Media groups ask PDI to apologize for “security risk’ caption

DAVAO CITY (MindaNews/10 May) – The Philippine Daily Inquirer “owes an apology and an explanation to the public, to Muslims and to its own staff photographer” for “such a blatantly bigoted caption”  that accompanied Wednesday’s front page photo of a woman in burqa, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said in a statement.

Also asking for a “retraction and printing a public apology to the offended parties” is  the organization of photojournalists – the Philippine Center for Photojournalism (PCP) which called the caption’s  heading “uncalled for, insensitive and even libelous.”

The caption NUJP and PCP referred to reads:  “SECURITY RISK? President Aquino greets a Muslim woman wrapped in a burka and niqab during the oath-taking of officers in charge of the ARMM Regional Legislative Assembly held in Malacañang on Tuesday. The unidentified woman is reportedly a relative of one of the officers.”

But the one-star or first edition of PDI distributed in cities like Davao and Cotabato had this caption:  “PALACE GUEST. President Aquino greets a Muslim woman garbed in a burka during the oath-taking of officers in charge of the ARMM Regional Legislative Assembly held in Malacanang on Tuesday. The unidentified woman is a relative of one of the officers.

Zamboanga City had both first and second editions.

The “unidentified woman” is Estrellita Tan Yap who embraced the Islamic faith when she married and is now known as Nurjanah Mitmug. Nurjanah, which means “light of paradise” or “light of heaven,” is the wife of Civil Service Commissioner Rasol Lamping Mitmug and  mother of  newly-appointed ARMM assemblyman Rasol Mitmug, Jr.

In a statement, the Philippine Center for Photojournalism (PCP) said the heading in the photo caption is “uncalled for, insensitive and even libelous” and  requests PDI to “exercise the proper course of action by issuing a retraction and printing a public apology to the offended parties.”

“Although the burka is frowned upon in some Western societies, it remains to be part of the culture of Islamic societies. We believe labeling a dress a security risk does not take into account the nuances of the Islamic culture. It is also an affront to the minority Muslim population of this country that a symbol of Muslim culture is labeled outright a security risk and further fuels the stereotyping of our Muslim brothers as terrorists,”  Fernando Sepe Jr., PCP chair, said.

In a statement, the NUJP said it is “disturbing that the paper cleared such a blatantly bigoted caption, especially after the firestorm of criticism it reaped in the wake of the Demetrio Vicente fiasco, when PDI ran a series of unflattering photos of the stroke victim when he appeared at the impeachment trial of Chief Justice Renato Corona and labeled it ‘Character witness.’”

“Clearly, the PDI owes an apology and an explanation to the public, to Muslims and to its own staff photographer,” the NUJP said, noting that “because of the caption writer’s irresponsibility, the blame might be unfairly laid on the photographer whose byline accompanies the photograph.”

“Needless to say, it should also promise to be extra careful never to let this happen again,” the NUJP said.

The PCP, in its letter to PDI, said that part of its mission when they set up the organization in 1997 was to “establish professionalism in the industry and to promote the ethical practice of photography in the Philippines.”

“We therefore deem it our role to cite instances detrimental to our profession, such as this incident, and call the responsible party/ies to action,” the PCP said.

Lawyer Laisa Alamia, newly-appointed director of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) in the Autonomous Region in Muslim Mindanao (ARMM)  in her personal posting on Facebook said the use of “security risk” in the caption “makes it appear that Muslim women in the country, particularly those wearing burqas (and in my experience, even the ordinary veil), are security risks. I thought this only happens in airports or malls. For a national paper such as PDI to also subject Muslims to this kind of treatment is the height of it all.”

In a text message, Alamia said the media is a very powerful institution in our society and along with other sectors, “has a major responsibility in shaping perceptions and mindsets of the people in the mainstream.”

OIC Assemblyman Mitmug, a member of the staff of Senator Teofisto Guingona before his appointment,  told MindaNews  that when he saw the photograph of  the President shaking his mother’s hand,  he was “very happy.”

“Pag naka-burqa kasi, mahirap pumara taxi. Sinsundan sa mall. Hirap sa inspection. (When she’s using a burqa, it’s difficult to hail a cab.  She is being followed in the mall. She has difficulties during inspection). Pero with the President happy acknowledging her presence and being highlighted is very redeeming and very happy. I bet ganun din mom. Then nag-flood mga text,” he said.

Mitmug said in his excitement seeing his mom on the front page, he did not immediately notice the caption. He said he would write the newspaper.

The photograph,  taken by Lyn Rillon, was not the subject of criticism. The heading “security risk?” was.

Warina Jukuy of Sulu, who wears a burqa, wrote in her blog that instead of “security risk,” the caption could have been written differently.

“Why write ‘SECURITY RISK?’ as a caption? Shoulda been: PROVEN SECURITY RISK NOT AT ALL! or A Historic Handshake Erasing Histrionics About Security Risk!”  Jukuy said.

As of 5 p.m. Thursday, PDI had yet to respond to NUJP and PCP.  (MindaNews)

UPDATE: PDI posted an apology on its website at 1:55 a.m. Friday, below the letters of PCP and NUJP.

It said: “So very sorry. We say so sorry to those who have taken offense over the caption head (“Security Risk?”) for the photo of President Benigno Aquino III shaking the hand of a Muslim woman garbed in a burqa, which appeared on Page 1 of the May 9 issue of the Inquirer. We are especially sorry to have hurt the feelings of our Muslim brothers and sisters. —Editors”