Media confab tackles risks faced by journalists in PH

CEBU CITY (MindaNews/04 October) – Ensuring the relative safety of journalists was the focus of the 8th Media Nation at the Marco Polo Plaza here last week with the discussions revolving around the country’s reputation as a most dangerous place for the journalism profession.

About 80 executives and reporters of news organizations in the country engaged in what organizers considered 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.

During the plenary and workshop sessions, the participants agreed that while the risks are inherent in the profession these can be mitigated by an effective justice system.

Aside from the embedded risks, the low level of skills, unethical behavior, and corruption were also cited as some of the reasons for the violence against journalists, although it was clarified that these can never justify the killings and other acts of reprisal.

One of the most impassioned discussions was on the question of who are journalists, a question that surfaced amid the different statistics on media killings.

According to one source, 121 of the 180 journalists killed in the Philippines since 1986 died in the line of duty. Most of the 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, the report said 49 of the victims were from print; 48 from radio; 14 from radio and print; and six from television.

Some participants said a big number of those killed are either radio “block timers” or “hao-siao” (pseudo media), hence the need to clearly define who really is a journalist. But others countered that many of the block timers were hard-hitting commentators and not corrupt.  A participant from a television network said some of the block timers were fierce critics of President Marcos.

About 70 percent of the block timers are said to be financed by politicians, the remaining 30 percent by businessmen.

Aside from the problem of professionalism and corruption, the participants pointed out the lack of standards among media owners in hiring journalists. One participant cited the practice of a media owner in his home city who would just give press ID cards and leave his reporters to fend for themselves, as he would not give salaries.

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

“One way to defend yourself is to improve your craft. Also address those internal problems on corruption,” suggested another.

But unlike other media conferences, the gathering, like in previous Media Nations, did not end with any resolution or declaration.

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

The convenors announced that the next Media Nation may focus on the issue of corruption in the media. (Walter I. Balane/MindaNews)