Tag Archives: journalism

Supporters of PDP Laban candidate for President Rodrigo Duterte and Nationalista Party candidate for Vice President Alan Peter Cayetano await the arrival of the tandem at the University of the Philippines Diliman. Both were invited to CNN Philippines's Town Hall. Photo by KIM Quilinguing.

The Election (circus) is in town

Election season in the Philippines is often described by many to be akin to a circus. With all the colorful campaign paraphernalia, the flamboyant attire of candidates and supporters going about earning the confidence of voters, and all the lively exchanges between political bets on the media, one can easily gather an assessment of vibrant atmosphere the country and its people often find themselves every three years.

While it is difficult to find fault on which group is responsible for the sad state that politics, particularly the elections, have become in the country, how it is now perceived by the average Filipino, as being rowdy, full of hypocrisy, and even as a source of amusement, is shaped by how it is seen on television, reported on the radio and written on the newspapers. Continue reading

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Reflections on media killings

A member of the police Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) prepares to process the scene of the Maguindanao Massacre in November 2009. Photo from Japan Times (Photo from http://www.japantimes.co.jp/news/2014/11/23/asia-pacific/crime-legal-asia-pacific/old-wounds-still-fester-anniversary-philippines-worst-massacre/#.VWO4rE-qqkp)

A member of the police Scene of the Crime Operatives (SOCO) prepares for processing the scene of the Maguindanao Massacre in November 2009. Photo fromĀ Japan Times.

Growing up with a journalist father has always given me an idea of how risky the profession has been, particularly in the regional or local areas, where political and commercial interests hold sway over how journalists conduct themselves.

Despite those interests, I have also seen my father pursuing stories which he viewed to be necessary for the public good and for the creation of a more just and equitable society. And it was by his example that when I eventually went into journalism where dedication to ferreting out the truth and exerting efforts to balance stories became important aspects in the conduct of the profession.

Still my idealism then, when I went into the profession, was tempered by the reality that journalists in the country can easily be killed. And no amount of beautiful epithets or eulogies can bring back the lives of journalists murdered because of their devotion to revealing the truth. Continue reading

Between journalism and journalism

“First step in solving any problem, is recognizing there is one.” – Will McAvoy

Short as this line maybe, but it has stuck with me since I first watched The Newsroom. And although I might be watching the season finale in a few hours, I think this line will stay with me long after the series’s first season is done.

I must be honest though, I was not among those who waited for the season premier. And this was due to the words of critics who were not impressed with the first episode. But I decided to watch it anyway and that’s where I got hooked.

I’ve had my share of Sorkin films and series since then. A Few Good Men inspired me (partly) to go into law school. I tried to watch the West Wing as much as I could. And of course, Charlie Wilson’s War will always be my quick recommendation to someone who’s still in the dark as to how the American government saved and nourished Al Qaeda and the Taliban in Afghanistan.

The Newsroom is Sorkin’s indictment of the prevailing state of journalism or the lack of it. In the series he tried attacking how the newsrooms succumbed to the pressure exerted by ratings wars, management intrusions, and bastardization of editorial independence. He also tried to differentiate between journalism and journalism.

Continue reading

The Newsroom

Looks like I will be having a new TV series to follow. I had my reservations at first after coming across some negative reviews. But when I saw the first episode, I felt like it was a show I could very much relate to. This reminds me of days and nights in the newsrooms and TOCs.

Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s

I have not been able to post anything from my time spent in Cagayan de Oro. Although I spent the long weekend there for the feast of the city’s patron saint, St. Augustine of Hippo, and for much needed time with my family, I hardly had time to write down anything here. Probably because I spent most of the time talking with my parents, my siblings and Agnes. And whatever little time was left was spent on playing Facebook games.

But being that there were several thoughts which accumulated during the four-day break, I would like to put them down before they become a burden to my work back here in Quezon City. These thoughts have been going in and out of my mind and I thought I should get over them by having them shackled by letters and lines here.

It saddened me how my father has lost the love for writing and teaching what he knows about journalism to little kids. He has also decided to do away with his involvements with a mall and a local government unit in our area. My mother tells me that he lost his drive when he saw his articles being used by someone else who did nothing but insert a by line. And that someone had the audacity to post the articles online and tag my father. Dumb? Yes! That person obviously cannot come up with write ups as good as those made by my father and so, she got so envious, she had to put in her name and present them to her employer in the hope of gaining his favor.

Yeah, such human beings exist and I also have had my experience with those.

I had an editor who liked to paint me as incompetent and yet steal the lines from the articles I submitted and put in his name in the by line. Yes, his name alone. Yes, some people can be that brazen. And all because he thought that since he added a paragraph, changed a line or two, and went over the article time and again, he already had the power to claim it as his own (while making my superiors believe that I did not submit anything).

I could not fathom why these kind of persons actually exist and call themselves journalists. Probably they never had their glory days when they were still in the streets. Or probably their egos were so big they thought it would be nice to get employed as an editor without first being a reporter. And yet they still longed for the recognition and acclaim that reporters get (which editors don’t). Egos… It’s all about their egos.

