SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Human rights and the perils of reporting

MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 24 January) – Last week, I facilitated two sessions of a training on human rights reporting organized by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism. One was held in Butuan City and the other in Cagayan de Oro City.

It’s heartening to note that the participants, mostly young blood in the profession, showed enthusiasm in framing their reporting from a human rights perspective; they consider it a part of their duty as journalists. At the same time though they expressed apprehensions that it could get them into trouble with the authorities and other parties involved. Some of them have in fact experienced brushes with individuals in power who happened to be the subjects of [their] unfavorable reports.

Reporters who refuse to toe the line would encounter difficulties in getting access to police reports and other official documents due to the “rules” set by the agencies involved. This holds true for both “ordinary” suspects and suspects who happen to be influential or high ranking officials, but more pronounced in the case of the latter. They also complained that the police would bar them from interviewing suspects in detention.

These limitations have led to reports that lacked verification and fact-checking. Moreover, many of the stories lacked the proper context for failure to get sufficient details on what happened before, during and after an incident.

As one of the participants lamented: “Sometimes we might have been guilty of violating the rights of the suspects because we failed to get their side or that of the witnesses. Our information was mostly limited to official sources.”

Worst, perhaps, is being red-tagged for reporting on human rights violations committed by security forces in particular, which has happened to some journalists in both regions.

Others experienced being bashed and subjected to insults and harassment on social media.

In addition to tackling the common problems faced by journalists, the training also introduced them to human rights concepts and principles, and the interrelatedness of civil-political rights and social, economic and cultural rights. There was a session as well on the nexus between human rights and journalism.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno can be reached at hmcmordeno@gmail.com.)