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Trials and tribulations: Journalists’ morale in times of turmoil

A journalist’s work is never done. As events continue to transpire and the need for news and information refuses to cease, so must writers and reporters continue to keep the public aware of current affairs. For many, being in the field of journalism is more than just an occupation—it is a duty. Hence, even in the face of challenges, members of the media are bound by their commitment to it.

But there is only so much a person can handle at a time. Dealing with mobility restrictions, health risks, and the silencing of dissent—all at once—can take its toll. Yet in spite of all that, journalists don’t cave to pressure; they continue telling stories and uncovering truths against all odds.

The threats that be

For a reporter, the forced change in daily activities brought about by the pandemic was hard enough. As work shifted to online modes, some have found it harder to capture the essence of stories that would have otherwise required fieldwork, struggling to gather details on events or raise questions in virtual press briefers, as they strive to adjust to new coverage rules.

And because being out on the field is a given in their line of work, journalists are constantly at risk of contracting COVID-19.

For Cebu Daily News multimedia reporter Morexette Erram, this is one of the factors that make Philippine journalism more dangerous in the current times. “Without any vaccine, without any certain cure…it’s really dangerous for journalists to go out,” she comments.

But Erram also recognizes that there is a political side to the press’ present struggle. Such is a sentiment shared by ABS-CBN reporter Jervis Manahan, who reasons that the media have been the subject of numerous attacks ever since President Rodrigo Duterte took office. “We have seen him banning reporters, [and] we have massive cyberattacks [against] news organizations,” he laments.

Taking the blow

“It really feels like that we are in a pivotal moment,” Rappler correspondent Lian Buan shares regarding how attacks against the media have become more frequent and politically charged. The conviction of Rappler CEO Maria Ressa and colleague Rey Santos Jr. for cyber libel by the Manila Regional Trial Court, followed by the ABS-CBN franchise denial and closure is only the latest in a string of attacks.

Even with the multiple struggles Rappler faces, Buan is able to remain steadfast in her work. She and her colleagues have even risen to espouse the courage she attributes to Ressa. “For the whole organization, led by the fearless attitude of the CEO (Ressa), [the effect of Ressa’s conviction] is that we feel more encouraged. We feel that it’s now more important to be courageous, to hold the line,” she asserts.

Meanwhile, the unique set of issues at ABS-CBN tells a different story. With the network having been forced to let go of thousands of its employees, including reporters and news anchors, a feeling of uncertainty still looms over those who get to stay. “We have to do [our tasks] while being so fearful about the status of our jobs because we don’t know, maybe tomorrow or the next day, you’ll get laid off,” Manahan shares.

Erram admits that all that is happening is taking a toll on her. “I’m actually vocal about my mental health, and it’s not good at all [because of] the challenges thrown at local journalists,” she says, explaining that most of her work week fills her with frustration, resulting in a significant decrease in her productivity.

The recent attacks have also shattered the media’s credibility. This is especially true for ABS-CBN, as Manahan shares that a lot of people have been convinced by the accusations brought against the network. Despite the blow on their reputation, he notes that he and ABS-CBN are working on regaining the public’s trust. “Even if you throw a thousand lies [at] us, we will not really give up,” he affirms.

Ever forward

Media practitioners remain unfazed, regardless of the troubles they are forced to endure. There is no doubt in their minds that journalism is worth all the struggle and more. Erram anchors this affirmation on the notion that journalism is a public service, a sentiment echoed by Buan, who is eager to continue her work amid the challenges. “Filipinos deserve good journalism,” she proclaims, stating that they have given her the voice and courage to push on.

Likewise, pledging his devotion to the people, Manahan explains that “there is a job to be done and there’s a good number of people who depend on us for their news.” He, too, believes in the importance of journalism, especially at this point in history. Amid the hardships, the broadcast personality goes back to the start and recalls the sole reason he became a journalist in the first place, “It’s because we have to serve the people.”

By Jan Emmanuel Alonzo

By Ramon Enrico Martinez

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