The brilliant human rights activist known as Malcolm X once said, “If you don’t stand for something, you will fall for anything”. Ponder this for a moment.
Some of you may have already heard this controversy going around about a recent incident in the world of Filipino comics, where the creator of the popular comic strip Pugad Baboy Pol Medina Jr. was suspended by his long-time employer Philippine Daily Inquirer. The strip in question is the following.
I bet most of you are asking “why is Reimaru Files even concerned about this? Does it have any relevance to their field?”
Technically it does. Let me explain why.
Let’s start with freedom of speech and how it was removed.
What Pol Medina published was a slice of a truth about a certain topic, one that he expressed with a dash of satire and a firm poke at how religion tends to meddle with our daily political and social on-goings. After his controversial release, Medina was unceremoniously terminated (or suspended according to updates) from the PDI, and his regular column removed.
Medina’s creation has a special place in our hearts for a very long time, both as a clarion call disguised as visual commentary and a way for people to know that they are not alone, that there is someone who understands what Filipinos truly are. It encompasses all the facets of our culture: the good, the bad and the ugly. It manages to deliver comprehensible intellect without presenting itself as pretentious, and has been a staple of our daily views regarding current politics, trends and society.
Now imagine this scenario: you are a game journalist for a huge media company. You wrote an honest review, giving low marks to a high profile game created by an influential developer or publisher. Because of that, controversy ensued. People became inquisitive. The magnate behind the title decides that you are the root cause, and informs your employer of their dissatisfaction of your honest opinion.
The following day you are fired, thus giving your employer face in the hands of a more powerful entity. Corporate cause and effect.
Miserable? Yes. Relevant? Definitely. Realistic? Absolutely.
If your work had some honest unbiased facts in it as per your pride as a journalist, and you were given a severe punishment, is it not a betrayal of journalistic freedom? In a sense a game review is a personal piece written by a journalist, but why should one be punished for divulging solid and honest facts? Why should the developer or publisher, or any entity involved in the creation of the game and/or the industry be allowed to influence or contradict one’s opinion of a good or faulty title?
Alas, such is the plight of our friend Pol Medina Jr., an unfortunate casualty in the grand play of religious puppet-masters and modern kingmakers. He is a relic of a bygone era; one that celebrated one’s ability to ask freely. To inquire, to uncover the truth, and to criticize.
Pushing the conspiracy theory further, this proves that the people behind the game you reviewed, or in Pol’s case the school that he slightly mentioned on his comic strip, are attempting to hide the obvious truth by putting pressure on the employer by way of religious or political influence. Applying this to our game journalism metaphor, if you hide the flaws of a game from the public because the company behind it has money or influence to burn, then you have failed to commit to the values and principles of straightedge journalism. You have killed its essence. You have lain to rest the freedom of speech.
Finally we have the lack of integrity, or rather an abundance of hypocrisy. A media company should have good morals and vision. They are responsible for swaying public opinion, and that is a power that should not be taken lightly. Looking back at the Pugad Baboy issue, it shows that the Philippine Daily Inquirer does not live up to their motto of “balanced news, fearless views”. Being fearless in views should mean that, regardless if someone was offended in what you published, you should stand up for it. Otherwise, why bother publishing it in the first place? This is in the defense of opinion, one that drove or inspired Medina to create the strip in question.
If one will notice it was published last March. If it really was offensive, then PDI shouldn’t have approved it. It should have gone straight to the recycling bin or to an archive of material that’s clearly labeled “LAWSUIT MATERIAL: DO NOT POST”. Sure, they said that it was randomly picked by a layout artist and was supposedly rejected before, but doesn’t this reek of self-saving denial?
It doesn’t mean that all of Pol Medina Jr.’s works were safe from censorship. There were several comic strips that didn’t pass the standards of PDI, so it’s surprising that this one resurfaced because of a pointless issue. It was then later removed, causing the creator to be suspended, and at the same time allowing his employer to take a pseudo-moral high ground by saying that it was morally offensive. This sounds like they were under a lot of duress, and we pretty much know where this is coming from. If we put this case on game journalism, we can compare this to the Dorito-gate Scandal in America (you can check the link for the full details), although the scenario may have some differences, the very essence of this case is the same.
In my opinion this is not what a media company should do. You told your community that you have integrity. You have to show it, come hell or high water, regardless of how severe criticisms are as long as you are telling the truth. The case in point shows that Pol’s employers are biased towards the offended party.
In the defense of Pol let me once again reiterate my points. Playing the Pontius Pilate, PDI’s decision to immediately suspend or fire him because he exposed an already apparent issue, and depriving him of the opportunity to defend himself is, in all points, unprofessional. This is no different from saying “We are sorry, but that’s his work; blame him” instead of saying “We are sorry if you are offended, but we believe that we didn’t do anything wrong”. Such an act is a slap to the face of your community: the community that believed in you all these years because of what you supposedly stood for: balanced news, fearless views.
In closing, Pol Medina Jr.’s mea culpa is unnecessary. He does not deserve this kind of treatment. Years of his strips have proven that if he has insulted someone, then he meant it. This however does not mean that he is always right, but that is the result of opinion: to share it freely and kindle thinking minds, welcoming opinions in return.