News summit tackles media’s defense vs. violence

CEBU CITY (Bukidnon News Dispatch/03 October)– Who are journalists? Why are journalists being killed? How should journalists defend themselves against violence?

These are only some of the questions asked during the 8th Phillippine Summit on the News Media (Media Nation 8 ) from Sept. 30 to Oct. 1 in Marco Polo Plaza here, where the focus was on the country’s reputation as “..the most dangerous place for journalists.”

About 80 leaders of news media organizations in the country engaged in what organizers considered as a no holds-barred talk shop “to explore the heart of the matter and propose solutions to the festering problem of violence against journalists in our time,” according to Pagbabago@pilipinas, a major Media Nation convener.

According to summit facilitator Chito Salazar’s summary, it appeared during plenary and workshop discussions that the three main potential causes of the perpetuation of violence against the media is the nature of the profession what with all its risks; and a mix of internal and external factors including different issues confronting professionalism and sustainability of the practice journalism in communities.

For the concern on the inherent risks that go with the nature of the job, participants proposed that mechanisms must be put in place to reduce the risks and the need for the country’s justice and police systems to address the needs when violence happens.

Yvonne Chua of Vera Files cited a check on the existing internal mechanisms of the media and find out which ones worked, needed improvements among others.  She added the need to engage in media literacy.

Aside from the embedded risks of being journalists, participants also discussed internal issues confronted by the news media practitioners referring to issues of skills, professional ethics, issues of corruption, ownership, and other economic issues.

One of the most-heated discussions focused on the question of who are journalists in the context of the lack of unity in the count for victims of media killings in the country.

Ed Lingao of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism reported in his power point presentation on the overview of the violence against media in the Philippines that 121 of the 180 journalists killed in the Philippines since 1986, died in the line of duty.

But Lingao said only 10 of the 121 killings have resulted in conviction. About 65 cases, he added, are dead cases. The most number of cases happened during the Arroyo administration, 79; Corazon Aquino, 21; Ramos, 11; Estrada, 6; and Aquino III, 6 so far.

Counting in the victims of the Ampatuan massacre in 2009, Lingao reported that 49 of the victims were from print; 48 from radio; 14 from radio and print altogether; and six from television news media.

Some participants said a big number of those killed are either radio block timers or “hao-siao” (pseudo media) so there is a need to check the list and define who is a journalist. But there was no consensus on this as some others assert that it is the work of police and that some of those killed were not corrupt.

Aside from the problem of professionalism and corruption, another issue that emerged in the plenary discussions was the ownership of media entities, including a problem of lack of mechanisms in controlling the hiring of qualified practitioners. Another set of problems dwelt on the economic aspect with some community journalists having problems from being given only a press card in exchange for the work or those facing contractualization forcing them to source income through other means.

There was also a concern raised on the lower capital needed to put up a radio station, with some radio networks making franchising much cheaper but forcing provincial operators to depend on block timers. About 70 percent of the block timers in the country are financed by politicians. The remaining 30 percent are financed by businessmen.  Ma. Salvacion Varona, of ABS-CBN, former editor in chief of the Philippine Graphic, said some of the block timers were fierce critics of Marcos before.

But aside from issues internal to the media sector, a number of external issues also emerged as having impact on the violence against the media.

In the discussions, participants commonly identify a so-called break down in governance resulting in killings of not only journalists; farmers, politicians, teachers, activists, among others get killed out of a culture of impunity in the country.

It was said that the killings of journalists dwells in socio-political, economic realities; in the culture of and history of corruption and other realities among these, the increasing influence of political dynasties.

“If the communities were much more transparent, it could have made it easier for journalists, too,” one participant said.

Among the recommendations in the two-day discussions is the setting of standards, potential partnership between national and community newspapers to improve the work conditions, a possible reorganization of the country’s various media organizations,  and efforts in the professionalization of journalism.

Other participants asserted that the media owners should also be involved in discussions about violence against media as they have the control on the hiring of journalists.

“It’s not about us journalists. Media owners control it. Media owners should set high standards in hiring journalists,” another participant said.

Vincent Lazatin of the Transparency and Accountability Network, one of the summit’s conveners, said the media should set high standards by “pushing the envelope” or by confronting the problems head on, setting the standards.

“One way to defend yourself is to improve your craft; also address those internal problems on corruption,” he added.

Another participant said to deal with the problems, the media community should go supporting independent initiatives that has worked.

Pachico Seares of Sun-Star Cebu and the Cebu Citizen Media Council said in Cebu they have initiated and sustained a sort of “friendly and fierce” competition that influences not only the pages but also the way journalists relate to each other.

But he said a lot can be done about the problems of violence against in the media in the news room.

“Leadership in the news room; It’s useless to have standards without someone implementing it. There has to be accountability,” he said.

Ma. Aurora Fajardo of the Center for Community Journalism and Development said the weight to work against violence does not rest on the journalists alone.

“The state has control, it has the duty of care,” she added citing some resolutions made in a previous conference with the International News Safety Institute. “

Organizers said they did not intend to let participants sign a declaration at the end of the summit.

“We don’t impose; hopefully there will be voluntary change,” said one of the facilitators.

The convenors of the summit announced that the next Media Nation summit may have to focus on “Corruption in the media”. (Walter I. Balane/Bukidnon News)

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