Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Peace Journalism and the Cynics in Us

By Mike Banos

WE just came back Monday from Davao city after attending a seminar-workshop on Peace and Conflict Journalism at the Eden Resort in the hills above D.C. Joining me for the Northern Mindanao journalists were the"Cardinal of Lanao" from Linamon, Lanao del Norte, Richel Umel; Aping Bergado, freelance combat videographer extraordinaire; Ryan Rosauro of Business World from Ozamiz City, Misamis Occidental; Aurell Arais of DXDB Radyo Bandilyo in Malaybalay City and Ben Balce of Gold Star Daily.

The seminar-workshop was organized by PECOJON (Peace and Conflict Journalism Network), a group of international journalists started in Bacolod City but with headquarters in Germany who banded together in a commitment for responsible and constructive conflict reporting aimed at peaceful solutions to root causes of conflict. It was supported by InWEnt or Internationale Beiterbildung und Entwicklung gGmbH (Capacity Building Internationale, Germany), an organization for international human resources development, advanced training and dialogue.

In the van, as always, were the grizzled veterans of combat reporting in Mindanao, like Julie Alipala of PDI, John Unson of Philippine Star, Al Jacinto of, Malu Manar of NDBC, Boy Punzalan of PNA-Cotabato, Rommel Rebollido of PNA, Charlie Senase of PDI & Mindanao Cross, Aqui Zonio of PDI-Gensan and of course, His Grace Richel and Froi from our region, to name a few.

Not to say the others knew or were less because of their age and experience, but those in this "veterans" group were the most vocal, having been the most in the line of fire, so to speak. Neither to fault our Bacolod-based German facilitator Antonia Koop (promptly christened with the Pinay nickname Toyang by the older folks), who experienced combat reportage on her own in Palestine , Israel and Kenya as a journalist and filmmaker
Here we all deferred to the veterans, since they've been there, done all that.

Being most under fire and already having lost quite a number of comrades-in-arms as a result of the various conflicts which always seem to be just simmering under the surface of Mindanao's verdant greenery, most if not all of those present were all for Peace Journalism as explained by Toyang.

But, similarly, as already experienced by most everyone, especially those whose reports pass through a news desk and/or editor based in Manila and who usually have no idea of what's going on in Mindanao, much less the geography of the place, it's easier said than done. Time and resources seem to be the most prevalent problem in tackling the status quo.

Set for only two days, a plain discussion of the problems encountered by the Mindanao Press in attempting to inculcate Peace Journalism in their reportage is hardly enough time to take a good look at the problems, much less explore solutions to it.

Worse, the prevalent perception appears to be how the Manila-based news desks and editors cut up factual and well-researched reports to the way they want it to be, and that means the old school "war journalism".

Short of setting up an independent, Mindanao-based news agency dedicated to the principles of Peace Journalism as pioneered by Journalists Jake Lynch and his wife Annabel McGoldrick in the BBC, Sky News, and the Independent, it was the consensus of the group that unless a radical paradigm-shift in the orientation of the Manila based press who decided which reports would be published or go on-air and how they would look or sound like, it would be a Sisyphean task to task to even dare think peace journalism in Mindanao.

Nonetheless, it was likewise the consensus that sitting on our butts and pondering how decision makers in Manila or wherever the headquarters of the media outlets would ever be compelled to attend a seminar-workshop on Peace Journalism (what with the work load those people already have, with no one able to sit in their stead while they attend a 2-5 day seminar outside the city) was hardly a solution either, so we had to find a middle ground which was neither here nor there, but generally headed in the same general direction as Jake, Annabel and Toyang eventually would want us to be.

Even this first step already pressupposes organization and advocacy. Organization to facilitate the flow and exchange of information between journalists whose times are already at a premium due to the nature of their vocation; and advocacy to sell the idea of peace journalism especially to decision makers in government, media and NGOs and most especially to local political leaders who are all in a position to decide whether or not Peace Reportage has a place in their vested interests and future.

To start, I've proposed the organization of an independent email group where participants to the recent seminar can talk and discuss their ideas with each other and where future directions and initiatives can be presented for future consideration. As our great, great grandfather Lao Tzu used to tell us, "The journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step."

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