PCIJ wins AFP’s Kate Webb Award for exemplary journalism

The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) has been awarded the Agence France-Presse’s Kate Webb Award for exceptional journalism work in difficult or dangerous circumstances.

This is the second institutional award the PCIJ received in just two weeks. Just last December 2, the Asia Journalist Association (AJA), an organization of journalists from over 20 countries throughout Asia, presented the AJA award for Press Freedom to the PCIJ during its 5th General Assembly in Seoul, South Korea.

The PCIJ staff. (seated L-R) Karol Anne Ilagan, senior research writer; Estrelita Valderama, training director; Malou Mangahas, executive director; Rowena Paraan, research director; and Justine Letargo, multimedia associate producer; (standing L-R) Aura Marie Dagcutan, researcher; Yolanda Nicolas, administration assistant; Ed Lingao, multimedia director; Marc Racal, systems administrator; Jaemark Tordecilla, platform architect; and Donna Lopez, administration manager.

Philippine investigative team wins AFP award
by Karl Malakunas
Agence France-Presse

MANILA, Dec 17, 2009 (AFP) – The Philippine Center For Investigative Journalism has won Agence France Presse’s Kate Webb Award for its fearless work in the world’s deadliest country for reporters, the agency announced Thursday.

The PCIJ has for two decades braved the wrath of powerful interests in the Philippines to expose corruption, the dangers of which were highlighted last month when 31 Filipinos journalists were killed in a political massacre.

The PCIJ’s executive director, Malou Mangahas, said it planned to use the five thousand euros in prizemoney from the AFP Foundation to train Filipino journalists in how to safely do investigative reporting on the nation’s elite.

“The last stories of journalists killed in the Philippines are typically about local graft, local corruption and local criminal activities,” Malou said.

The PCIJ is the second winner of the annual prize, which was created in memory of Webb after she died of cancer in 2007 at the age of 64.

New Zealand-born Webb was one of the finest correspondents to have worked for AFP, and earnt a reputation while covering the biggest events in the Asia Pacific as a brave and compassionate reporter.

The Kate Webb award is for local reporters or media organisations in the Asia Pacific who have produced exceptional work in dangerous or difficult circumstances, or have demonstrated moral or physical courage while reporting.

The award is administered by the AFP Foundation, a non-profit organisation created to promote higher standards of journalism worldwide.

The AFP Foundation commended the PCIJ for 20 years of work worthy of the award, while also paying tribute to a series of in-depth reports in 2008 on the southern province of Maguindanao where last month’s massacre occurred.

“The PCIJ’s body of work is of the highest standard and we hope it will continue to inspire Filipino journalists to do their best even in the most difficult working conditions,” said AFP Asia Pacific director Eric Wishart.

Mangahas said she wanted this year’s Kate Webb award to recognise all reporters who worked courageously in the Philippines, particularly those 31 murdered in Maguindanao.

“It is very difficult, almost discomfiting, to say our situation as journalists from Metro Manila could even come close to the vulnerability of our colleagues in Maguindanao or in the provinces of the Philippines,” she said.

“So I think a fitting tribute is to accept it in their honour.”

The 31 local reporters were among 57 people abducted then shot dead in a massacre allegedly orchestrated by members of the province’s ruling clan who were seeking to maintain their hold on power.

Those deaths brought the number of journalists killed in the Philippines since the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos 23 years ago to 134, cementing the nation’s reputation as the world’s deadliest place in which to report.

The training programme to be set up with the award prizemoney will focus on teaching reporters how to stay out of danger while carrying out investigative reports on the nearly 200 families that dominate Philippine politics.

The reporters, to be gathered from outlying regions of the Philippines, will then produce material to be published on the AFP Foundation’s website as well as by the PCIJ.

“We hope this training programme will help promote professional safety, strengthen ethical standards and sharpen investigative reporting skills among Filipino journalists. And, quite possibly, save lives,” Wishart said.

The PCIJ, a non-profit organisation that operates out of a small office in a Manila suburb, has a staff of 10 and a large network of fellows who contribute investigative reports.

One of its highest-profile achievements was a series of reports on the ill-gotten wealth of then president Joeseph Estrada, which played a key role in his downfall.

