By Mariejo Mariss Ramos
TNR, 12 points, 500 words. It is never hard to write.
After all, most have conveniently reduced writing to a form. That the greatest motivation to fill white spaces of a blank document has become following the word requirement has confined the writer to a comfort zone of style rules, format and time.
A campus journalist may have been confronted by a similar feat, but he knows the blank field for his thoughts is wider than what format-based words can fill. Behind every word choice is a goal to provide space for the truth and a voice for the muted, and a move to shun the myth of objectivity in a world where the stronger forces always triumph.
A campus journalist knows that words must traverse paper and permeate social consciousness.
The ability of the campus paper to shape public opinion is the reason why it has always been facing threats to its freedom, taken under siege by those in positions of power – by institutions desperately trying to conceal the truth from the very first time that student-journalists learned to fill the pages with its mighty ink.
The suppression of the freedom of the campus press dates back to the years of the Marcos dictatorship, when campus publications stood at the forefront of student activism.
Campus journalists were deliberately denied of their rights to free speech and to use the medium to forward student struggles during the Martial Law. Writers were forced to dull their pens and become submissive to the seats of power. Through several decrees ordering censorship of the media, campus-based publications deemed critical of the government were closed. For one, the National University’s National was able to resurface only two years ago, after being padlocked in 1972.
A spark of hope lit when the Campus Journalism Act of 1991 was passed, but only as long as the majority chose to cling to the essence of the newly-restored democracy.
Campus journalism is legitimized as an important venue for the exercise of press freedom. This single piece of legislation seeks to “uphold and protect the freedom of the press even at the campus level.” However, this monumental thrust to maintain the free practice of journalism in schools remains too good to be true.
Findings from a 2001 study by the College Editors Guild of the Philippines, the oldest and largest inter-collegiate alliance of student publications in the country, revealed that the repression of campus press freedom comes in many forms: the undue shutdown of publications, withholding of funds, censorship, meddling by advisers, threats of suspension, expulsion and libel against writers, among others.
The fact that the campus press has become subject to suppression of the very institutions that are supposed to uphold its freedom, due mainly to irreconcilable interests or corporate pressures, holds the role of the campus journalist at risk, but as crucial as before.
In an era where the perspectives of the marginalized, the students and the youth are obscured in a vast sea of information leaning towards a different path, the campus press must serve as the alternative voice offering critical thought with the primary goal to produce critical readers.
The marketplace of ideas has always been dominated by those who can afford to surface their own points-of-view, hence the need for a balancing force for what has been methodically buried and hidden.
When only a few defenders of democracy and freedom of expression exist, the campus paper stands as the eye that sees in-depth and serves as the bastion of student rights.
A campus journalist, in the same light, chooses to write in the context of the prevailing social reality and its accompanying contradictions. He knows that even after the writing is done, his words still fill the gaps between them with messages left to be decrypted—that even with restrictions of form and space, what the student journalist has written assumes an ambiguous state and leaves the sheet of paper to send people to thought, action and realization.
The moment a campus journalist’s words obtain the capability to takeoff from the space where it is written, the essence of campus freedom is thus achieved. No typeset, format or policy can curtail the practice of campus journalism.