Ma. Bernadette R. Panaligan

Seeing as our hands are too preoccupied with our journalism stuff, to the point where our inks could have dried out of our pens just to prepare for the press conferences, and of course, with the stern determination to win, the true essence of campus journalism is challenged by our hunger for merits and trophies. I had seen, before my eyes and experienced it myself, the competitive spirit in campus journalism, taking away the fact that our purpose is essentially for public service. 

Photo Manipulation by Melinda Reyes. Photos Courtesy of Kenneth Gutlay/Philippine Collegian/Noel Celis/DepEd

Thirty-one (31) years ago, the United Nations General Assembly officially proclaimed World Press Freedom Day in December 1991, following the recommendation of UNESCO's General Conference. Annually celebrated every 3rd day of May, this commemoration aims to celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom and its crucial importance in our democracy. As we continue to fight against the pervasive culture of impunity and attacks against the press, let’s not stray away from the issues faced by our campus journalists, from the administrative restraints and suppression to the culture of attacks surrounding our campus press. And yet, amid these issues, we are chasing after awards because the system shaped us into journalists who are validated by how far in press conferences we can go. 

I must confess, as someone who was in despair for not qualifying for the National Schools Press Conference (NSPC) back when I was in Grade 11 (before the pandemic era, which I did not know was my last press conference in high school), I once viewed journalism in a competitive light. Admittedly, when I was in elementary, I too, once believed that my utmost responsibility was to bring honor and pride to my school. Because if I do, I have additional extra-curricular points. Don’t blame me. We are programmed to be campus journalists who just exist during the press conference season and not journalists who function as truth-bearers extending our service to our campuses and our community. Some of us inform ourselves about the socio-political issues happening around us for the sake of having something to write about in contests. 

After winning the game, we ought to forget everything and live our lives normally as students. It all ends when we get what we want. But when there are competitions where we could get multiple awards, we rise from the grave and label ourselves as journalists when, in fact, we are just mere competition journalists who are living in this field out of meritorious validation. 

This, however, is one of the reasons why we do not see many journalists speaking up against pressing issues that affect us. Even some of the winning NSPC journalists and publications chose to shut their eyes and never dared to open their mouths when they could not get any benefit from it. While other publications are being censored and controlled by their school administrations, with little to zero funding to debilitate their daily operations, some journalists do not know — or do not care about these issues. What more in the context of national and international issues that need truthful reportage and journalistic service?

For a country that prides itself on being democratic, it is disturbing to see how some school administrations meddle with campus publications. Journalists are being treated as pawns who are regulated, controlled, censored, and who are expected to bow down to certain administrations. They suppress and intervene in campus press when articles published by campus publications discussing critical issues do not align with their interests. Another burden carried by publications is the problem of zero funding. Some journalists often exhaust their personal resources and money for the benefit of public service, and some campus publications are paralyzed because of these funding issues. And yet again, journalists chase after awards and medals and continue being ignorant of the problems that affect their community. 

Thankfully so, I had engaged myself with service-oriented and progressive publications in high school, bridging my life to a broader perspective on campus journalism. I became the editor-in-chief of our publications both in junior and senior high school, and from then on, I realized how intimidation, oppression, and censorship in campus publications are indeed happening. I learned how journalists around the world are constantly battling against attacks on press freedom, and how youth journalists like us could contribute to the loud calls for a freer press, on campus and our world at large. 

I understand how our journalism credentials play a big role in our lives. If it weren’t for a national journalism contest, I wouldn't be invited to be a part of Explained PH. If it weren’t for my awards, I wouldn’t be able to guest journalism seminars and workshops nor be accepted in applications that require journalistic skills. I am grateful for the competitive journalism that once shaped me, but after understanding journalism through a completely different lens, I could say so myself that these merits are just bonuses to our service. After all, the biggest achievement we could get from here is our passion to serve and instill in our minds that beyond the shiny medals we wear after winning a contest, we have something to fight for. We have to be the vanguards of truth for the people. 

Now, in a completely different light, it is honestly disgusting to see how some campus journalists my age, at least in college, still see campus press only as an avenue to gain numerous honors and recognitions from regional and national press conferences. I can still see students bragging about their medals yet choosing to remain silent in matters concerning the public. Dreadful as it seems, it is still existing in this day and age. 

How can we, as the hope of tomorrow, call ourselves as vanguards of truth, when we are—at best—are just venturing into journalism competitions and not empowering our students through our journalistic service? How could we even bring our service to the nation when at our foundation, we already failed to see the significance of journalism?

As we commemorate the role of journalism in our democracy and the continuous fight for press freedom, let this be a reminder that in the face of state terror, we must reinforce our empowered movements to resist attacks thrown against us. In these times of challenges and unprecedented crises that we have to shed light on the concerns of society, serving as vanguards of the community, and going beyond our medals and certificates to give what we ought to give to others. As youth journalists, we play an important role in attaining a progressive and freer press that professes its service to students and other sectors of society. 

To see campus press as a mere extracurricular activity is to undermine the very essence of democracy. It is okay to bag numerous awards as long as the real essence of journalism is always upheld. But, let us not forget that we are here in this field to inform, speak, write, and dedicate ourselves to service, always and beyond medals and trophies.