Freedom of the editor
April 10, 1965
By Teodoro M. Locsin
WHAT is this freedom of the editor that is the subject of this morning’s discourse?
It is the freedom to say the truth, of course. But what, to quote Pilate, is truth—although Truth stood whipped and battered before him?
It is freedom to spread, in the best over-developed tradition, lies about those who are less fortunate, whom one had exploited and must now degrade?
I have read little truth about my country in the so-called free press of the democracies. Friendly democracies. With such friends, who needs enemies?
What is this freedom we are so hot and bothered about?
Is it the freedom to prostitute the press?
The freedom to distort, malign, spiritually colonize?
Or is it not freedom from pride and prejudice?
Which is preferable—slavery or degeneracy? Fear or venality? What is freedom if it is merely freedom to be stupid and ignorant—or to betray?
Those who would write truthfully about other people—let them think of Lawrence of Arabia who put himself in the place of an alien race and paid the price. He wound up no longer feeling like an Englishman but knowing he was not an Arab, and madness, he said, was never far off. But how else may one write about an alien people?
A foreign correspondent, if he is not to be merely a foreign agent, sent abroad to tell lies about other people, so his people may be entertained or remain in blissful ignorance, must turn spiritual traitor, turn alien. If he is not prepared to do this, he can do truth a service by staying home.
What is freedom—of the editor or of anyone?
It is freedom to be intelligent and informed. Freedom to be ignorant is not freedom, for what is freedom? Is it not liberation? And what is ignorance but a prison?
One should be prepared to die for freedom—and how silly it would be to die for one’s ignorance!
Freedom is responsibility and the affluent as well as the slave hate it.
Freedom is a dirty word to those who do not believe in freedom but merely preach it. It is Luce talk, a loose expression, and can be made to mean anything. Freedom is slavery in George Orwell’s 1984. Freedom is freedom to be fired—in the usual democracy.
What is freedom? What is the freedom of an editor? It is freedom—
To study. (And having to go over so much in order to turn out a respectable paper—a paper one can respect—makes study almost impossible.)
To think. (And how can one think in a hurry?)
To express oneself. Freedom not to say the opposite of what one thinks. Freedom to tell one’s publisher to go to hell. But if one did that, one would go jobless while the publisher would not go to hell; he would merely get himself another editor.
How many publishers want an editor who believes in freedom?
Freedom of an editor is not to have to say the opposite of what he thinks—but what if what he thinks is not worth a damn? Would it not be better for all concerned, including the readers, if he simply shut up or were made to shut up? The publisher would be doing the readers a favor.
Freedom of an editor is freedom—to resign if his publisher is not a proper publisher, and how many publishers are proper publishers? Let us be truthful. We know one another.
“The public be damned! What’s good for me is good for the country!”
Are these or are these not our sentiments?
But what if the editor himself is an improper editor, without any encouragement from his publisher?
Freedom is inseparable from character.
Let us think more about this freedom business.
Freedom is a condition created by the free play of intelligence. (The racist is free—to spew out his poison. Exterminate him? We must be patient. Not extermination—he may have the arms—but time and education may do the trick. Meanwhile, let freedom reign. Freedom as degradation. As devourer. The crocodile should be free—to eat you. All god’s chillun got wings, including the vampire bat.) What is freedom? It is freedom to love truth and go in search of it.
To love truth is to hate lies, or what one believes to be lies. But what are one’s beliefs worth? Hence, the need for humility.
Though we think we are right, we know we may be wrong.
Let us consider the serious practitioners of this thing called journalism. Not the press prostitutes and degenerates that give the profession such a bad name, assuming it can have a better one. . .Many papers are mere extortion sheets, demanding payment, monetary, political or otherwise, to be quiet. Let us consider the serious practice of journalism.
If one would practice journalism in a serious fashion, one must be free, but the freedom of a writer, the freedom of an editor is merely an extension of the freedom of the publisher. And the publisher is under constant pressure, the pressure of—
1. His financial interests, that is, his dependence on advertising, his other businesses.
2. His lack of education and information.
3. His natural stupidity.
4. His nationality—“My country, right or wrong, but my country!”
5. His sheer humanity. His childhood, his sex-life, his family, his—his humanity. To err is human. To publish is to err.
Let us cultivate silence. “But what will happen to democracy?” Freedom of the press is a necessary evil, okay?
What is the press? The press is a mass medium for the circulation of truth and error. All one can hope is that what is circulated is not mainly error.
Now, let us take up the subject of advertising. Advertising income depends on circulation. Why advertise in a paper nobody reads or is given away to promote the illusion of circulation? But what is circulation? It is based on what? One people’s stupidity, bias, hunger for triviality and sensation? What would be the circulation of a truly serious paper?
How many papers dare to be serious, to be free? To dare is to rely on the proposition that the relationship between advertiser and paper is strictly a business one, that what is important to an advertiser is not what you think, with which he may disagree, but how many copies with all kinds of opinion—and the proposition that your readers are, as the syllogism goes, rational animals. That reason would prevail—a risky proposition.
I have expressed myself badly. One starts to write something and something else comes out. This is what I am trying to say: No matter how serious one may be, how dedicated to journalistic ideals, if one does not have enough readers, therefore enough ads, one will go out of business. It is not enough to be serious, to be free—one must earn the right to be taken seriously. To establish intelligence and integrity takes time and unceasing effort of both mind and will. The exercise of freedom is fraught with consequences. Freedom must be earned. It must be based on a long record of dedication to reason.
And where is reason to be found if not in a “free market” of ideas? In unlimited discussion? That is why a publisher who would truly practice journalism must be prepared to stake all on this skeptical notion of truth, as the product of free thought and expression. And on belief in the natural dignity of man, which calls for freedom to express his convictions. His honest convictions. And how is dishonesty to be exposed except through constant contradiction?
