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Why kill journalists

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(BY: By Jesus “Jess” Dureza) I woke up 2:30 a.m. early dawn a few days ago while in a hotel in Iligan City and went to the small lobby area where internet wi-fi connection was strongest. Although still sleepy, I had to be on "skype" with AL JAZEERA TV broadcasting live from the Middle East, sitting there from halfway across the globe hoping I could contribute to the discourse.   The TV show,  "The Stream”, was featuring the theme IMPUNITY and the killing of journalists. The Philippines now ranks No. 2 in the world with about 67 "journos" killed or murdered. I guess it was the "wholesale" Maguindanao massacre more than 4 years ago killing more than 30 media persons in one flash that got us in the top honor roll as one of the most dangerous places for journalists in the world. Yes, the perils of journalism work are varied.

I recall my days when I was a Davao reporter in the late 1960's. I had to arm myself with a handgun so I could continue -- and boldly -- write about some smuggling incidents at the Davao Port Customs Office. One Customs official threatened me with a gun at the coffee shop after my expose involving him was published. Also during Martial Law when I wrote about abuses and human rights violations of both the military and the NPAs, I had to feel secure with firearms ready in the car, in the house and in the office, just in case.  It was simply a choice of shutting up and no longer write about certain anomalies due to the imminent threats and hazards OR to arm myself so I could feel a bit secured to continue my exposes. I chose the latter. Of course, things have radically changed since. Imperatives are not the same in different areas and situations.

Just two weeks ago, a group of broadcasters and writers in Cotabato got organized and underwent gun handling briefings and practice shooting sessions at a firing range in Midsayap City, North Cotabato due to real dangers in the work place. They told me the prevalence of guns and shooting incidents in the area compelled them to be so prepared to enable them to freely perform their jobs before the microphones or at news desks. If they feel unsafe, they admit they will have to "soften up" on their reporting.   Indeed, journalism is not a walk in the park.

Anyway, I had this to add to what I said during that AL JAZEERA TV show:

"Impunity can be addressed if perpetrators are arrested, brought to justice and punished. Otherwise journos will have to protect themselves, individually and collectively, if they want to write and broadcast freely and with integrity. To feel insecure and in peril will shackle them from expressing freely. This profession is not for the faint-hearted. It takes moral courage to be true to the calling. Professionalism and fairness are good deterrents. Also providing an adequate mechanism of redress to those who are in the receiving end of media criticism will also do a long way in preventing the desperate and the aggrieved to take the law into their own hands."

Well, we in Mindanao have our own share of murders and violent incidents not only of media persons  -- mostly unsolved and the murderers not even identified nor arrested and still not made accountable for their crimes.

In repressive times like Martial days or challenging areas like in repressive regimes or conflict areas, the rules of the game are quite different. A journalist in big cities and more urban areas, at the most, face the risk of libel or damage suits. But in more challenging areas, especially when law and order are not that good, physical risks and risks to life and limb are commonplace and real.

I used to read reports about so-called "paid hacks" or propagandists, or political blackmailers, or plain mulcters or extortionists, parading themselves as journalists, end up usual victims of murders and summary killings. I once talked to one politician who entertained no hesitation in justifying  " sudden death" to a radio announcer -block-timer (one who buys radio time) whom he described as having "murdered" his reputation (which he said he painstakingly earned over the years) every minute in his daily radio program whom he discovered was in the payroll of a rival candidate. "If he took the law into his own hands in murdering what to me is as valuable as life, then will I not take the law into my own hands too for redress and protect myself? So he himself put his life on the line ", he forcefully argued. The broadcaster did so with impunity. But the politician too contributed to that climate of impunity!

So the question still begs to be answered: how do we prevent or solve a climate of IMPUNITY? The common sense answer is of course: government and law enforcers must enforce the laws by effectively solving crimes. Simple? Not really! It takes expertise and skills and focus to solve crimes. The police and the law enforcer need not only collar the suspect. The evidence gathered must stand judicial scrutiny to be able to nail down the bad guy in court. Then of course, this is not to mention the long, tedious and expensive judicial process that must take place. I know of family survivors who have to contend with real dangers and the same risks, as they remain steadfast in seeking justice for a murdered family member.

Modern crime -solving techniques, sleuthing, including use of forensic medicine, fascinate us when we watch TV serials where big crimes are easily solved in the end. But they are not that easy in real life, folks! We are not there yet, sorry to say.

Journalists, (ho-hum) belong to a special breed. They face threats and dangers they must address.

Yes, the pen is mightier than the sword. But at certain times and places, one needs the sword for protection to be able to wield that mighty pen!  -30-




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