Sunday, November 20, 2011

On Heckling, Howie and Hillary

When a Philippine Collegian Editor-in-Chief Marjo Tucay unfurled an Anti-VFA/Anti-MDT banner in Clinton's "Conversation in Manila", he was promptly shown the door and subsequently tagged a heckler. Post-Conversation, he was interviewed by Howie Severino of GMA7, incidentally, one of Conversation's moderators. Did I say interviewed? No, that wasn't the case. Mr. Tucay was BERATED by Howie Severino for not being "old-fashioned" and  for going beyond "covering" the event.

Facebook as been afire with discussion regarding this incident. Progressive teachers and students alike, of course defend Tucay's position, whilst Howie Severino himself engages in the debate. But, lo and behold, Mr. I-Think-Before-I-Click opts to delete his comments (see pic below with his comments on Alaysa's post before Severino deleted them) when the debate got hotter and hotter. This event prompted GMA7 to take down the interview from their site (Therefore, the link below Alaysa's Note now leads to blank video). 

Photo courtesy of The Carcosite. To view, Right click then Open in New Tab. Or  Download by right-clicking then Save as.

Reposted from Alaysa Escandor's Facebook Notes

Reflections on the heckling

That Hillary Clinton herself, the US Secretary of State, was heckled by a Filipino, and a young student journalist at that, triggered a debate of sorts on the role of journalists.  The heckling was done by Marjohara Tucay, incumbent editor in chief of the Philippine Collegian, the student publication of the University of the Philippines.

 A day after the heckling, he was interviewed by Mr. Howie Severino, whose insights include –

Syempre, ang expectation sa isang mamamahayag ay hindi magprotesta kundi magtanong; Yung mga old-fashioned journalists katulad ko, yung training ay nagcocover; May choice ka dun, kung ano ang magiging action mo: mamahayag o protester.”

Okay, so there’s one huge, disturbing conjecture there – that journalists cannot participate in demonstrations. I wonder though where this conjecture has come from, because I don’t know of any code of ethics that bans journalists from protest actions. From receiving gifts and cash, certainly; from moonlighting, sure; from unfair means of information collection, yes. But never from heckling, demonstrations, rallies, strikes. These are, after all, based on the freedom of speech and expression – the very same rights upon which the entire of journalism is founded.

The freedoms that we have, the liberties that journalists like Mr. Severino enjoy, were won through wide and numerous protest actions. Martial law is a constant reminder of that.

It will perhaps surprise Mr. Severino that some of the best known journalists, some even more veteran than him, have actually been involved in demonstrations and other overt political acts. There was Marcelo del Pilar, also Plaridel, who did not just participate in demonstrations, but was part of a whole movement. There was Anna Politkovskaya, the well-loved Russian journalist who spoke fearlessly against Russia's "dirty war" in Chechnya. And who can forget Muntadhar al-Zaidi, the Iraqi journalist who threw both his shoes at then Pres. George Bush, all the while shouting “This is for the widows and orphans and all those killed in Iraq!" Al-Zaidi was declared a hero by his people.

It may surprise Mr. Severino even more that the alternative press and other prestigious media organizations – the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the Center for Community Journalism and Development and the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, for instance – often organize demonstrations and protest actions for various reasons: to commemorate the Maguindanao Massacre, to demand that justice be delivered to the victims of the massacre, to protest the 43 libel cases slapped by Mike Arroyo, to campaign against lay-offs and contractualization, to campaign for freedom of information, to march against censorship, among many others.

Well, in the first place, the heckling should never have been a matter to contend with. It was a public forum. And by definition, a forum should be open to contesting ideas and debates. The event was even described as “ground-breaking” by Clinton’s team precisely because it was supposedly more accessible to the youth. But it reeks of pretense to call the event a forum when there is an immediate clamp down on individuals who convey ideas that deviate from the usual polite, even worshipful, lines.

“Junk VFA! There is nothing mutual in the Mutual Defense Treaty!” These are valid, timely issues presented by Tucay. It would have been the opportune moment to discuss in-depth the repercussions and implications of current US-Philippine relations. But instead of Clinton addressing these concerns, or at least Mr. Severino permitting time for Tucay to expound on them, the student journalist was hurriedly whisked off with the clear goal of preventing another, in Mr. Severino’s term, “disruption.”

Like any other demonstration, the heckling was a created and symbolic event. What the heckling did was to expose the farce that was being played out on national television – the display of liberal democracy values, the supposed existence of freedoms, and the pretense of objective journalism. The heckling exposed it all for the travesty it was.

For all her declarations on protecting democracy, Clinton did not blink when, in a clear act of suppression, Tucay was led outside and barred from re-entering. Would the guards do the same if, instead of “Down with Imperialism!”, Tucay shouted “We love Hillary! We love the US!” while enthusiastically waving a placard that said “Onward with VFA and the Mutual Defense Treaty”?


Tucay was removed from the forum because of the ideas he forwarded – ideas that did not sit well with Clinton and the existing powers-that-be that she represents or supports. And while she, and the forum’s two hosts, tried to appear magnanimous, the suppression that followed exposed their intolerance.

When artist Mideo Cruz’s Politeismo was censored, the banner call was to protect the “freedom for the thought we hate”. Columnist Raul Pangalangan quoted Atty. Robert Jackson to explain: “The freedom to differ is not limited to things that do not matter much. That would be a mere shadow of freedom. The test of its substance is the right to differ as to things that touch the heart of the existing order.”

Finally, however we many pretend that journalism is objective, the reality is, it is not. Journalism is rife with subjectivities and suppositions, and therefore, is ideological. It will never be objective or neutral.

Mr. Severino’s own biases and subjectivities were demonstrated in the questions he chose to ask Tucay in the aftermath of the heckling, and in the way he chose to frame the interview – “Yung training sa amin ay nagcocover, hindi tayo ang tumatayo sa gitna ng press con o public forum para magsisigaw. Ganito na ba ang orientation ng journalists sa generation mo?”

Perhaps it’s time that “old-fashioned journalists” like Mr. Severino come to recognize that journalism, being ideological, can either perpetuate the system or interrogate it. The question is – which side will he/they/ you be?

*see interview here -->

Photo courtesy of The Carcosite

I am no journalist myself, but I do think that Severino has no right to berate Tucay for the latter's brand of jornalism. We often forget that while journalists pretend to be objective and tend to detach themselves from  the events they are covering, their own biases inevitably betray their "objectivity".

Tucay, in his interview said that the alternative press where he identifies himself and the Philippine Collegian, is "not

Maybe Howie Severino and the rest of his colleagues should take time to reassess their "journalism ethics" and read James Moore's article, Wikileaks and the Myth of Objectivity. And this too, Clinton, Counter-insurgency and Hegemony, so that next time they organize a Clinton Fan's Club meeting, they'll know what issues really matter to be asked.

 "Journalism can never be silent: that is its greatest virtue and its greatest fault. It must speak, and speak immediately, while the echoes of wonder, the claims of triumph and the signs of horror are still in the air." ~ Henry Anatole Grunwald

Well, what to do think about Tucay's "heckling"?

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