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Asia and the Pacific: the Manila Declaration sets a new standard for reporting on violence and emergencies

01-11-2011 Feature

Journalists from a wide range of backgrounds within the media community in nine Asia-Pacific countries gathered in Manila over two days, brought together by the ICRC to share common concerns about reporting on violence and emergencies.

Some 50 senior editors and key journalists from nine countries joined the ICRC on 13–14 October to tackle current challenges in reporting on violence and emergencies. In a rare gathering in Manila, Philippines, media contributors from East and South East Asian and Pacific countries shared their common concerns and best practices in a region experiencing various situations of violence and often struck by natural disasters.

While discussions on media independence, ethics and accuracy in coverage were highlighted during the conference, the debate repeatedly returned to the growing use and impact of social media: is it a friend or foe to journalists covering crises and humanitarian issues?

The key conference output was the Manila Declaration. The Declaration embodies the commitment of those attending the conference to work toward "responsible and responsive" journalism, in particular the provision of context and analysis. It also promotes the safety of journalists by supporting a safety code for media working on dangerous assignments.

The signatories to the Declaration agreed to set up an online forum – to be called ‘The Manila Club’ – aimed at promoting the principles of international humanitarian law in reporting violence and emergencies (see http://www.facebook.com/ReportingOnViolence.AsiaPacific). The Club also pledged to work more with organisations like the ICRC to achieve these goals, while an online forum will ensure that these words turn into action.

A diversity of speakers

Key speakers at the conference who gave thought-provoking presentations included:


Veronica Pedrosa, Al Jazeera English (keynote speaker)
© Fermin Escuredo for ICRC

Veronica Pedrosa, Al Jazeera English (keynote speaker)
on ‘The role of social media in contemporary conflicts’

Unknown to many, Veronica Pedrosa was born in the Philippines before her family flew to London in a politically related exile. In 2005, she began working in Kuala Lumpur for Al Jazeera. Back in her hometown for the conference, Veronica enthusiastically led discussions and was chosen by other participants to serve as the spokesperson for the Manila Declaration. She also delivered the keynote speech where she talked about how social media is changing the world and the newsroom.

"If we speak together, we have a loud voice. What if we all tweet about an issue incessantly? We are in an age of radical transparency, radical accountability," noted Veronica, acknowledging the enormous popularity of this means of communication.

Quoting a survey, she said Asians now trust social media more than traditional media: "They trust recommendations from friends and family. However, it could be a problem if people start trusting social media more than traditional media, because of unverified information."

“But I don't see new media as competition. Rather, it enlarges our capacity to observe,” said the veteran journalist and face of Al Jazeera.


Yuli Ismartono, Deputy Chief Editor, Tempo (Indonesia)
© Fermin Escuredo for ICRC

Yuli Ismartono, Deputy Chief Editor, Tempo (Indonesia)
on ‘Independence in reporting violence and disaster’

Yuli's journalism career has spanned three decades and her experience is obvious from the way she spoke at the conference.

"There is a need for media to look at the conflicts beyond the body count," said the veteran editor who has covered the first Gulf Wa, and conflicts in Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Cambodia. "Media always exaggerate, show gory, bias, inflammatory details. The list of grievances is a long one."

Conflict reporters, she pointed out, were often criticized for ‘parachute journalism’ (jumping into coverage of an area without knowing the context). "This means failing to do in-depth reporting and not being holistic enough," she said, adding that tight deadlines make reporters opt for short cuts.

"The best policy for independent journalism is still preparedness. Do your homework, and keep constant contact with your network," she told participants.

To view Yuli's presentation visit http://www.scribd.com/doc/69571351/Yuli-Ismartono-Independence-and-reporting-violence-and-disaster-Manila-14-Oct-2011


Philippe Stoll, ICRC Public Relations Officer for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific
© Fermin Escuredo for ICRC

Philippe Stoll, ICRC Public Relations Officer for East Asia, South-East Asia and the Pacific
on ‘Challenges for humanitarian organizations in a global environment: "ethical reporting", citizen journalists, cyber propaganda’

Philippe is familiar with both sides of the fence – he was a journalist before becoming a humanitarian worker for the ICRC. For him, aid workers and journalists are often in the same boat but do not necessarily pursue the same aims. He distinguishes between their roles by saying that while aid agencies help people in need, journalists aim to inform about the reality of conflicts and disasters. But in a fast-paced world being overtaken by social media, care must be taken to ensure quality – and not quantity – of information.

