wielding public authority supported by public funds. A tsunami of untruths commencing with the unadulterated reality of illegal drug use in the county. In some prominent instances, accusations have been levelled at democratic opposition with the use of manufactured and planted evidence. Because Truth is shaved, shaded and nay, even emasculated  justice is decimated. And Democracy is debased! Unopposed and unchecked, a situation so prevailing is a prelude to untrammeled autocracy.

As producers, consumers and sharers of news and information, I thought it best that we do a little bit of introspection and whisk away that usual human tendency to slack back and take things willy-nilly over time.

Going back to basics, I reckon an iteration is therefore called for as we commence another year of struggle against the onslaught of deleterious disinformation. Let us try to recall and recalibrate our respective outlooks with familiar  tenets  such as:  

“Democracy relies upon a well-informed citizenry to hold their government accountable.”

“Truth is an inseparable ingredient to an educated citizenry that is prerequisite to democracy.” 

“The central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information as an indispensable need of a functioning free and democratic society.”

“Democracy depends upon a citizenry that is equipped with reliable and accurate facts.”  In other words, democracy depends upon truth!

We must never let our guard down in facing a government that is getting inured to refusing its constitutional duty to face up to demands of accountability and respect the check-and-balance essence of a democracy. Such a government, as  principal source, that treats information as a commodity to be toyed with is obviously undemocratic, irresponsible and can only be up to something not good! 

The advent of social media and its weaponization as a political tool has made it an imperative of good and effective citizenship to also possess the duty and the ability to discern fakery from fact. And at the same time, sharing such righteous discernment with neighbors susceptible to being sucked up in the maelstrom of mal- and disinformation. We do live in an era of maliciously skewed information and outright lies. And we all have a role to play. Vigilance over truth!

For my part, I am sworn to practice fact-based, principled and progressive opinion writing and sharing--to inform, to entertain, and hopefully, to arouse and inspire to righteous action.

A reminder of what journalism is all about and its role in a free and democratic society is perhaps worth the while spending a bit of time on.

Some time in 1997, a media critic and professor of journalism in the US, Tom Rosenstiel, (former political correspondent for LA Times and the Newsweek) assembled and convened what was known as “Project for Excellence in Journalism.” (PEJ) It started out as a national conversation among concerned citizens and news people  “to identify and clarify the principles that underlie journalism.”  It went through four years of gestation that included public forums, researches and readings.

They came up with a “Statement of Shared Purpose.”  And it said: “After extended examination by journalists themselves of the character of journalism at the end of the twentieth century, we offer this common understanding of what defines our work. The central purpose of journalism is to provide citizens with accurate and reliable information they need to function in a free society.  

"This encompasses myriad roles--helping define community, creating common language and common knowledge, identifying a community’s goals, heroes and villains, and pushing people beyond complacency. This purpose also involves other requirements such as being entertaining, serving as watchdog and offering voice to the voiceless.”

The Project for Excellence in Journalism has now become  part of  Pew Research Center. All these have become the basis for the book “The Elements of Journalism” principally authored by PEJ Director Tom Rosenstiel.

Here are a few edited excerpts from the first three of the Book’s nine principles:

1. Journalism’s first obligation is to the truth. ---  “Journalistic truth is a process that begins with the professional discipline of assembling and verifying facts. Democracy depends on citizens having reliable, accurate facts put in a meaningful context.”

2. Its first loyalty is to citizens. ---  “Journalists must maintain allegiance to citizens and the larger public interest above any other if they are to provide the news without fear or favor. The commitment  to citizens first is the basis of a news organization’s credibility.”

3. Its essence is a discipline of verification.  “Journalists rely on a professional discipline for verifying information. The concept of objectivity, originally, did not imply that journalists are free from bias. Rather, a consistent method of testing information. The method is objective, not the journalist. Verification separates journalism from propaganda, fiction or entertainment.”

Let us end our conversation with Ninoy Aquino’s favorite quotation from American poet Archibald Macleish: “How shall freedom be defended?  By arms when it is attacked by arms; by truth when it s attacked by lies; by democratic faith when it is attacked by authoritarian dogma. Always and in the final act, by determination and faith.”

Disclaimer: The views in this blog are those of the blogger and do not necessarily reflect the views of ABS-CBN Corp.