UP academics remind journalists to recognize context of red-tagging in PH

Journalism professor Diosa Labiste explains why the question on communist link an issue in journalism. (Screenshot of the online discussion)
UP journalism professors pondered on how journalists should cover the issue of red-tagging.

By ARNETH ASIDDAO
Bulatlat.com

MANILA — Airtime should be given to victims of red-tagging instead of “red-taggers who brazenly lie,” UP professor and Bulatlat editor Danilo Arao said in an online discussion organized by the UP journalism department in response to recent cases of red-tagging of community pantries.

Hundreds of community pantries have sprung up across the country in the past week, signifying the collective response of Filipinos to hunger, poverty and lack of government support during the pandemic.

On Monday, Facebook pages of Quezon City Police District and National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict (NTF-ELCAC) shared posts linking community pantries to communists. There have also been reports of police profiling of organizers.

Arao called red-tagging the “highest form of fake news” because it can get the accused killed over baseless claims of having communist ties.

UP journalism professor Diosa Labiste added that red-tagging is hate speech against activists, critics and journalists and has nothing to do with facts.

Arao said that interviewing sources of red-tagging risks legitimizing and amplifying their accusations.

“Why are red-taggers given space or airtime by the media if red-taggers would be the perpetrators of fake news, their credibility is in question and truth-telling is thrown out the window?” Arao asked.

Citing media scholar Whitney Phillips, Labiste said coverage of “bad actors and manipulators” gives the latter a level of visibility and legitimacy.

Labiste said journalists should practice informed judgement in covering issues like red-tagging instead of fixating on appearing balanced and unbiased.

She said relying on official sources and institutions to maintain neutrality and objectivity can be a form of bias itself, citing another academic Thomas Glasser.

In his 1984 article, Glasser described objective reporting as biased in favor of the status quo and against responsibility, independent thinking and journalism’s watchdog role.

To ask or not to ask

Labiste said victims of red-tagging should be treated as vulnerable subjects, addressing an incident where a reporter asked Maginhawa community pantry organizer Ana Patricia Non if she had communist ties.

In dealing with an injured subject such as Non, Labiste said, “As a journalist, you have to try to balance between your freedom to publish a story or minimizing harm to an already vulnerable subject.”

She also said this kind of question is a form of othering that further rationalizes marginalization of groups based on ideology.

“Caution, and we have to read the situation and pay attention to the context but without sacrificing our work and freedom of expression,” Labiste said.

Former dean of UP College of Mass Communication Luis Teodoro stressed the importance of journalists not only providing context in reporting but also recognizing the context in which particular events happen.

The Maginhawa community pantry temporarily closed after reports of police profiling and red-tagging but has since then reopened. It has inspired more than 300 similar mutual aid efforts across the country. (https://www.bulatlat.com)

Disclosure: Danilo Arao is also the associate editor of Bulatlat.

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