I had been an editor myself and it was no easy feat. I was an editor for regional news in a TV broadcast company which ran stations from as far north as Cagayan Valley to as far south as Davao City. And it was my duty back then to scour the advisories from these stations and decide which ones to use as lobby chips for slots in the national news programs.

And whenever the stories are chosen, I always try to make the effort of getting the reporter to do the package instead of presenting them myself even if it was I who wrote the Tagalog or English scripts for reports which were in the local regional language. I always thought that it would be important to exercise the old rule that we “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.”

Of course, it’s different when the reporter waives his ownership over his story and gives me the go signal to claim the report; or if the senior desks and producers are such in a hurry that there is no more time to arrange for the reporter to voice the report himself. Where there was time, I usually passed it to the local reporter who gathered the story. That is his story. That is his moment. That is his piece of fine journalism.

But then again, maybe concepts such as attribution, appreciation of hard work and respect are gone for people like the “journalists” I described above. Maybe it is their egos which matter more to them than self-respect, self-worth and simple decency.

It is odd though that these egotistic “journalists” are usually the ones who act in public as if they are the epitome of the classical practitioner of the profession. As if they have done so much in the profession and accomplished so much that they should be held in high esteem. And yet, they continue to exploit the labors of others, claim it as their own, and feed their wanting selves.

I view these pitiful creatures as the scum of the profession, if not the earth. It is these individuals who drive people like my father, away from that with which they have dedicated their lives. They take away the souls of writers, the intergrity of journalists, and the dignity of the being. God have mercy on their person but I pray, and at the risk of sounding vindictive, that they be scourged by the heavens and that the fates would exact from their a suffering so painful they would regret they were even born.

Conflict and journalism: reporting on Mindanao

Catching up with an old friend yesterday, he told me something about his encounter with a Manila-based journalist and how that journo reacted to a video montage he produced. The Manilan was wondering as to why of all the things in Mindanao he can make a montage about, he chose war, or in conflict-sensitive journalism parlance, conflict, as the subject. My friend told the Manilan that it is conflict which has kept Mindanao from development and until that conflict is resolved, the inhabitants of the island will remain poor, deprived and exploited.

And then after talking to my old friend on the phone, I saw a Facebook status from a former colleague who has gone on to another country and another career. The status though betrays her shift to the new profession. As a reaction to the events that are happening in Libya, she said that if only she were still a journalist, she would have signed up for the assignment and covered the revolution with the rebels.

Both these former colleagues of mine used to be part of a team of Mindanao-based journalists who, back in the 1990s, ran after almost every case of kidnapping for ransom by armed groups, the Moro Islamic Liberation Front and the Moro National Liberation Front. They were also among the earlier group of journalists who were granted entry into the MNLF and MILF camps all over northwestern, central, southwestern Mindanao. In fact, it was their efforts which eventually prompted the creation of news bureaus in the area by the country’s biggest news organization.

These two would eventually become my mentors in my days (and nights in Mindanao). The other would be my cameraman, editor, driver and friend; while the other would be my news chief, constantly pushing me beyond my limits so that I may learn the ropes fast and be able to meet the demands of the professsion. The two however, have since then taken slower paces in life and have learned to view the conflict in Mindanao from different eyes.

But what’s the connection between wars (conflict) and Mindanao-based journalists?

Well, that would be a long story. But to cut it short, Mindanao has always been the fertile ground upon which hopeful journalists would try their luck and come up with big stories on war, poverty, corruption and political clans. And when these stories make the headlines, these journos hope that they would be elevated in their own offices and garner acclaim not only within their own agencies, but in the circles of the profession itself.

Of course, this was before the concepts of peace and conflict journalism; the multi-stakeholder approach; and as mentioned earlier, conflict-senstive journalism, were introduced by journos who also frequently covered conflicts in places like East Africa, the former Yugoslavia, and Palestine. These new concepts also added to the already flourishing specialized field in journalism which had Bob Woodward and Carl Benstein as its standard bearers: investigative journalism. The introduction of these new concepts in journalism eventually shifted the ultimate aspiration of every journalist from becoming a war correspondent to becoming an investigative journalist out to promote freedom, justice and peace.

But for journalists in Mindanao, the conflict has not ended yet. And despite efforts to promote a greater adherence to journalistic ethics and conflict-sensitive journalism, there are still practitioners who have caught on an old habit which may take a long time to do away with. For some of these journalists, including my old friend who I mentioned earlier, trainings in peace and conflict journalism have helped them slant their reportage from one which encourages conflict to one which promotes dialogue and peaceful resolution.

There are a few however who still love to sow seeds of mistrust between the government and the insurgents. And instead of filing reports which would renounce conflict and illustrate the costs of waron the people, they concoct stories which only add more fuel to an already fiery environment. What is noticeable however is that these war-mongering and saber-rattling reports usually come from young and ambitious journalists wanting to attain quick fame (remember what I said earlier?) and go on to become news anchors, block-timers or columnists.

