A ‘block-timer nation’?
Keynote speaker at MediaNation 8 held in Cebu last weekend was former Isabela Gov. Grace Padaca.
Despite her historic feat of unseating a political dynasty in her province and serving as a role model for a new generation of young politicians, Padaca felt right at home in the gathering. As she explained, she has experience in both government and media. Before her surprising win, Padaca was better known to her province-mates as “Bombo Grace,” being a radio commentator known for her hard-hitting commentaries.
But even the Dy family, which had been dominant in Isabela politics for decades and came in for their fair share of “Bombo Grace’s” stinging commentaries, had to concede that she was at least fair in her observations. “They never really got angry at me, at least hindi bonggang-bongga (not thoroughly incensed) while I was a broadcaster. I earned their animosity only when I decided to run for office one year after I left broadcasting,” she noted.
Her radio background, though, did not prevent the local media from hitting her once she won office. Having thus experienced both sides of the media treatment, Padaca had some choice words of advice. “Do not use the power of the microphone for your own gain,” she declared. “Do not use the power of media to take undue advantage.”
While condemning the killing of media people, Padaca said she could understand somewhat the motives of those who order or pay for the killings. “When the powerful cannot expect fairness from a broadcaster or journalist, they might feel that (they have no recourse but) to silence the person.”
She also cautioned against the fashion of bombast and relentless attacks, bemoaning that “a great number of people are being exposed to so much anger and bitterness,” wondering if in the process the Philippines is not becoming a “block-timer nation.”
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MEDIANATION 8 was not the first time the issue of media killings has been raised. Almost from the start of this annual gabfest among media professionals, organized by [email protected], primarily by [email protected] president Bart Guingona, the killing of media men and women has been a primary concern. Neither has MediaNation been the only venue for media people gathering to share insights and suggestions on how to end the killings.
Last November, to mark the first anniversary of the infamous Maguindanao Massacre where 32 media men and women were killed, 104 delegates to the first “Media Conference on the Protection of Journalists” held in Cebu issued a “Call to Action” that contains several “do-able” steps to be taken to bring an end, or at least minimize, the killings of journalists.
The Call to Action starts with an injunction to government, stating that “the State, with all its agencies and instrumentalities, is primarily responsible for the safety of all citizens including the news media.” It called for an end to “the culture of impunity” that has allowed the killings to continue, what with a mere 8 percent of cases ending in conviction, with 54 percent considered “cold cases.”
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The Call to Action likewise urges owners of news organizations to “develop, implement and institutionalize” what it called “Duty of Care” for all news personnel. This includes “appropriate safety, first aid, and trauma training, equipment and insurance or other financial provision(s) for death or disability when (personnel) cover dangerous stories such as wars and other forms of conflict, crime and corruption, natural and human-induced disaster, and health emergencies.” It adds: “Such provision must be non-discriminatory and cover staff, freelancers, stringers, media support staff, talents, and other contract workers.”
To ensure protection for freelancers and stringers, the Call to Action urges both mainstream media and freelancers to “help ensure each other’s safety in hostile environments,” while suggesting that everyone “work together… in employing conflict-sensitive reporting especially when covering situations of crisis and violence.”
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Among the materials distributed to MediaNation 8 participants in Cebu was a pamphlet, in a small, handy format, titled “Tabang! [Help!] Safety Guide for Cebu Journalists,” published and released by the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC). The manual’s contents, wrote Pachico Seares, executive director of the CCPC and retired newspaper editor, were drawn not just from international experts but also from community resource persons in consultations convened by the council.
How was it possible for normally fractious media to get together long enough to produce a manual on safety for journalists? Eileen Mangubat, publisher and editor in chief of Cebu Daily News, explained that “In Cebu, the media are quite united. We get together each year to celebrate Press Freedom Week and we are able to cooperate on projects and common issues.”
The manual provides a number of tips on covering such practical concerns as “covering natural and human-induced disasters,” “covering public health emergencies,” “covering typhoons,” and “covering hostage-taking crises, police raids, prison uprisings, terrorist actions.”
In a section headlined “When targeted,” the manual states that: “One of the best defenses against attack is good, ethical journalism. Provide accurate and balanced reporting. Do not be a corrupt journalist.”
Indeed some of those who took part in MediaNation 8 sardonically wondered why there was so much emphasis on skills training and ethical practices when media people weren’t the ones killing media people.
But unprofessional, unethical journalism not just angers targets and invites retaliation. It also dampens the sympathy generated by the killing of any journalist, and creates cynicism that would be the death of us all.
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