OPINION | How is press freedom 'personal''?

by Leanne Claire Bellen

We hear the words “press freedom” a lot. But I wonder, what does it really mean to us?

It is when you wake up from an afternoon nap and, upon getting out of your room, you hear urgent voices on TV. “Live hale sa ABS-CBN News Center Naga,” says a booming voice, followed by an imposing sound sequence, begging for your attention.

“Marhay na hapon, Bicolandia,” announces the man in a suit, before he begins to tell you, with eerie calmness, the day’s tragedies. The skyrocketing number of cases. Another murder in a rural area. An activist shot dead. Farmers losing their land at a time of crisis. An elderly man dying in the middle of a queue for relief goods. Sometimes there’s a celebrity wedding, or a celebrity having a baby, and that’s the consolation for the day. Sometimes it’s enough to see a healthy newborn on-screen.

You take note of the words while you sip coffee. There’s an occasional horrified gasp from your mother, when the camera pans over a pixelated corpse. Which is ironic, you think, because the reporter never shows emotion. There is only stubborn calmness, an almost cold insistence to tell you stories you’d rather not know.

This stubbornness IS press freedom.

Every day, when you wake up from an afternoon nap, you’re confronted by their voices. You may close your eyes, you may turn away from the screen, to protect yourself from another tale of woe. But their voices carry. They follow everywhere. Their monotone presence drags on, until a word or a turn of phrase slaps you out of your mid-twilight grogginess, and you finally turn back to the screen, paying close attention.

And then, you care. You furrow your brows at this report of corruption, or at that news of killing. In your mind, the beginnings of a question: Is this really the reality of evil, how it’s so ordinary that you hear about it while drinking coffee? You might not remember the name of this or that, you might forget the specifics of the crime. But what you always know to be true is this: the voices on-screen will keep on reminding you. Over and over, they will make you remember, even when you don’t want to.

Press freedom is this coldness to your feeling of despair. The assault of information is proof: always, there is a story to be told—casualties to record, corruptions to keep in check, sufferings to reveal.

“Dios mabalos po,” the reporter would say at the end. A rough translation: “God will return the favor.” Or more simply, “God retaliates.”

We have little revolutions every day. For journalists, storytellers, it is to continue speaking. To disinherit the generational silence. To give hand to the retaliation.