Fight vs. disinformation extends beyond journalists, anchor says

Karmina Constantino-Torres. (WVSU Development Communicators’ Society photo)

By Joseph Bernard A. Marzan

In the ever-evolving battle against disinformation, veteran journalist Karmina Constantino-Torres shared a powerful message that combating false narratives and upholding press freedom is not a burden that should fall solely on journalists but on society as a whole.

Constantino-Torres, the 2022 Marshall McLuhan Fellow, delivered these remarks during the McLuhan Forum for Responsible Media, addressing a predominantly student audience at the West Visayas State University (WVSU) Cultural Center.

During her talk, Constantino-Torres underlined the essential role of journalism in sustaining democracy. She drew a link between the responsibility of journalists and the freedoms enjoyed by the public and those who want democracy. dead.

“Why are we talking about freedom now, when you’re just talking about facts? This is the very reason why I am here today, to reintroduce to you, the role of journalism, to defend the role of journalists, why we need this, why we should not be the only ones fighting for our freedom. Because to fight for ours, is to fight for yours too,” she explained.

“Journalism plays a crucial role in every nation’s democratic department. For us here in the Philippines, without the mosquito press, without the exposés about corruption and election manipulation, […] where do you think the Filipino public could be now? Where would our democracy be?” she added.

The ANC anchor also highlighted the significant contributions of the campus press, which plays a vital role in combatting disinformation and censorship among their peers.

“[Campus journalism] is very important because your audience is your peers, and you’re right in the middle of this war [against disinformation]. […] If one of your own talks about [disinformation], you’re going to be stronger. You can strengthen your generation better if you talk to your peers about what is happening,” she said.

Constantino-Torres, who is renowned for her incisive questioning, revealed her own fears as a journalist and her commitment to the future of her family and country.

“I’m not gonna say that I’m so brave [and] I’m not scared. […] I know that I’ve pushed a lot of buttons and I’ve ruffled feathers, and I know the threats. But what will happen if I’m scared [of asking tough questions]? […] I have reconciled and I have resolved, that when I’m out there asking questions, it’s for my family and it’s for my country. The two to me are synonymous because I’m fighting for the future of my kids and the present of me and my husband’s life together,” she said.

She acknowledged the hesitations that the younger generation might have in joining the media industry, which she described as a “privileged” profession.

She explained it as a “special access to history” rather than a path to wealth.

“This profession gives you that front seat in watching history unfold, and sort of a privileged way of serving the country. For me, the [privilege] is my only capital when entered this industry. Having said that, once you’re in the industry, I have to stress that you should be soaked up to live within your means or have a side hustle that’s not involved in corruption,”

“You can ask me now [that I’m] from ANC [and] DWPM. Yes, that’s true. But I also know that if and when the time comes, that if I get fired, or I quit, I can walk away with my dignity and integrity intact, so be prepared to walk away with nothing,” she added.

Torres also warned that politicians will “go into overdrive” with their use of social media after showing clips of promotional videos of candidates and elected officials, likewise noting the proximity of the 2025 midterm elections.

“You can just imagine how this would go on overdrive once the midterm elections come. Make no mistake about it. All these politicians learned from the [2022 and 2016] elections […] about the power of social media, and they are going to use it even more,” she warned.

“They will be talking directly to us, the public, and engaging us making their captured audience from the time we press ‘Play’, until the video ends, without an iota of challenge to every word that leaves their mouth, whether its fact or fiction. It has happened before, and it will happen again, and it’s going to be even more potent.”

Reflecting on the rich and tumultuous history of Philippine media, Constantino-Torres narrated its journey from being dubbed “the freest in Asia” to its struggles during the Martial Law era under Ferdinand Marcos Sr.

She recounted the closures of numerous media outlets and the recent challenges faced by ABS-CBN, her own workplace, which included its shutdown and transformation under new management.

The closures affected 7 major English-language dailies, 1 English-Filipino daily, 3 Filipino dailies, 1 Spanish daily, 3 Chinese dailies, 66 community newspapers, 11 English weekly magazines, 7 Television stations, and 292 radio stations.

She also talked about the development of media in the post-Marcos Sr. era, which included the election and fall of former president Joseph Estrada, and the tirades of former President Rodrigo Duterte, which also affected her workplace at ABS-CBN.

“I stand before you today, a remnant of what was once a busy and bustling newsroom. It seems like a distant memory now, but let me tell you, the pain, it’s still as fresh, and right in the middle of a raging [COVID-19] pandemic,” she tells of the network’s shutdown on May 3, 2020.

She candidly spoke about the closure of ABS-CBN’s TeleRadyo channel and its subsequent replacement, DWPM Radyo 630 and TeleRadyo Serbisyo, which are under a joint venture with Prime Media Holdings, a company co-owned by the current House Speaker, Ferdinand Martin Romualdez.

“When that happened, I got a lot of messages of sympathies and condolences, and just like the first time, the chilling effect was once again numbing,” she narrated.

“Throughout that time, I was asking myself, can I do this, knowing the proximity to the palace? But after the initial shock, I told myself that the only way to know if my fears are well-founded is to test it. So far, 8 months down the line, I still ask the tough questions on air,” she continued.

The Marshall McLuhan Fellowship was first established in 1997 to recognize excellence in Philippine media, and through the years, have awarded journalists for being some of the best in the industry to inspire future journalists.

It was established between the McLuhan Program at the University of Toronto and the Embassy of Canada in the Philippines, and its namesake was a Canadian media theorist who, among other achievements, coined the phrase “the medium is the message”.

The McLuhan Forum on Responsible Media was first brought to WVSU in 2007, with its aim to celebrate and recognize excellent work in journalism as shown in their work in advancing explanatory reporting with depth and substance.