Sea changeBy Juan L. Mercado
Philippine Daily Inquirer
“Every journalist killed or neutralized by terror is an observer less of the human condition. Every attack distorts reality by creating a climate of fear and self-censorship.”
That sums up Tuesday night’s strafing of Inquirer columnist Randy David’s home on the University of the Philippines campus. Meticulous research and unblemished integrity characterize David’s “Public Lives” column. It appears in a broadsheet with the most extensive reach.
In contrast, the majority of journalists cut down earlier were in remote places like Ampatuan town in Maguindanao. Some were radio “block-timers” with hazy credentials, a Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility study found in 2005. This pattern held—until Tuesday’s strafing. Is a sea change occurring in Murder Inc.?
“Every journalist killed or neutralized by terror is an observer less of the human condition” is also the lead sentence in a draft UN “plan of action on safety of journalists and the issue of impunity.”
This draft takes center stage on May 3. That’s when 193 Unesco members link up, in a cyberspace conference, to mark World Press Freedom Day (WPFD). Last Wednesday, the Philippines could display bullet holes in the Davids’ family car. But can we present the gunmen in handcuffs?
WPFD’s roots go back to the 1991 “Declaration of Windhoek.” Harassed African journalists published a restatement of free press principles. This prodded the UN General Assembly to designate May 3 as WPFD. Countries on this day gauge press freedom against yardsticks set in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
Compliance varies from cynical lip service by North Korea, Syria and China to emerging reforms in Burma (Myanmar), notes Reporters Without Borders in its 2012 report:
“China has more journalists, bloggers and cyber-dissidents in prison than any other country. It stepped up censorship and propaganda in 2011 and tightened its control of the Internet, particularly the blogosphere.”
Burma ranked 169 in 178 countries studied. Yangon implemented partial amnesties and eased censorship. Less than 10 journalists are still detained in a country of junta officials “reinvented as civilian politicians.”
Finland, Norway, Switzerland, the Netherlands and Canada led countries that respect liberty of expression. Two African countries—Cape Verde and Namibia—earlier joined the top 20 where “no attempts to obstruct media” were reported.
The Philippines? We’re in slot 140, wedged between Gambia and Uganda. Believe it or not, that’s an improvement. In 2009, we nose-dived due to the massacre of at least 30 media workers in Maguindanao.
Last Tuesday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) in New York published its 2012 survey. A dysfunctional justice system pegs us third among the four nations that fail to nail journalist murderers, the CPJ states. Iraq, Somalia and Sri Lanka are our fellow “black sheep.”
Since 1997, Unesco confers the Guillermo Cano Award on WPFD. The prize recalls Colombian editor Guillermo Cano Isaza who denounced drug barons. He was assassinated at El Espectador news offices in Bogotá.
Azjerbaijani editor Eynulla Fatallayer, 35, will receive the Cano Award on Wednesday. He was jailed for struggling to win press freedom, and has been pardoned in time for the rites.
The first Filipino journalist slain in 1961 was Antonio Abad Tormis of Cebu. The editor of the defunct Republic News, Tormis exposed corruption in the city treasurer’s office. Both gunman and treasurer were convicted of his killing.
Today, “in nine out of ten cases, perpetrators of these crimes are never prosecuted,” body counts by groups like the CPJ and the International Freedom of Expression Exchange show. “Impunity … perpetuates the cycle of violence against journalists.”
On the international level, the “deadliest” countries for journalists this year were Syria, six victims; Somalia, four; and one each for Brazil, Lebanon, Pakistan, Bahrain, Nigeria, India and Thailand. Syrian shelling in Homs killed Marie Colvin and Remi Ochlik of France. Of these victims, 47 percent were murdered. And impunity was total!
Since 1992, 72 Filipino journalists have been slain in the course of their work, a CPJ head count asserts. The majority covered political beats. Nine out of 10 were murdered. Only 9 percent got partial justice. Impunity resulted in 91 percent going scot-free.
“Is it necessary that journalism be a widow-maker craft?” Viewpoint asked in 2002. The Maguindanao massacre was then seven years away. That was already “one of the world’s worst records,” International Press Institute said at that time.
Inept law enforcers, linked to the underworld, and zero convictions, spawned a pernicious “culture of impunity.” President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo benefited politically by tolerating 132 private armies of local warlords, the Economist noted.
Freedom of expression is an individual right, for which no one should be killed, the WPFD draft says. Impunity results in a climate of intimidation, and violence leads to self-censorship. The draft proposes action at local and international levels.
When all is said and done, what matters is firm action by Filipinos. Can we really say nothing prepared us for Maguindanao? Viewpoint asked (Inquirer, 1/19/10). Did we fail to connect the dots yesterday? And did that lapse result in today’s widows of slain journalists—and Tuesday’s strafing of columnist Randy David’s home in UP?
“Journalism is humanized only through stark confrontation with reality,” Colombian editor and 1982 Nobel Prize winner Gabriel Garcia Marquez wrote. “Never has this profession been more dangerous.”
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