Journalism may be viewed, but humbly, as a mission. It is literature in a hurry. The refuge of failed poets and novelists, or would-be reformers who have not yet learned hot to wipe their noses, of rejects of other profession. A man must be crazy to want to be a newspaperman. A serious newspaperman. A doctor save a life. What do you think you are saving?
But having committed oneself to journalism, there is the matter of self-respect. Of respect for the craft which one would practice. We must do our best or cease to be men. Prostitution is a feminine occupation or should be. A female prostitute is pitiful, a male one disgusting.
Journalism as a craft calls for skill, for scrupulousness, for integrity. One does not build a wall with too much sand and too little cement, a house with rotten timber. There must be a sense of involvement in one’s work, which is not possible if one thought of it as merely a living. There must be a capacity for generous anger, which must be distinguished from merely a lousy temper, at the same time, a reluctance to hurt for the sake of hurting, a painful sense of obligation to let one’s spear know no brother.
Journalistic integrity is difficult to claim, but its lack is even more difficult to expose. For one may wear a mask of disinterestedness not easy to penetrate. The real face of journalism is not always visible. The acts of darkness may consist of commission and omission. By silence one may respectable betray and go against the honor of the profession.
It is doubtless romantic to view journalism as engagement. This is peace, not war. Resistance against an enemy calls for engagement, total engagement. One recalls Filipino resistance under threat of torture and death. One must be prepared to give up everything for the cause, for what could be greater than the cause? Not to be afraid to die—that, one suddenly realized, suddenly experienced like a breath of fresh air in prison, when the doors opened, was freedom. Journalism as engagement? Yes, for journalism must be free if it is to be journalism, and freedom calls for total engagement in war and in peace.
One must believe in journalism as one must believe in any other human occupation to practice it properly. That is why we speak of “following” an occupation. Whatever it is, one follows or one goes against. Whatever the occupation, one should make the most of it, not contribute to its diminution or violation. It is just a living? It can be a meaningful one. What is life without meaning?
We are not as needed as doctors, subtle as lawyers, constructive as engineers and obstructive as officials, but we exist and have a proper function. The mite is a state of being as complete and purposeful—unless all of creation is absurd—as the star. We should be more than mere gossips, sensation-mongers, wheeler-dealers, running-dogs of imperialism, domestic and foreign. We should not be anybody’s organ—an expressive word—the instrument of anything. We have our own specific being, our particular existence. Let us be what we are or are supposed to be. If we cannot be more, let us not be less than journalists. Let us practice journalism.
TO repeat, the freedom of an editor is an extension of the freedom of the publisher, unless the two are one. An editor is only as free as his publisher will let him. How free an editor is, therefore, depends on what kind of a man the publisher is. Does the publisher believe in freedom of expression? If he does, there should be no problem.
How about the freedom of the writer, the reporter? He should have freedom, of course, but, in the end, he is accountable to the editor for his use of that freedom. IF he misuses it, if he reports as happening what never did, as true what turns out to be false, and if he does this too often, he leaves the editor no choice but to fire him. He is giving the paper a bad name. He is either too stupid to do his job properly or he has been bought.
What do I mean by press prostitutes? Those who promote special interests, whether those of others or their own—whether they are reporters or editors or publishers. To praise what should not be praised, to blame the blameless—for money or other unworthy consideration—is, to put it mildly, not to practice journalism. A paper is sold on the understanding that it is dedicated to the public good. If it is dedicated to some private good alone, it is being sold under false representations. It is a fraud. It’s like selling love—which cannot be sold. That’s what I mean by prostitution, journalistic or otherwise.
The writer is accountable to the editor, the editor to the publisher, the publisher to himself—if he is worthless, this is not a problem—and the readers. A worthless publisher can always be punished by the readers by refusing to buy his lousy paper. He will go out of business. Of course, if he has other sources of income, if he is very rich and uses the paper to promote his non-journalistic interests, as a club—he can always use his paper’s losses as an income tax deduction. He can lose and lose, and still come out winner. But not as a journalist.
A publisher who is conscious of his accountability to the readers, depending on their faith, on his paper’s credibility as a true paper and not a club, a private organ—such a publisher must believe in, has no choice but to practice, open-mindedness. The paper must present both sides of a controversy, present all views. It must be fair. The readers must never be given reason to think that they are being led by the nose, that they are being taken advantage of, that they are being fooled. The journalistic dice must not be loaded. The roll must be honest. The house does not always win but should also lose. If journalism is a game, it should be a game; it should not be rigged.
Is there no limitation to freedom of the press? How about dangerous ideas? All one can say is, if they are wrong, they can’t be really dangerous, for they can be both published and exposed. The question is: Are we right? If we are right, we can always prove the other wrong in free debate. We may be wrong, of course—then, we would be in trouble.
A paper needs advertising, of course, unless it is subsidized, but to be slavish toward advertisers is to stop being a paper, being believed in, being read—and to lose the paper. And the advertisers. What is the use of advertising in a paper few or nobody reads? One must be prepared to lose an advertiser in order to keep one’s paper, to keep the rest of one’s advertiser. And a certain restraint is always helpful. One should not advertise everything. Anything. A certain lack of greed is support for one’s independence.
Should a paper present, in the national interest, only the shining aspects of the nation? Why concentrate on the ugly as the Philippine press seems to be doing? What sort of an image does the Philippines have abroad? Personally, I do not care how we look abroad; what is important is how we look to ourselves. Let us publish what’s wrong with us—perhaps, enough indignation may be aroused to right it. Expose the evils—to stop them. What do they thing? We know what’s wrong with them. Never mind what they think. We must make democracy work here—or lose it. That’s what is vital. The freedom of an editor rests, ultimately, on the success of freedom.