September 28, 2008 · Posted in: Media, Podcasts

Journalism and conflict in the Philippines

THE media have abdicated their watchdog role on the issue of the peace negotiations between the Arroyo government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF), particularly with regard to the abandoned memorandum of agreement on ancestral domain.

This was the assessment of Glenda Gloria, chief operating officer of ABS-CBN News Channel and managing editor of Newsbreak magazine, of the media’s coverage of the anticipated signing of the MOA last August 5 in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, and the succeeding events in the wake of its aborted signing.

Gloria, speaking in the first of today’s context sessions of the PCIJ-Newsbreak seminar on “Reporting on Conflict and Peace: The Story of Mindanao,” said that except for a handful of media agencies like MindaNews, the media generally failed to report on the behind-the-scenes coverage of the peace talks, to define and describe “the animal called ancestral domain,” and to look for sources beyond the government and the MILF in mainstreaming the discussions on the issue.

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As it turned out, the media, she says, are “not as obsessed with processes as they are with conflict.”

This apparent lack of patience in covering the peace process, Gloria pointed out, results from the fact that processes are static, have no movements that are visually appealing, and sometimes can be very esoteric, hence do not grab viewers and readers. Processes, she said, are “so unlike the battlefield or evacuation site whose pictures immediately tell a story.”

But Gloria stressed that the media’s coverage of the peace process should be connected to their coverage of conflict. “It cannot be that we are able to do these exclusives and scoops, and heart-rending insider stuff on wars and conflicts but fail to do so when covering the peace process,” she remarked.

Gloria particularly rued how the media acquiesced on the policy of confidentiality adopted by the peace panels of both sides in relation to the MOA.

“Since when did a confidentiality clause or distance stop us from getting what we wanted?” she asked. “Being silent is not media’s primary role.”

For journalists, she added, there is a need to understand how conflicts develop but also how resolutions evolve, keeping in mind to veer away from the “bipolar and simplistic understanding” of conflict and peace.

Gloria acknowledged that the fault is not entirely the media’s alone, as there are also “questions of systems, of the market, and how the media landscape has changed over the years.”

Even the new media, she said, is still in its infancy as to contribute to improving the public discourse on the Bangsamoro conflict, and is hobbled by its tendency to create fragmented audiences.

But amid these shortcomings, Gloria remains hopeful, finding affirmation in what Steve Grove, news and politics editor of the popular video sharing site, YouTube, said about the value of journalists in this day and age of citizen journalists.

Quoting Grove, Gloria said the wisdom of crowds might provide a new form of fact-checking but “citizens desperately need the Fourth Estate to provide depth, context and analysis that only come from experience and the sharpening of the craft. Without the work of journalists, citizens lose critical wells in the process of civic decision-making.”

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