Reporting in Pandemic Time: World Press Freedom Day Panel with Sheila Coronel, Maria Ressa, Ging Reyes

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4 May 2020 – MBC, in partnership with the British Embassy, hosted a digital forum on the state of press freedom amid crisis with Sheila Coronel (Columbia Journalism School), Maria Ressa (Rappler), and Ging Reyes (ABS-CBN).

British Ambassador Daniel Pruce started with the important role of journalists. “Throughout this pandemic, the media has absolutely been on the frontline of reporting to keep societies informed, to counterforce misleading information, to hold the powerful to account, and to record and capture this chapter of our history,” he said.

The pandemic has increased the hunger for information, while journalists face new challenges to supplying this demand. They cannot meet with officials and sources or get documents and information the usual ways. In many cases, governments and other organizations don’t have the data or haven’t processed it, not even counting being more unsure than usual about sharing it.  Meanwhile, the spread of misinformation is accelerated by social media and technology. Ressa said, “Lies kill. Facts matter. The quality of a democracy is only as good as the quality of its journalists.”

The reality is that these social media platforms are behavioral modification systems designed to come to us with the messages they are paid to give us. Social media is weaponized. Lies can spread faster on social media because of its design,” Ressa added.

Viewer interests are evolving, from fears about catching the disease to solutions that alleviate it. Journalists are incorporating light-hearted stories in their reports to balance out the fears from COVID-19. Reyes shared that news appears to cultivate compassion and solutions when they draw attention towards suffering individuals and communities. More viewers are asking ABS-CBN to help them reach particular people they saw in the news. 

“I think people are inspired to help. The audience is moved by these stories about the human experience, and that is something I hope we’ll be seeing for quite some time as long as this pandemic is hurting us,” Reyes said. 

Coronel expressed concern over a “two-tiered ecosystem” where higher-income people get their news from “mainstream” media, many of whom charge subscriptions, while lower-income people rely on more unvetted information in social media. 

While journalists face many pressures, the panelists stressed the importance of remaining optimistic, vigilant, and creative throughout this crisis. “This is a period where the way we do journalism is being reinvented, and you have the chance and opportunity to help reshape the new media landscape,” said Coronel.

“These are the worst of times, but as I always remind our people, the worst of times can be the best of times for journalists,”  Reyes said.

Closing the discussion, MBC Trustee and former Chairman Ramon Del Rosario, Jr. said, “In many crises, there is often a push and/or an acceptance to pull back on our freedoms. Today’s discussion should put this dynamic in context, while reminding us that crises pass, that restrictions should be reasonable, and full freedoms should be restored as quickly as possible.

Here is the video livestream of the event.