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Journalists Risk Death for the Truth

Filipino journalists escort the coffin of slain news reporter Alex Balcoba during his funeral in metro Manila, Philippines June 1, 2016.
Filipino journalists escort the coffin of slain news reporter Alex Balcoba during his funeral in metro Manila, Philippines June 1, 2016.
Shay Cullen

Journalists, writers, reporters, commentators will just have to curb their passion for speaking and exposing the truth if they want to continue to live. Too many end up a corpse in a cold dark morgue, silence their only companion. That is just the way it is in the Philippines and elsewhere. More than 146 journalists have been assassinated since 1986.

Journalists are just ordinary people with a story to tell; yet to tell the truth is to risk one's life in many cases. Exposing what is corrupt and damaging to the public, is to challenge the seat of political power, and it has dire consequences. No vengeance is as fierce as that of a corrupt politician exposed, a shady business corporation laid bare, no ignorance as painful as an uninformed and uncaring public.  

The killings go on to this day and the freedom of the press is at stake as some politicians try to control the message and cover up the truth about their inadequacies and wrong doings. The task of the media is to report the facts, bring to the people the truth about the achievements, success and the failure and wrongdoings of government and the corporate world. That is at the heart of a democracy. Tyranny is the alternative, and it descends like a dark, cold cloud of threats and intimidation.

The media needs the constitutional freedom to tell the truth, which is essential to praise or question the policies and power of government. Without this freedom there is no institution or individual or group, to reveal corruption and plunder.

If evil persists unchecked, human rights will continued to be abused, and the national economy will be damaged as it was during the Marcos regime. President Ferdinand Marcos closed newspapers and radio stations and controlled all the media, and he plundered at will. Those who opposed him paid with their lives.

In the Philippines violence against journalists is frequently the response to media exposés of wrongdoing and corrupt practices. As many as 42 journalists have been assassinated since 2007 and no one has been convicted. The killers act with impunity and get away with murder. However in the 2017 Global Impunity Index of the New York-based watchdog Committee to Project Journalists (CPJ) the Philippines dropped from 4th to 5th place on the index.  

The state, corrupt tycoons or mafia have the power to silence the journalists. They can use bombs, bullets, incarceration, threats, false charges, and accusations. Yet the power of the word, with one well-placed outspoken journalist, armed with the truth, and evidence of corruption, can be a bomb-shell.

The truth can bring down the corrupt politician, expose the movie mogul, or business tycoon, as seen in the "#Metoo" movement. That is why the investigative journalists of integrity are a dangerous threat to the wrong doers in society. They need protection and the freedom to speak and write the truth and tell it as it is.

Columban Fr. Shay Cullen lives and works in the Philippines.

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