SOMEONE ELSE’S WINDOWS: Journalists as a major problem in HR reporting. By H. Marcos C. Mordeno

The regional office of the Commission on Human Rights conducted an investigation. Military higher-ups, however, did not give credence to CHR’s findings which implied there was sufficient proof to indict the operatives. It was a “legitimate military operation,” so they declared.

But while the military leadership has, in effect, admitted the culprits are soldiers, it was unwilling to divulge their names, CHR regional director Jose Manuel Mamauag lamented. The same official said the working relation between their office and the armed forces leaves much to be desired. “There is no room for improvement,” he quipped in a forum held here on Monday.

If the military dislikes the idea of working with the CHR, a constitutional body tasked to help safeguard the rights of citizens, it’s not hard to imagine its attitude towards non-government sectors that act as watchdogs against the violations of these rights. Yet the uncooperative stance of the military towards the CHR is just one of the many obstacles confronting groups here who wanted to see justice done for the victims of the Maimbung massacre and other abuses that stemmed from the military’s goal of wiping out lawlessness in Sulu and neighboring islands.

The reporting itself of human rights violations (read military abuses) in this region hardly does justice to the victims. Many reporters find it a matter of obligation to bite the military’s version of incidents hook, line and sinker. Worse, journalists whose reports refute the military’s version find themselves ostracized and labeled “leftists” or “radicals”. Fr. Angel Calvo of Peace Advocates Zamboanga summed it up when he said: The media have become instruments of power instead of giving voice of the victims.

Compounding the problem is the prevalence of the “scoop” mentality which greatly affects the accuracy of reports, an attitude that plagues journalists not only in Zamboanga City but also in other parts of the country. This has resulted in reports that lack analysis and a deeper investigation of causes and don’t go beyond the 5Ws and 1H, Fr. Calvo noted.

The whole situation gets worse when the stories reach the hands of editors who treat reports coming from the field in a “chop-chop” manner. These are the editors who love to piece together selected details from the different reports into a single article. The results are disjointed stories lacking in depth and context despite the wealth of details.

And if readers care to scrutinize, they would find out that most reports rely on the usual sources – military and civil officials. The victims seldom get ample space or air time.

Forum participants made some suggestions on how these gaps in reporting human rights violations in this backdoor region may be addressed. Among the measures proposed are the creation of a monitoring system for cases, training communities in documentation, and an alternative form of information dissemination, e.g., through newsletters and blogs and/or websites.

But while these moves are significant, it has remained necessary to embark on programs that will change the attitude of journalists towards human rights reporting.

(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. H. Marcos C. Mordeno received in 1987 the Jose W. Diokno Award for winning in a national editorial writing contest sponsored by Ang Pahayagang Malaya and the family of the late senator.)