First Genaro V. Ong Lecture

Aug 3rd 2010

"T he tenets of journalism and the standards of accuracy, fairness and honesty never change, be it under an unpopular or popular leader. Without these, journalists will lose their credibility with their readers and viewers. We will lose our reason for being.”

This was the abiding principle shared by journalist Marites Dañguilan–Vitug with her audience during the 1st Genaro V. Ong (GVO) Memorial Lecture Forum organized by the Communication Foundation for Asia (CFA) at the Lagerwey Hall last Friday, July 30, 2010. The theme of the forum, which was also transmitted on the internet via livestream through the CFA website, was: “TAKING SIDES: ADVOCACY JOURNALISM AND GOOD GOVERNANCE”.

Vitug, editor-in-chief of Newsbreak magazine and author of many publications and books, including “Shadow of Doubt: Probing the Supreme Court”, also pointed out that advocacy is not for all journalists, or something all journalists can do: reporters should NOT engage in advocacy, while opinion writers and columnists are free to advocate or take positions on issues and personalities.

More than a hundred students, faculty, media and PR practitioners, NGO workers, as well as members of the Ong Family, were present at the lecture. Ms Vitug was handed a plaque of appreciation by the CFA president, the executive director, and Patty Ong-Loanzon, a daughter of the late Mr Ong.

The lecture was followed by reactions from a panel composed of UST Professor Joselito B. Zulueta (also an Inquirer editor) and Gerry Lirio of TV-5 News. Malacañang Communications Group Undersecretary Manuel L. Quezon III also participated in the panel by way of a written message, which was read to the audience.

Quezon pointed out that the most important element of reportage is ethics, where an ethical media engaging an ethical-minded government should have nothing to fear and everything to gain. Zulueta, though not directly involved in straight news reporting, agreed with Vitug’s assertion that news organizations are shaped by the times they work in, their external environment, the country’s leaders and the era’s politics. Where specific issues are concerned, it is the reporters’ duty to present all sides to the readers. Lirio who spent more than two decades with the Inquirer as reporter and city editor, said that reporting the news is a day-to-day struggle, where the reporters, editors, and even the newspaper owners’ limits, are sorely tested. Whatever the reason, Lirio said, one must not compromise the truth.

The open forum turned out to be a lively exchange, with many questions coming from communication teachers and students, as well as from other communication workers. Questions were raised regarding perceived media bias among some networks and newspapers during the election campaign, and how provincial journalists (who are more at risk) can be protected from retaliation by powerful people who may be subjects of their investigative reports. A communication professor also challenged journalists to be advocates of development communication and write about marginalized sectors and issues, especially in areas not ordinarily covered by Manila-based mass media.

The memorial lecture series is named after the late Genaro Vega Ong, Jr., CFA’s first Managing Director who helped Fr. Cornelio Lagerwey, MSC, in founding CFA. Ong, who died at an early age in 1978, was a journalist who passionately believed in the relevance of development communication (he was probably the first to use the term “devcom”) and the powers of alternative media.


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