Attempts to repress media are usually foiled by defense of free speech and free press. Yet how can free speech be justified if media cannot be held accountable for abuse or excess?

Mainstream media has long accepted the limits on free speech and free press.

Libel laws provide for both criminal and civil liability. Punishment for contempt curbs disrespect to the courts and legislative bodies lawfully exercising the power of inquiry. Industry and individual in-house rules on ethics restrain offensive behavior that falls short of a crime.

In sum, media is regulated not just by the state. Practitioners submit to scrutiny by their respective media outlets, their peers and their public. Yes, their readership or audience, which, as consumers, may stop reading or watching the media they can no longer trust.

The setup has worked for mainstream media, print and broadcast, but maybe not for online media, particularly the sectors that have no rules and no gatekeepers that curb misconduct.

Fingers point to social media, whose platform managers are still scrambling how to keep toxic messages of anger and hate away from the conversation. Mainstream media police their own ranks. Social media managers are struggling, almost helpless or unwilling to supply filters in the internet that, by its concept, is totally free but, as essential civility sinks in, should not be.

Immediacy of access and posting. And anonymity. Those give the edge in internet communication but they’re also the bane. The voices are quick and bold but because they are not identified, they ignore restraints that keep the regular media careful with the facts in the news and the logic in their commentaries.

Spewing out and circulating bogus information and unleashing diatribe recklessly are usually not impeded in the internet. Masked, faceless, or using false names, authors can peddle ignorance, often aimed to promote hate and violence, at times for profit. The sense of impunity among the offenders is inevitable.

In this era of fakery, mainstream media must protect and nurture its greatest strength: its capacity, skill and shared value in getting at the truth. It is vulnerable to mistakes but it has great respect for the facts.

Before You Leave the Page

Trad-media holds itself accountable.

(Seares is executive director of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council and chairman of the board of Cebu Press Freedom Week Inc. and Cebu Media Legal Aid Inc.)

(CJJ12 was published in hardcopy in September 2017.)