The Kate Webb award will be given to the PCIJ at a ceremony early next year in Manila attended by AFP’s regional chiefs and members of Webb’s family.

Kate Webb covering in Vietnam

Who was Kate Webb? Learn more about her from the AFP website.

Philippine journalists endure in cauldron of fear
by Karl Malakunas
Agence France-Presse

MANILA, Dec 17 (AFP) — Twenty years of independent reporting on lawlessness and corruption in the Philippines has earned a small band of courageous journalists many enemies.

It has also earned the team from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism this year’s Kate Webb award, set up by Agence France-Presse (AFP) to honour the life and career of the legendary correspondent who died in 2007.

Powerful interests all too often buy off, intimidate or even kill reporters in an effort to tame the Southeast Asian nation’s free-wheeling media.

Amid this relentless pressure, the PCIJ has stood firm.

“The first line of defence is to act independently,” said PCIJ executive director Malou Mangahas, one of nine reporters who established the center in 1989 with little more than a second-hand typewriter and a battered computer.

While it still does not have more than 10 full time editorial staff, the PCIJ today is firmly entrenched in Philippine society as a fearless watchdog that roams amid a culture of impunity.

Its motto is: “We tell it like it is. No matter who. No matter what”.

Among its highest-profile scalps is former president Joseph Estrada, who was deposed in 2001 after it was revealed he had spent his three years in power plundering the nation’s coffers.

The PCIJ’s investigative reports were crucial in exposing Estrada’s crimes, and were used as evidence in his parliamentary impeachment hearings, and later the plunder and perjury trials in which he was found guilty.

Current president Gloria Arroyo has also been a PCIJ target.

This year it produced a series of reports on Arroyo’s apparently unexplained rise in wealth during 17 years of public office, accusing her of taking a “path of token compliance” in relation to legally required assets declarations.

In many other countries, such investigative reporting is a matter of course.

But the Philippines is the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, based on the number who are killed.

A total of 134 have been murdered since the fall of dictator Ferdinand Marcos in 1986, with 97 of the deaths occurring over the past eight years when Arroyo has been in power.

The risks reporters in the Philippines face made world headlines last month when a warlord family in the south of the country allegedly organised a massacre in which 31 journalists were among 57 people killed.

The Ampatuan clan accused of being behind the massacre had for eight years been a close Arroyo ally, ruling the province of Maguindanao as members of her ruling coalition and allowed to have its militia forces.

Nearly every journalist in Maguindanao knew not to report unfavourably on the Ampatuans, making them a perfect target for the PCIJ.

Last year, the PCIJ’s Jaileen Jimeno travelled to Maguindanao three times over a period of six months to report on life for the province’s impoverished 800,000 citizens under the rule of the fabulously wealthy Ampatuans.

Local reporters warned Jimeno not to report negatively on the Ampatuans. Others refused to help her. While in Maguindanao, mysterious hands would knock on her hotel door as a warning that she was being watched.

The PCIJ employed long-standing tactics to protect Jimeno, including making only short hit-and-run-style missions from Manila to Maguindanao, informing lawyers about the threats, and always keeping track of her movements.

Mangahas, 49, acknowledged the dangers for the PCIJ reporters, but said these were minor compared with those faced by the journalists who lived in the Philippines’ outlying regions and had to face the threats every day.

“The things we do they do with greater courage in the provinces and the towns where political conflicts are more acute and politicians are more intolerant of independent coverage,” she said.

Against this backdrop, the PCIJ intends to use the 5,000 euros (7,250 dollars) in prize money for winning the Kate Webb award to train Filipino reporters in how to report safely on powerful interests in their home towns.

The PCIJ already carries out training sessions alongside its reporting activities, and the new Kate Webb-funded programme will help to extend its mission of developing a culture of independent, strong journalism.


News of the PCIJ’s winning the 2009 Kate Webb Awards spread fast just hours after the award was announced by Agence France-Presse, which administers the award in honor of one of the most famous foreign correspondents to cover the Asia Pacific.

News outfits that carried the story include local media organzations such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer, Manila Bulletin, and ABS-CBNnews.com; regional media agencies such as the Bangkok Post, Sydney Morning Herald, Western Australia Today; major news aggregators such as Yahoo and MSN news; and USA Today, the Wall Street Journal, and the Khaleej Times.

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