Rica Tanagon from IBC TV 11 shares her personal views on the conflict.

Philippine, Indonesian Journalists Discuss Ways to Cover Conflict

That request from a young boy in Mindanao of his government was caught on tape by one of the radio journalists who participated in a workshop on coverage of conflict in the Philippines in April.

The journalists, Edwin Fernandez, said he used the quote as a dramatic way to communicate to his listeners the sentiments of many of the people in the southern Philippines about a conflict that has raged between government troops and local armies off and on for 30 years.

Fernandez, and 15 other journalists had gathered in Cebu in the central Philippines for a workshop on Alternative Approaches to Covering Conflict organized by the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research in collaboration with the Konrad Adenauer Center for Journalism at Ateneo de Manila University and the Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute.

Fernandez and the other journalists were talking about alternative ways of telling stories in a session on that topic on the final day of the three-day workshop. Fernandez, who works for both the newspaper, Mindanao Cross, and DXMS radio, was illustrating the power of radio to tell the story by using dramatic, taped quotes from the common people.

The use of the quote was “very powerful,” Fermandez told the gathered journalists.

Selection of the narrative style for telling stories “is one of the most important things we do,” Dr. Tudor Vlad, assistant director of the Cox Center and a journalist for 20 years, told the group. Dr. Vlad encouraged the journalists to explore alternatives to the common inverted pyramid used by journalists, in which the most important facts are presented first, followed by facts of lesser importance.

Other topics covered by the workshop included the status of current peace negotiations in Mindanao, religion, ethnicity and conflict, international law and conflict, and safety strategies for journalists.

The final day of the workshop, when narrative style was discussed, was held at the Marcelo B. Fernan Press Center in Cebu City. The sessions in the first two days of the workshop were held at the Maribago Bluewater Beach Resort on nearby Mactan Island. The workshop ran from April 13 to 17.

The workshop was supported by a competitive grant awarded to the Cox Center by the United States Institute of Peace, an independent research and training organization funded by the United States Congress and located in Washington. The Cox Center is a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia.

Fourteen of the participating journalists were from Mindanao, working for radio, television and newspapers in either Zamboanga or Cotabato. Two journalists were from Jakarta, Indonesia, where ethnic, religious and political conflict also have been part of the news in recent years. The Indonesian journalists were included to provide perspective on the conflict in Mindanao.

“This workshop is not about Mindanao per se,” Cox Center Director Dr. Lee B. Becker said in the opening comments of the workshop. “Mindanao is our backdrop, our exemplar.” Dr. Becker said the goal of the workshop was to develop alternative ways to cover conflict, drawing on examples from Mindanao and elsewhere.

“Through expanded use of sources, a good understanding of history, coverage of victims, an understanding of religious and ethnic similarities as well as differences, through careful use of terms to describe the parties, journalists can improve reporting,” Becker contended.

The Center for Journalism at Ateneo was represented by Dr. Violet B. Valdez, executive director of the Center and concurrent chairperson of the Department of Communication. The Gaston Z. Ortigas Peace Institute was represented by executive director Karen Tañada and Alfredo Ferrariz Lubang, program director.

Other speakers and resource persons assisting with the workshop were: Paul Alexander, bureau chief for the Associated Press in Manila; Carol Arguillas, editor of MindaNews; Sr. Lilian Curaming FMM, an expert on Arabic and Islamic studies; Glenda M. Gloria, managing editor of Newsbreak; Chay F. Hofileña, director for training at the Center for Journalism; Maria Ressa, a consultant with ABS-CBN; and Soliman Santos, a human rights lawyer, peace advocate and legal scholar.

“War creates a culture of violence,” Karen Tañada told the journalist in a discussion of the importance of including the view of noncombatants in stories about conflict. “There is more domestic violence. Resources that could go to families and women go to war.”

“Peace is not news. Conflict is news,” Santos said, encouraging the journalists to include more about the peace process in their reporting. The Moro Islamic Liberation Front, one of the groups involved in the conflict in Mindanao, and the Filipino government are currently engaged in peace negotiations.

Arguillas contended that Zamboanga, the base for much of the Manila’s media coverage of Mindanao, is treated as a “defense beat,” that is, covered so as to focus on military affairs. “Other aspects of Mindanao are underreported, especially the efforts at peacebuilding.”

The journalists were asked to work as groups during free time at the workshop to create a set of principles to guide their coverage of conflict.

“Journalists must establish clear and constant linkages with local people and organizations,” Julie Alipala, a reporter for the Philippine Daily Inquirer based in Zamboanga City, said in delivering one of the group reports.

“Do not limit your sources to the elite. Include the victims,” Melodee Concepcion, a television journalist with ABS-CBN in Cotabato, said in delivering the report of another of the groups. “In the case of mass evacuations, visit the evacuation centers,” she said.

The workshop on coverage of conflict was the outgrowth of a collaboration between the Cox Center and the Center for Journalism at Ateneo in 2003. That workshop focused on coverage of the victims of crimes and violence.

The Cebu workshop is part of a two-year project funded by the grant from the United States Institute of Peace. Another workshop will be held late in 2005 or early in 2006 on the same topic. Editors, rather than reporters, will be the participants in the second workshop.

Click here to see the program for the Cebu workshop, including short biographical sketches of the organizers and resource persons and a list of participants.