MALAYBALAY CITY (MindaNews / 02 March) — In a commentary published on February 28 by MindaNews, Paul Mart Jeyand J. Matangcas, who describes himself as a freelance journalist, presents a critique of how Philippine media has performed in the field of environmental journalism. He tries to highlight its supposed shortcomings — or perhaps, defects — vis-a-vis his insights from a training in Kenya.
Yes, there’s a need for Philippine media to improve its coverage of environmental issues, including those concerning the indigenous peoples and disasters as effects of either climate change or human activities. For these, Matangcas implies the need for a “solutions-based” approach to journalism. It isn’t enough to limit reporting to a presentation of facts, he argues.
In addition, Matangcas surmises that by focusing on the struggles of indigenous peoples, Philippine media is reducing them “to mere portraits of poverty who need saving.” The crux of his argument is that the indigenous peoples are not finding enough space inside news rooms.
Related to this is the following paragraph in Matangcas’ commentary:
“As journalists, our work is anchored on facts, especially at a time of massive disinformation in public and digital spaces. However, in those moments of finding out whether it is indeed raining or not, let us be reminded that our role as journalists is to amplify the voices of those we claim to serve. We are not the voice of the voiceless nor are we the representatives of disenfranchised communities because they’ve always had a voice, the problem lies within institutions that continue to shut them out of conversations in the first place.”
I thought at first that when the author says “the problem lies within institutions that continue to shut them out of conversations in the first place,” he is alluding to entities with vested interests like business and the government itself. But he follows it up with “It’s about time we listened.” Following logic, “we” could only mean the media.
The first question that comes to mind is this: How can a journalist who reports about the plight of indigenous peoples — in effect, enabling them to articulate their problems and sentiments — be accused of stifling their voice at the same time? As far as I can recall, Philippine media has amply expounded on issues affecting indigenous communities such as the Kaliwa Dam project, mining, and attendant human rights abuses.
Nonetheless, the author may be right in some of the general points he presents, some of which could serve as something for other journalists to ponder on. Yet, he could have made his position clearer, if not more convincing, with concrete situations and how media outlets treated these in their reports. As it is, the article is written in broad strokes, sorely lacking in details that would have substantiated his observations.
Another thing that remains vague is the relevance of Kenya’s situation and experience to the Philippine setting. Matangcas’ article doesn’t say if there are parallelisms between the two countries in as far as environmental issues — and the respective manners these are reported — are concerned that would serve as “lessons”.
Still, my hats off to this young man for opening what he believes to be a can of worms. The journalism profession needs more of his kind.
(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno has written extensively on the environment and indigenous peoples. He can be reached at email@example.com.)