*Even as I write this, Mexican journalist Margarito Martinez was shot dead outside his home in the northern border city of Tijuana. He was 49.
In the fall of 2006, the inevitable happened. The body of American-born Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya was found dead inside an elevator near her apartment block. Beside her lay a Makarov pistol, the former Soviet Union’s standard military sidearm since the 1950s.
What was largely believed to be a state-sanctioned killing happened on the 7th of October, the birthday of Russian president Vladimir Putin.
The suspicion was not unforeseen. Politkovskaya pulled no punches. She published Putin’s Russia, a book which expounds on Russia’s “mafia-state” government under Putin.
In an article titled “Poisoned by Putin,” the beautiful Politkovskaya shook the stables of Russia’s power structures, including its “servile media”:
“We are hurtling back into a Soviet abyss,” Politkovskaya wrote, “into an information vacuum that spells death from our own ignorance. All we have left is the internet, where information is still freely available. For the rest, if you want to go on working as a journalist, it’s total servility to Putin. Otherwise, it can be death, the bullet, poison, or trial — whatever our special services, Putin’s guard dogs, see fit.”
For her courage, assassins paid her four bullets, one crashing into her head.
An article in The Guardian, published two days after her murder, said, “In the last interview she gave, to the independent Radio Svoboda, Politkovskaya said she planned to publish in today’s Novaya Gazeta the results of a large investigation into torture in Chechnya. The article was never sent.”
With parents as diplomats, Politkovskaya could’ve chosen the path of least resistance. But as Christiane Amanpour, chief international correspondent of CNN, said, “Anna Politkovskaya defined the human conscience.”
She chose truth above the lies of power. And for that, Politkovskaya paid with her life.
The Philippines is no stranger to murdered journalists. Nearly every presidential term since dictator Ferdinand E. Marcos, a journalist is killed, the highest number logged under Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo’s presidency between 2008 to 2010, based on the tally of UNESCO’S Observatory of Killed Journalists.
As of this writing, 22 to roughly 25 journalists, beginning with Apolinario Suan Jr. in July 14, 2016 to Jaynard Angeles in Jan 12, 2022, had been assassinated under Pres. Rodrigo Duterte’s regime. This I based on the combined tally of the Committee to Protect Journalists and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines.
I’m recalling all this for a reason. The recent online launching of my latest book, In the Line of Fire: Lectures, brought back some odd and funny memories. Funny, that is, if they weren’t so foolish.
Back when I sat as editor-in-chief of a political and literary magazine, I encountered three young women who applied for internship. When I asked them what in Chucky’s name brought them to consider an internship in our newsroom, one of the young women said, “It’s the easiest way to become famous. This could be my stepping stone to becoming a ramp model.”
I recall one young man whose passion for photography was admirable. But during my little pep talk to dissuade him from being a journalist, he blurted out, “Shucks! I was hoping to become famous and maybe convince women to pose naked for me.”
One rather scrawny young boy wanted to become an action star.
Thinking of journalism as one’s enchanted ferry ride to celebrity status is absurd. We hear of journalists either killed or imprisoned in nearly every country ruled by autocrats. If at all there’s a red carpet to look forward to, it’s the trail of blood left by our brave colleagues.
Rappler’s Maria Ressa, Nobel Peace laureate, faces charges the likes of which could lame a brontosaurus. Journalist Frenchie Mae Cumpio remains in jail for trumped-up charges of terrorism. She’s in her early 20s.
It’s bad enough that reporters and correspondents are forced to risk Covid-19 infection in the field, to say nothing of the libel and cyber-libel cases hounding their heels. Many have been threatened by trolls.
There’s no escape hatch, no panic room to run to when the wolves are at your door. In this job, there’s no safe space, none of the time to worry about one’s mental health. What the profession demands are facts, evidence, the deadline, and an engagement with history.
What journalism tenders to the young hopeful is the thrill of being right in the middle of it all. Whether that’s a conflict zone, a storm-ravaged city/province, or the madness that rocks the newsroom day in, day out, all this is an experience with which you can someday annoy or amuse your grandchildren, that is, if you live to tell the tale.
And while journalism may not be for everyone, for those who wish to take a crack at it, brace yourselves for the ride of your life.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not romanticizing the travails of my brave colleagues. Our Constitution insists on the freedom of the press. Any and all attempts to crush this provision in the Bill of Rights is nothing short of criminal. Accountability is necessary.
That being said, let me repeat that dangers go with the job. Journalism’s bias for the truth makes it so. And in a political atmosphere reeking of lies and disinformation, the job itself of vetting the overlapping narratives of power puts journalists in harm’s way.
Thus, every journalist worth his or her salt stands wittingly or unwittingly in the line of fire, that place of honor.
Uruguayan journalist Eduardo Galeano, who once wrote poignant stories of state atrocities in Latin America, once said that he is grateful to journalism “for waking me up to the realities of the world”. It is no secret that the great Gabriel García Marquez would rather be called a journalist than a novelist.
The world as we know it today is inflated by lies, anonymity, disguises. Those who wish us harm hide behind memes, phony profile pictures, bogus names. Tens of millions fuel the industry of trolls while noble labor remains stagnant, our economy under the shadow of corporate bullies.
The State, whose duty it is to see to the welfare of the people and their rights, is now in the business of terror tactics.
Good and brave journalist are needed now more than ever. It’s time we rethink our place in the scheme of things. Journalists should not stop at being just the Fourth Estate.
We are the resistance.