"How many of these 'citizen' journalists carry news without the basic verification? How many stories have you come across about fake information circulating on the web?” he asked the audience. “For an organization like the ICRC, the risk is definitely important, in terms of security and in terms of access, especially when we have to deal with rumours or wrong information. The main risk today for the ICRC is that 'someone's truth' becomes ‘everyone's truth,’” he quipped.

As for the safety of journalists, Philippe said that current international laws provide enough protection to journalists. "The problem is they are not enforced," he said.

To view Philippe’s presentation visit http://www.scribd.com/doc/69255470/Philippe-Stoll-ICRC-Challenges-for-humanitarian-organisations-in-a-global-environment-Manila-14-Oct-2011


Carolyn Arguillas, News Editor of MindaNews (Philippines)
© Fermin Escuredo for ICRC

Carolyn Arguillas, News Editor of MindaNews
on ‘The role of media in covering victims of armed conflict: the Mindanao experience’

In her presentation, Carolyn spoke about Mindanao, its beauty and diversity with a passion, but unfortunately, she says, images of terrorism, massacres, the poor and kidnappings have smeared this southern region of the Philippines.

“The media often overlook the indirect impact of conflicts, which includes the effects on livelihoods and business,” she told the conference, adding, "The invisible costs of war, including psychological effects like trauma, hatred, and an even greater divide, are also forgotten by media.”

And she reminded participants that victims of conflicts have rights too: "As journalists, we need to know and respect their rights. There are guidelines from the UN and in International Humanitarian Law. Knowledge of these codes of conduct can improve reporting."

To view Carolyn’s presentation visit http://www.scribd.com/doc/69383127/Carolyn-Arguillas-Covering-armed-conflict-the-Mindanao-experience-Manila-14-Oct-2011


Peter Cave, Foreign Affairs Editor of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
© Fermin Escuredo for ICRC

Peter Cave, Foreign Affairs Editor of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation
on ‘The Australian Safety Code for Journalists’

The safety of journalists is a topic that strikes a deep chord in Peter Cave, an award-winning journalist involved in the crafting of the Australian Safety Code for Journalists. At the conference he shared the story behind the creation of the safety code: the killing of five colleagues (Balibo 5) in 2007 at the height of the violence in East Timor.

Peter, who led the discussions on recommendations for the safety of journalists, said journalists were exposed to many risks due to the nature of their work: "News organisations should consider safety first before the competition."

"Journalists should not be sent untrained to a dangerous environment. News organizations should be aware of the physical and mental damage they could be responsible for, if they send their staff out without proper training."

To view Peter’s presentation visit http://www.scribd.com/doc/69388822/Peter-Cave-The-Australian-Safety-Code-for-Journalists-Manila-14-Oct-2011


Hidetoshi Fujisawa, Senior Chief Correspondent, NHK Japan
© Fermin Escuredo for ICRC

Hidetoshi Fujisawa, Executive Editor, Chief Commentator and Program Host of NHK Japan
on ‘Dealing with biohazard and the nuclear threat’

Earlier this year, Japan experienced an unprecedented chain of disasters: a 9.0 magnitude earthquake, a tsunami and a nuclear power plant accident. These events posed a tremendous challenge to the Japanese media, including public broadcaster NHK, where Hidetoshi works. Fortunately at NHK, he said a manual served them well as they reverted to emergency broadcast immediately after the disaster.

"The single most important role of disaster reporting is to save as many lives as possible by swift notification of the danger which may fall upon the public," he said. However, as the days passed, Hidetoshi said they struggled to report on the extent of damage and casualties due to aftershocks, damaged roads and broken lines of communication. He also related how the Japanese media was criticized for their reporting of the nuclear accident.

"We may not have been able to collect enough and independent information to satisfy the public. But it is also true that in the early stage of the accident nobody could tell exactly what was really happening in the reactors. In those situations, we had to rely on the information and data released from the power company and the government. We had no other source of information," explained the veteran broadcaster.

As much as they wanted to gather information, Hidetoshi said they had to adhere strictly to guidelines in reporting on radiation-contaminated areas.

"Some say the media was too cautious, and the real situation occurring in the contaminated area was barely given. How to meet both needs – the safety of the reporters and public expectations – is a huge dilemma," he said.

To view Hidetoshi’s presentation visit http://www.scribd.com/doc/69571210/Hidetoshi-Fujisawa-Dealing-with-biohazards-and-the-nuclear-threat-Manila-14-Oct-2011

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