UP Diliman Chancellor Saloma's Speech at the 15th Lopez Jaena Community Journalism Workshop

(Check out the schedule of activities of the workshop through this link.)

Great journalists do not simply chronicle history-they create history.  Graciano Lopez Jaena, the man after whom this community journalism workshop is named, is proof of this.  Together with Marcelo H. del Pilar and Jose Rizal, he published La Solidaridad, the reformist paper that advanced the cause of the Propaganda Movement.  Lopez Jaena wielded his pen to expose the forms of oppression endured by Filipinos under the colonial government of Spain and to defend the human rights of his countrymen.  As a journalist, he was not contented to watch history unfold from the sidelines, opting instead to participate directly in shaping the course of history.

Today, given the convenience of the Internet and the effortless access to an audience through platforms such as SMS, Facebook, and Twitter, it is easy for the Filipino journalist to fall into laziness, doing legwork online instead of out in the world and cobbling together an article through cut-and-paste rather than rigorous composition.  The eloquence that inspires revolutions gives way to bite-sized comments too small to convey analysis and ephemeral quips quickly buried under the more recent activity of one’s news feed.  To maximize the power of technology to disseminate information and ideas immediately to more recipients over wide distances, today’s Filipino journalist must work doubly hard to make his or her words matter amid all the other words competing for the reader’s attention.  The journalist must produce writing whose substance and style drive the reader to take notice, take heart, and take action.  In other words, the Filipino journalist must not lose sight of the potency of the written word as an instrument of social change.  One needs only to turn Lopez Jaena, del Pilar, and Rizal-all heroes whose heroism manifested in their writing-to be reminded of this.

A journalist who embraces the responsibility to pursue social justice runs the risk of incurring the ire of those whose power depends on the status quo.  This is especially true of community journalists who put themselves in harm’s way when they fearlessly interrogate local politics.  Because of their literal proximity to the issues they cover, they are more vulnerable to retaliation from the subjects of their criticism.  Unsurprisingly, provincial journalists are the primary targets of media killings in the country.  The Maguindanao Massacre alone took the lives of 32 media workers, making the Philippines the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

The dire situation makes this year’s workshop themes, justice and human rights, all the more timely.  Much is expected of community journalists, not the least of which is to serve as an alternative to established media outlets, providing ideas and information specific to the area they serve and engaging with national issues through the lens of local concerns.  Achieving this while upholding ethical media practices is also another pressing matter.  But as acknowledged by the themes of this workshop, justice and human rights must assume top billing in this gathering of journalists for they are not only central subjects in journalism but central problems for journalists themselves, who have lost members of the profession to violence.  The culture of impunity that permits these crimes to flourish must be put to a stop.  We need out journalists to be heroes not in death but in life.

I wish the fellows and panelists well as you embark on the journey cut out for you in this workshop.  I hope the sessions prove to be productive, and I hope they reinvigorate your commitment to this profession that bridges the solitude of writing as a creative act with the solidarity of writing as an instrument for social change.