Anyone who still has doubts about the influence of the blogosphere over real world events only has to look at the case of the columnist Malu Fernandez. Ms. Fernandez is (or was until her recent resignation) a lifestyle writer for the broadsheet Manila Standard. She wrote an article which, rightly or wrongly, was seen by many as insulting to Overseas Filipino Workers (OFWs) A blogger, Nick of Tingog.com (“Voice” in Cebuano), picked up the initial comments taking Ms. Fernandez to task for putting down Filipino workers abroad and initiated a call to action. He brought the issue to the attention of other bloggers. The internet was soon abuzz with posts denouncing Ms. Fernandez and calling for a boycott of the Manila Standard.
Things rapidly came to a head. As described in a news article in the Philippine Daily Inquirer datelined 25 August 2007:
“A Lifestyle writer has been hounded out of her job by death threats and hate mail after she wrote a travel piece many readers found insulting to millions of Filipinos abroad. Malu Fernandez told Agence France Presse she quit her job at the Manila Standard Today newspaper and People Asia magazine after her article “From Boracay to Greece provoked international outrage. The travel piece, which appeared in the June edition of the magazine and later in modified form in the newspaper, recounts her mock horror at finding herself in economy class surrounded by Filipino maids reeking of cheap cologne. “I wanted to slash my wrist at the thought of being trapped in a plane with all of them.”, she wrote.
However, Fernandez said she has since become the “target of death threats, hate blogs, and deeply personal insults” and felt the need to apologize and quit. “
The near universal ire near over her perceived insults, and the concerted action of thousands of bloggers, purportedly forced Ms. Fernandez to quit her job.
Truthfully, a few of the comments were indeed over the top and hurtful, labeling her “Ms. Piggy” and demanding that she be roasted on a spit (litsonin) and calling on Mang Tomas to prepare his famous lechon sauce.
Some called it the cyberspace equivalent of people power. Others decried it as a triumph of mob rule.
Whatever it was, it was an abject lesson for the hapless Ms. Fernandez, who appeared to have been merely making an inept stab at ironic humor. Never write something you cannot defend or justify under the journalistic code of ethics. And be very careful in putting down a community that has members in the millions, and which, by virtue of sheer numbers, wield considerable clout in the internet.
Which brings me to my point. It is undeniable that the bloggers’ time has come. In many situations, blogs have as much impact as mainstream media, with the added advantage of immediacy and rapid dissemination. Just ask Malu Fernandez.
Thus, while I urge care in imposing any sort of regulation that would impede the spontaneity of the medium, it might now be time to encourage dialogue on the need for an ethics code. With ascendency should come accountability.
Journalistic codes of ethics (there are quite a number, apparently), the very standards by which Ms. Fernandez was measured and found wanting, seek to ensure fairness, accuracy and transparency. Journalists are expected to show compassion and be sensitive to the sensibilities of those who would be the subjects of their writing. They should show good taste and seek to minimize harm. Would adoption of these ethical standards prejudice bloggers and undermine the democratic character of the blogosphere? I don’t think so.
On the contrary, acceptance of a common set of values would give the blogosphere added credibility. After all, contrary to what some like to believe, the blogosphere is not a universe unto itself. Bloggers are, like it or not, part of the world at large. They are not immune from political and societal forces. Neither are they exempt from the norms which govern ordinary human relations. Shouldn’t bloggers abide by the same high standards to which they hold others ?
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