What is a Journalist ?

by Jamal Ashley Abbas


I am reading “Crime & Punishment: Killing of Filipino Journalists” by the Asian Institute of Journalism & Communication. Accdg to Dr. Florangel Rosario-Braid: “In today’s mediated (and multi-channel) world, it may no longer suffice to define who the journalist is but WHAT he or she does. A journalist is one committed to the standards of the journalism profession including a code of ethics. The work ethic includes multi-sourcing, confirmation and verification of facts and fair, balanced and objective reporting. The journalist’s primary responsibility is to serve the public and help build or strengthen the democratic architecture of society.”

When the killing of journalists with impunity in the Philippines came into the limelight, a lot of so-called experts said stop-killing-journalsitsthat most of those killed were actually not journalists. While they were broadcasters, they were not journalists in the sense of reporting or analyzing news. They were hired by politicians or businessmen who bought airtime to promote their interests or attack their enemies. Others said that most of these so-called broadcast journalists could not be called journalists because they were not hired by radio and TV stations or networks but by block time producers.

For me, whether journalists or not, they did not deserve to be killed with impunity. If they slandered or libeled anyone, then the aggrieved party or parties can have recourse to the Courts.

But I totally agree with Dr. Rosario-Braid’s definition. It is high time to restrict the term journalist to those who deserve to be called such.

Unfortunately, with this definition, very, very few can be called journalists – be they beat reporters, columnists, editors, broadcasters, etc.


Some years ago, I submitted a news article on a bombing in Mindanao. I was surprised when the editor turned it down saying it was already written by a mainstream online publication. To my shock, my report and the other online article had almost identical titles! (What are the odds in that happening?) But after reading their news report, I told my editor that our reports were totally different .

The other article had one source – the military – and a quote from Malacanang praising the military for a job well done. It contained factual errors. As a result, it was not balanced and not fair.

My report had several sources – the military, the police, the mother and relatives of the suspects, witnesses, and the regional Commission on Human Rights (CHR)representative. My facts were correct as verified by all the sources. Thus, it was more balanced and fair than the other report. The other report showed an open and shut case — there was a bombing, suspects were arrested and would be charged in court. Govt officials praised the military for a job well done. Period. My report showed that the case was  wide open. There was a bombing. The military rounded up people with no warrants. The suspects had alibis that were easily corroborated. The suspects were held incommunicado — no visitors or lawyers for them. And the suspects’ relatives went to the CHR to file file charges against the military.

My editor relented and agreed to print it the following day.

I can’t forget this news article because of the weird coincidence of our titles being almost identical. And it was the one and only piece that I wrote that almost did not get published. It was a good thing that I followed a high standard of journalism while the other writer did not. Even freelance writers can be journalists.

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