By Pachico A. Seares
Public & Standards Editor
Sun.Star Cebu and Sun.Star Superbalita [Cebu]
DURING Media Nation 8, a national gathering of journalists held Sept. 30 and Oct. 1 at Marco Polo Plaza in Cebu City, a lot of precious time was spent on the question “who are considered journalists.”
I raised the issue at a smaller “breakout” group which later reported it to the general assembly of about 80 participants.
Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) has listed 168 killings, with the 100 mark reached in 2009, meaning that in the last two years alone the toll is already 68.
How many victims were journalists and how many murders were work-related?
The questions aren’t idle academic curiosity. Ascertaining the work of those killed and why they were killed may tell us if there’s actually a serial assault on media as a sector or it’s just a breakdown of law and order that strikes other groups as well.
‘In line of duty’
Stats given in the first hour of the meeting as an overview tagged some victims as killed “in line of duty.” CMFR says 53 of 168 weren’t work-related.
Examples: (1) A broadcaster was shot dead in the radio announcer’s booth by an irate husband whose wife slept with the journalist. (2) A news reporter was stabbed dead during a personal quarrel with the bodyguard of a politician, the subject of “adverse” stories the reporter wrote.
“In line of duty” but surely not work-related in (1). Not “in line of duty” and maybe not work-related in (2). See how the categories can confuse.
Then there’s the problem of determining whether the victim was a journalist. A number of those killed in the 2009 Maguindanao massacre were bill collectors, office assistants, or print shop workers who hadn’t reported a story in their lives. But they were listed as journalists and the deaths as work-related.
But what’s a journalist? A minor furor at a masscom students forum erupted when a speaker said bloggers are not journalists. Elsewhere, it’s debated now and then if radio block-timers, writers of letters to editors, and contributors to publications and callers to radio programs are journalists. Those who e-mail photos with captions to TV networks that call them citizen journalists, are they journalists?
At least for the purpose of classifying the death, are they? Ignore elitism that often plagues “meanstream” press but the definition might give a clearer picture of the problem of media killings.
Outsiders call the Philippines the most dangerous place for journalists. The bad name the country gets might be due to the faulty categorizing.
Media Nation 8 conferees lamented an increasing public apathy to reports of media killings. It could be due to growing disbelief that victims were journalists or they were killed for their work.
Tougher than ever
Why the lack of a clear definition of journalists? Setting up standards would divide people. Those who don’t qualify under the standards, noted a veteran columnist, would fret and form their own group.
With so many tasks and the specialists they breed (graphic designers, layout artists, bloggers, etc.), identifying journalists is tougher than ever. With interlocking motives in a person’s death and reluctance to look into them, the real reason may be obscured.
Press martyrdom is more flattering. Relatives and friends of a victim usually resent any suggestion that a journalist might have been killed for an ignoble reason. Inquiry into the real cause of death is staved off with the question, “Are you going to kill him again? Respect the dead.”
Still there must be more accurate criteria in listing press casualties. The present indexes are surely inadequate and may even be misleading.
Media Nation 8 ended with the issue unresolved. Media Nation 50 might still not be of much help.