Davao journalists discussimprovement of reportage on human rights

The forum, “Media Sharing on Reporting and Training for Human Rights in Davao City,” brought together editors, station managers and senior reporters from print, radio, television and online publications who discussed reportage of human rights including instances where the media served as witting or unwitting tools of the police and the military in violating individual rights.

Former journalist now lawyer Carlos Isagani Zarate of the Union of Peoples’ Lawyers in Mindanao (UPLM) asked “Is media violating human rights?” as he cited examples of reports showing journalists uncritically echoing police and military versions of arrested suspects readily admitting to crimes especially in controversial cases. Zarate said journalists often do not consider if the statements of suspects were made under duress.

Zarate said that in certain cases, reporters readily play the role of interrogators of the suspects without the presence of their lawyers in police-organized press conferences.

Zarate explained that the police normally resort to such practice to avoid being charged with violating the rights of suspects to counsel and using his or her statement in court.

“There are a lot instances where convictions were only based on interviews conducted by the media. That is where our responsibility as journalists begin,” Zarate said as he cited the Miranda rights.

Carolyn Arguillas, MindaNews editor said, “that’s the problem. Not every journalist knows what the Miranda rights are.”

Zarate said journalists must be aware and must make the public aware of the suspects’ rights under the Miranda doctrine – among them, the right to remain silent and refuse to answer questions; the right to counsel of his/her own choice; and that even if suspects have no money, government can appoint a lawyer to represent him/her.

Amalia Bandiola-Cabusao, editor of  Mindanao Times, noted that a glaring police-sponsored rights violations which the media tolerates and reports is the humiliating presentation of suspects in orange shirts marked with “detainee.”

Cabusao, who presented a situationer on the Davao City media and its reportage on human rights issues, said many of the news outlets in Davao City are independent “but are they free?”

Arguillas said the media in Davao City is generally timid and afraid of Mayor Rodrigo Duterte.

Zarate said that part of the growing problem in human rights reporting is media’s reliance on “official” government and military sources while shying away from “alternative” sources of news.

Cabusao noted that the media has also missed out in reporting other aspects of human rights in particular matters concerning economic, socio-political and cultural rights.

Arguillas said reporters should at the minimum, know the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Bill of Rights under the 1987 Philippine Constitution and in covering evacuations, the UN Guiding Principles on Internal Displacement.

Other journalists also reflected on rights violations committed against them in the form of low wages and lack of security of tenure.

Jun Duterte of DXDC, representative of the National Union of Journalist in the Philippines-Davao City chapter, said the problem on lack of security of tenure also gave rise to corruption in media.

The media sharing here is part of a series of media discussions nationwide on reporting human rights, in preparation for trainings on how to improve reportage. These discussions and trainings are a component of the Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project (http://rightsreporting.net/) of the Institute of War and Peace Reporting, in cooperation with the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, Center for Community Journalism and Development and MindaNews.

Alan Davis, a British reporter and IWPR Director for Strategy and Assessment, said the concerns raised here reflect the condition of human rights reporting in other parts of the country.

Davis said one condition that gave rise to the problems on human rights reporting is the system of beat reporting employed by news organizations nationwide. He said the system makes media reactive to the news agenda set by the government and other groups rather than play a more active role  in being society’s guardian.

But Davis said that while the media is part of the problem of human rights in the country, it can also be part of the solution. Reporters here discussed plans on improving reportage, among them trainings on the basics of human rights and fieldwork trainings on reporting rights issues.

Davis also urged journalists to visit the project website. (Jowel F. Canuday/MindaNews)