Participants of the Media and Violence Workshop in Manila.

Journalists in Workshop in Philippines Work on Guidelines for Crime Coverage

Twenty-one journalists from southeast Asia and the Pacific concluded their three-day workshop in Manila at the end of February by outlining guidelines for coverage of the victims of crime and violence in their countries.

All agreed that victims of trauma needed to be treated with care by the media. Special protection should be granted to juveniles, with many of the journalists saying they should refuse to interview and photograph children without permission of their parents.

"Human dignity should be paramount over our jobs," said Aniceto Rasalan, associate editor of the Kota Wato Express in Catobato City on Mindanao in the southern Philippines.

According to participant Helen Thimmayya, journalists should ask: "Is it for the larger good, or am I using it (interviews with and pictures of victims) because my newspaper will sell better?" Thimmayya, a journalist from India, currently is serving as a university lecturer.

Renewed fighting between government troops and insurgents in Mindanao provided a dramatic backdrop to discussions by the 21 journalists. The Manila media contained graphic coverage of casualties during the workshop, and many of the Philippine journalists criticized the media in the capital for their handling of the conflict.

The Manila media have framed the conflict in religious terms rather than recognize the legitimate problems of those involved in the conflict, several in the workshop said. The workshop ran from February 19 to 21. During that time, charges appeared in both the local and international media of linkages between at least one of the groups fighting with the Philippine military and international terrorist organizations.

The workshop was the product of collaboration between the Konrad Adenauer Center for Journalism at the Ateneo de Manila University and the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research. The Center for Journalism is a unit of the Department of Communication at the Ateneo University, while the Cox Center is a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

The participants included journalists from Nepal, Thailand, Vietnam, Solomon Islands, Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia as well as India and the Philippines.

The workshop was held on the Rockwell Center campus of the Ateneo University in Manila. Discussion leaders were Dr. Maria Lourdes Carandang, a psychologist with a practice in Manila, Elisa Munoz, executive director of the Crimes of War Project in Washington, and Drs. Barry Hollander and Lee B. Becker from the University of Georgia. Dr. Hollander and Dr. Becker are faculty members in the Department of Journalism in the Grady College, and Dr. Becker is director of the Cox Center.

The workshop drew on resource materials from the Crimes of War Project and from the Dart Center for Journalism and Trauma at the University of Washington.

The Crimes of War Project is a collaboration of journalists, photographers, legal experts and academics to promote understanding and support of international humanitarian law. The belief is that a wider knowledge of the legal framework governing armed conflict will foster peace.

The Dart Center is a network of journalists, journalism educators and health professionals dedicated to improving media coverage of trauma, conflict and tragedy.

At the end of the first day of the session, the journalists in the workshop participated in the formal launch of a Master of Arts in Journalism degree program at the Ateneo University. The program is designed for working journalists and will include both a resident and an online component.

Dr. Violet Valdez, the director of the Center for Journalism and chairperson of the Department of Communication, and Chay Florentino Hofilena, assistant director for training of the Center, director of the M.A. Journalism program, and a faculty member in the Department of Communication, outlined the program's development and goals.

Topics covered in the workshop, formally titled "Media and Violence: Designing Coverage to Foster Peace," included definitions of trauma as experienced by victims of crime and by those who witness trauma suffered by others, such as journalists. The workshop also focused on techniques to sensitively interview, photograph and write about victims of crime and on the special problems of domestic violence, rape and violence involving children.

Ms. Munoz outlined the basic principles of international humanitarian law, discussed the legal definitions of genocide, and outlined how the legal basis for law can provide a framework for the coverage of war.

The journalists divided into three groups to develop some tentative guidelines for coverage of the victims of crime and other forms of violence, making their reports in the final session of the workshop.

"If the life of a victim is in danger, the journalist should be sensitized to offer assistance first," said Indian journalist Thimmayya, representing one of the groups. "The journalist should resume her or his work only after the victim was cared for by rescue professionals."

"It is your duty to help the victim out if you are the only person present and if you feel you have the competence," echoed Romel Bagares from the Philippines, representing another of the groups.

The journalists also said attention needs to be given to the needs of the journalists, who currently lack assistance in dealing with the trauma they experience in covering crime and conflict.

Several of the Philippine journalists covering the conflicts in Mindanao as well as others in the group who had experienced conflict coverage in their own countries reported that they had to develop their own mechanisms to cope with the trauma they suffered. Mostly, it was a matter of sharing their experiences with their colleagues. All seemed to agree that additional assistance would help.

Prior to the beginning of the workshop Dr. Becker met with faculty in the Department of Communication at the Ateneo University and invited guests from other universities in the Philippines to discuss findings from the Annual Surveys of Journalism & Mass Communication, conducted in the Cox Center.

The discussion focused on trends in enrollments in U.S. universities, student interests, and the job market for journalism and mass communication graduates.