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GPH panel member speaks to top humanitarian journalists

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Government peace negotiator for talks with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) Miriam Colonel-Ferrer recently spoke before finalists of the first Red Cross Humanitarian Reporting Awards.

In a forum prior to the awarding ceremonies, Ferrer shared her observations on Philippine media coverage of conflicts and peace processes.

“The armed conflict and the peace negotiations are highly visible in the media. This shows that the peace processes have remained in the national agenda,” Ferrer stated as she started her lecture.

She also said that efforts to make media more responsible and sensitive to reporting conflict have borne fruit, adding that what counts as news on the armed conflict have broadened.

“It’s no longer just the body count,” she observed.

However, Ferrer believes that there is still room for improvement in media’s reportage, such as the need for journalists to discuss concepts, not just report on events. For accuracy and deeper analysis, she also stressed the importance of securing and studying facts and data from diverse and reliable sources.

Further, she discussed some of the things media should avoid, one of which is the propaganda trap. “Propaganda is war by other means,” she quipped.

Other things she mentioned to avoid are spins that lead to misunderstanding and the “AFP said, armed group said” method of constructing a story.

“While this ‘he said, she said’ method may be an honest attempt at objectivity, it doesn’t provide a conclusion. It doesn’t leave the audience better off or with a clear understanding on who or what to support.”

*Peace as the bottom line

Ferrer also recognized the role of 'netizens' or active internet surfers as writers for peace. In interactive websites where negative and thoughtless comments proliferate, she recommended that 'netizens' must raise the level of discourse and make it substantial. “Let’s keep up the discourse on the folly of war and the need for a peaceful settlement of the armed conflict. Let’s move away from name-calling.”

“The bottom line is that we have to build a national consensus that our problems cannot be solved by war, that it makes sense to report peace and peaceful means to end conflict,” Ferrer ended her lecture.

*Other speakers and guests

Aside from Ferrer, two notable members of the media also served as resource persons of the forum.

Jason Gutierrez of the Agence France Press shared his experience as an embedded war correspondent while Antonio Cruz of tonyocruz.com spoke on his observations on the role of new media in conflict situations.

The International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC) communication coordinator Anastasia Isyuk for her part presented how the International Humanitarian Law (IHL) protects journalists and helps in conflict reporting.

Christoph Sutter, ICRC deputy head of delegation, and Philippine Red Cross Chair Richard "Dick" Gordon each gave a salute to the journalists present, both underscoring the bravery of the press in light of the difficult and dangerous field they decided to cover.

“I am here to pay tribute to your bravery in bringing issues not often being reported…on your bravery to report what needs to make sense,” Sutter said.

Gordon, for his closing remarks, mentioned that “humanitarian reporting may not be as ‘salacious’ as what editors would want in a news story, but it behooves all of us to pay attention. It is about time we put these issues on the front pages.”

*Awardees

“We have seen civilians targeted in armed conflicts. We believe that the best way to achieve stronger protection is to respect IHL. The media’s voice should be heard in favor of proper and responsible behavior in wars. Media, therefore has a responsibility to influence public opinion, weapon bearers and governments to avoid any encouragement to violate the IHL,” Isyuk stated.

The first Red Cross Humanitarian Reporting Awards were given to journalists who reported on civilians often forgotten or dismissed as “collateral damage” of war.

Isyuk said that conflict-sensitive reporting is one of the criteria for the selection of winners. This entails that the report or entries do not stereotype or label people or groups; not take advantage of the victims’ plight, but rather encourage the readers to move into action.

First prize winners include Frinston Lim of the Philippine Daily Inquirer-Mindanao for his in-depth story “Women grieve over land mine deaths” (print category); Marya Salamat of Bulatlat.com for her story entitled “Child rights advocates bewail distortion of child protection principles for counter-insurgency” (online category); and Ed Lingao of Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) for his documentary “Maguindanao, isang taon” (TV/radio category).

There were 23 finalists from a crop of 60 entries submitted to the Red Cross.

Coming from the mainstream media are finalists and recipients of special citations from the Philippine Daily Inquirer, The Philippine Star, Manila Bulletin, and Malaya (print); Al Jazeera, PCIJ, and GMA-7 (TV/radio); and GMAnews.tv, Bulatlat.com, MindaNews, and VeraFiles (online).

The community media was also represented by finalists and recipients of special citations from SunStar Davao, The Mindanao Cross, Zamboanga Sibugay Tribune, DXND-AM in Kidapawan City, The Mountain Province Exponent and The Catarman Weekly Tribune.

Isyuk said that some of the issues highlighted by the contestants include media safety; plight of internally displaced people; peacebuilding initiatives and community projects; problems of children affected by conflicts; and indiscriminate use of weapons. (PNA)




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