The 2009 Maguindanao massacre and the sad fact that justice continues to elude the victims were foremost in the minds of the delegates to the 9th Spectrum Fellowship National Campus Journalism conference held at Mambukal Resort in Negros Occidental.
The Spectrum is the official student media corps of the University of St. La Salle. There were about 60 participants in the recent conference coming not only from De La Salle but also from Far Eastern University, University of Sto. Tomas and University of San Agustin in Iloilo City.
They had an interesting range of topics. I came on the second day, and I caught up with the lectures of Ernie Sarmiento, formerly chief photographer of the Philippine Daily Inquirer, on photojournalism ethics, Philippine Star columnist Cito Beltran on opinion writing, GMA-7 (Iloilo)’s Rexcel Sorza on social media ethics, and RA Rivera on connecting through video.
I missed the talk the day earlier of Cagayan de Oro-based journalist Michael Barros and that of Manix Abrera on “Creating funny and relevant comics.”
Twenty-two year old Rob Cham’s presentation about giving the extra edge to online posts through graphic design was fun and interesting.
My talk was on investigative journalism.
One common message of all the speakers was honesty — being true to oneself.
Cito talked about the occupational hazards in practicing responsible journalism and one of them was incurring the ire of some people. He mentioned about death threats.
In my talk, I said that journalists in Manila are actually much “safer” in the sense that if anything happens to them they have the national media to cover that. Politicians and government officials, who are usually subjects of the reports, would have second thoughts of harming them considering the backlash that it would generate.
That does not apply though to police reporters or journalists who write about criminal syndicates. They deal with persons who kill people like they do with chicken. Those people don’t send death threats. They just kill.
Despite talks about rampant corruption among community journalists, I still salute them for carrying on.
It’s a different environment in the provinces, where it is more intimate, and the chance of being accosted by the person you are taking to task on your way to work or while following up a story is very high.
The situation can get sticky. That’s what happened in many of the 153 cases of journalists killed since 1986, when press freedom was restored. Thirty-two of those killings happened after the November 2009 Maguindanao massacre that shocked the world.
Red Batario of the Center for Community Journalism and Development wrote a stirring piece in remembrance of the victims of the Maguindanao massacre. He explained why he chose to march from Quezon Rotonda to Mendiola instead of joining the discussion on media corruption while savoring the coolness of Tagaytay where the annual Media Nation was held.
Red wrote: “The massacre was a beast that nearly eviscerated the community press in that part of Mindanao, demonstrating in horrific detail the vulnerability of journalists who live and work in the provinces and who have often been, and still are, put to task for, among other things, suborning the practice of journalism. They are often portrayed as easy prey for blandishments of many kinds or willing participants in rent-seeking and rent-giving. Or that they are paid hacks of politicians and are bereft of any ethical norm or standard. This may be partly true but realities on the ground present a different picture and context of the vulnerabilities faced by community journalists.
“But only they can tell with a certain amount of acuity and pathos the day-to-day challenges of practicing the craft in an environment that treats journalism and journalists as malleable avenues for advancing self interests…including media owners who consider reporters and staff as nothing but vassals.
“We at the Center for Community Journalism and Development cannot claim to represent them or to articulate their own thoughts and concerns. We can only provide them the opportunity, whenever and wherever it arises, and in this instance we had thought the coming of Media Nation9 would have given them that chance to tell their story and provide fresh insights in addressing those challenges.
“Their inability to participate in MN9 due to some logistical shortcomings puts into question the meeting’s priorities in terms of hearing a plurality of media voices especially from the community press, members of whom are often targets of violence. Because of corruption? Who knows? Only they can tell.
“While we have chosen to join the march to Mendiola for the commemoration of the 3rd anniversary of the Maguindanao Massacre, we bring with us also the hope that MN9 will send a strong message for all journalists, editors, reporters, staff, media owners, networks, publishing houses to seriously and squarely address issues that beset practitioners among which are economic security, personal safety, social welfare and professional standards the lack or absence of which leads to journalists’ vulnerability.
“Our call for an end to a culture of impunity is also a call for an end to media corruption. Our plea for justice for the victims of the Maguindanao massacre is a plea for a better understanding of the complex issues and challenges that beset community journalists in the Philippines.
“This is why we are in Mendiola and not in Tagaytay.”