ONE way to encourage good practice is to recognize and reward it.
That is why the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) has been keeping its Jaime V. Ongpin Awards for Excellence in Journalism to promote the practice of investigative and explanatory reporting.
In the last 28 years, it has recognized and rewarded the best journalistic work that involved in-depth research, inquiry, and corroboration on stories that impact on the lives of ordinary people.
Thursday last week, CMFR recognized the body of work of seven journalists—Chi Almario-Gonzalez, ABS-CBN Investigative and Research Group; Patricia Evangelista, Rappler; JC Gotinga, CNN Philippines; Raffy Lerma, freelance photojournalist (former staff photographer of Philippine Daily Inquirer); Malou Mangahas, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ); Manny Mogato, Reuters; and Aie Balagtas See, Philippine Daily Inquirer.
Lerma received the JVOEJ Award of Distinction with a plaque and P30,000 cash while Mogato was named the 2017 Marshall McLuhan Fellow, a fellowship named after Canadian communication theoretician Marshall McLuhan that has been sponsored by the Canadian government for the past 21 years.
Lerma’s photograph that stood out among his works was what has been likened to Michaelangelo’s “Pieta” sculpture. It shows a grieving Jennilyn Olayres holding the lifeless body of her partner, Michael Siaron, a pedicab driver and alleged drug pusher, who was shot and killed by motorcycle-riding men in Pasay City on July 23, 2016.
The photo became viral after it was published on the front page of the Inquirer. President Duterte even described it as “melodramatic” in his state of the nation address (SONA) a few days later, but with a hint of derision for having been portrayed as that of Mother Mary cradling the cadaver of Jesus Christ.
Mogato was awarded the Marshal McLuhan fellowship for his investigative story titled “Police describe kill rewards, staged crime scenes in Duterte’s drug war.” The story exposed shenanigans in the administration’s brutal war on drugs, including cash rewards to policemen for executing drug suspects, planting of evidence at crime scenes and carrying out most of the killings they have long blamed on vigilantes.
With the fellowship award, Mogato will be traveling to Canada for a two-week familiarization and lecture tour of Canadian media and academic organizations, and later, a lecture tour of Philippine universities.
Part of the CMFR’s program to promote media responsibility and protection of press freedom is a journalism seminar for journalism students from different schools, including The Manila Times College (TMTC) in Metro Manila.
The seminar provides the students with an awareness of the compelling issues of the day and allows them to interact with professional journalists who talk about how they worked on their nominated articles. It is intended to broaden their interest in and support for the development of investigative journalism.
In her remarks at the awarding ceremonies, Melinda de Jesus, the CMFR executive director, said the challenges to keep the core values of journalism have become more daunting as some government leaders systematically take steps to weaken the press, destroy its credibility and erode its capacity to report and provide citizens with the information they need to make sense of what’s happening around them.
The Philippines has been touted to have the freest press in Asia, but are we using the freedom we enjoy to move forward? It appears that we tend to use that freedom to destroy and bring down another.
A former journalist who has joined government has often invoked that right under Article 3, Section 4 of the Constitution which says: No law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press, or the right of the people peaceably to assemble and petition the government for redress of grievances. This public official has said that joining the government did not mean losing that right, even if he has spoken for another government official who has been spreading lies and manipulating information.
This government seems to forget that freedom is not absolute and that the exercise of that freedom entails responsibilities, too. We can speak as long as we want to for as long as we don’t infringe on the freedoms of another person.
And when you are in government, you should not be onion-skinned to criticisms about how you perform or do not perform the tasks expected of you.
Government leaders should be sensitive to the perceptions of the public that they have sworn to serve and protect. Good journalism is an important link in this relationship. Thus, it is important to keep the faith in journalism. And with this crucial role in nation-building, journalists ought to observe good practices in the profession.