For the old guard though, those who have seen the conflict since the 1970s; those who have seen civilians getting caught in the crossfire; those who have seen the bakwits in the squalid conditions of the evactuation camps; those who have seen Mindanao deteriorate through the years with foreign investors leaving due to the unresolved conflict, the purpose of reportage on the conflict has changed.

In recent years, reportage on Mindanao by Mindanao-based journalists has shifted from focusing on the efforts of the military and the insurgents to that of the effect of the conflict on the people in the areas affected. Instead of constantly waiting for the division or task force spokesperson to issue updates, journos have taken more time to visit the evacuation camps, the disturbed communities, and the families of those who have lost loved ones to the folly of armed men. 

The focus of Mindanao-based reportage has become the condemnation of the use of arms in the struggle against neglect, discrimination and exploitation. I hope though that this shift in reportage will eventually make heads in Manila, instead of pursuing war for peace, tread on the path of peace for peace in Mindanao.

The Documentor and the Instigator

Journalism, as with most professions has two sides. You have one, which is taught in the schools and often romanticized by most of those who have often lived away from the field – the objective journalist. And the more infamous, yet formed by the interaction with the people on the ground and other stakeholders the journalist often makes stories of – the biased journalist.

Often times, the difference between the two goes unnoticed, especially if the news stories the journalist produces, suits the prevailing public mood. A journalist is often times denounced only when his work goes against the grain of public opinion. But how different really is one from the other? How can one tell when one is merely reporting or when one is already promoting something? What is the difference between the documentor and the instigator?

A documentor is a person often tasked to write about or record the events which transpire in a particular phenomenon. The documentor takes notes on everything that happens, regardless of who is doing what, or what is doing what. He jots down everything, whild his photographer or cameraman records everything. And he does not distinguish right from wrong nor good from bad. He just records everything.

An instigator on the other hand makes stories on toppics which the journalist hold dear to his or her heart. If one was a student leader in his university years and he is assigned to cover the education sector, there is the tendency that he will be putting more weight on the statements from the students in stories of tuition feee increases, rather than those words which come from the school administrators. If the journo came from a farming family, then he is most probable to take the side of farmers rather than the landlord in cases of agrarian reform. 

The instigator takes a partcular bias towards one side of the argument in an issue. And his story is not merely a reportage of an event, about a person, or on a phenomenon. Rather it also serves to attract attention and as a call to action. Usually this type of journo takes the side of disadvantaged, the exploited, and the victim. His story would then focus more on the experience of the underdog rather than the justification of the overlord. And so you don’t really have a journalist according to the supposed objective as defined in the classroom.

But while the definitions and ideals of journalism are very much clear in the halls of the educational institutions and the confines of the houses of those who tend to criticize the media, the same catchphrases and punch lines in the profession get a different meaning in the field.

Most journalists often start off as individuals dreaming of writing about the truth. Whether is be the truth about an event, a person, or a place, it does not matter, so long as the person satisfies himself or herself with reporting the “truth.” Often times, this reportage, made in a void beyond the social and political currents, is mainly composed of facts and figures and reported as much as possible, in the most detached manner. It is objective.

When the same journalist writes a story about say, the arrest of a group of individuals, and he bases his story on the police report; the statement from the neighbors and family of the suspect; the statement from the complainant; and the statement of the suspect, his story is viewed as objective since it covered the primary stakesholders that are involved in the event.

The story though takes a different turn when the journalist would unitentionally (or intentionally) highlight one side of the argument over the other. When the reporter gives more exposure and quotes from the side of the suspect, he is viewed as biased. When he also quotes more from the side of the victim, he is also called biased. The mere added exposure of facts from either side, gives the other side the impression that the journalist is favoring one side of the argument. And the report then is called unbalanced.

When one covers a demolition case from the confines of the court, he has the tendency to side with the owner of the land since the informal settlers are deemed as violators of a property legally owned by an individual who used his hard-earned money to buy the land.

But when the same reporter is sent to cover the actual demolition, and he witnesses the destruction of house, the wailing informal settlers, and the violence of the demolition team against the settlers, he would later feel more for the informal settlers than the owner of the land. Such is the difference being on the field makes.

It is difficult to choose if one should remain objective or biased. It is all the more a burden to decide whether one should remain a documentor or an instigator. Difficult because the theories learned in class and the experience in the field come into conflict. A burden because the weight of principles of objectivity go against the empathy felt by the journo for people on the ground.

The border between these two shades of journalism is actually porous. So porous that journalists often cross from one side to the other and vice-versa. And this is why it is difficult to tell whether one is mere reporting facts or already being a propagandist.

Oftentimes, the red flag is only hoisted when the a journalist has made stories based plainly on one side of an argument. Then again, I doubt if such stories get past diligent editors. Unless of course, the editor has also chosen a side to root for during his days in the field as a reporter.