Beyond the safe-zone

By Jessa Grace Labininay and Jeremiah Torayno

Since year 1986, thousands of journalists were killed in line of duty and according to the Committee to Protect Journalist (CPJ), a total of 26 reporters died in covering conflicts around the world in 2016, a decline from a record-high 72 killed in 2015.

Despite the decrease in the number of journalists killed in 2016, the Philippines continues to be one of the most dangerous countries for journalists. Reporters Sans Frontiers (RSF) or Reporters without Borders, an international journalists’ organization considers the Philippines as the world’s second most dangerous country for media personnel and ranked it 127th out of 180 countries in the 2017 World Press Freedom Index with a score of 41.08 points from 2016’s 138th place with a score of 44.66 points.

The massive killings of journalists in 2009 in Maguindanao did not stop the reporters to continue in searching for truth behind a particular issue. And the latest dangerous issue to cover is the on-going siege in Marawi which started on the day of May 23, 2017. The clash between the Maute group and the Philippine Military ignited. This incident in Marawi, which later on became a crisis of the whole nation up until this present time, prompted the journalists to go and cover the war.

During that day, it was not only the Philippine military who performed its duty, but the media men as well. Among the journalists who covered the conflicted area were Cong Corrales- an author at Mindanao Gold Star Daily, Froilan Gallardo– a veteran photographer in Cagayan de Oro and Jiggy Manicad Jr.-a national news producer/reporter; shared their experiences and sentiments on journalists covering in war-zone.

On protocol and laws

In conducting a coverage within a conflicted area, guidelines were given which required journalists to follow protocols, one of which is to undergo a particular training. Basically, all journalists are fitting to cover in a war-zone area; however, there is need to undergo a training that is called journalists safety training.

National Union of journalists in the Philippines (NUJP) Leonardo Vicente Corrales or commonly known as Cong Corrales said, “Journos who had at least basic media safety training on covering conflict areas should be attended. These kinds of training are given regular by INSI, NUJP, and CMFR.”

It is necessary for a journalist to be trained, made to be aware and informed because if a list of one or two laws that ensures the safety of journalists is asked, there is none. “Sadly, there are no local legislations to ensure protection of ‘journos’ covering conflicted areas.” Corrales said. Even the fact that there is no law to ensure their safety, there are group of initiatives such as the CPJ that will help to counter the violence and concerns of the correspondents.

This training will teach the journalist how to minimise the risk posed to them when working in dangerous environment. The training involves weapon awareness; on what and how certain weapon works. It also includes preparing medical kits for emergency purposes. These trainings and seminars enable the journalist to help themselves to respond to the minor injuries they would possibly get during their coverages. Even the fact that no safety training can eliminate threats, the benefits of understanding how to manage and reduce risk matters more.

Furthermore, to be able to cover in war-zone areas, a journalist needs to invest in   a ‘Black Jacket’ or in layman’s term, a ‘bullet-proof’ vest and  helmet’. “It takes common sense and heightened sensitivity to the culture of the host community of the conflict area.” Corrales added.  It is the journalists cry to the government, as they are unable to provide these things for our Media, as it is quite expensive.


Capturing images in action

In times of war, a former Development Communication instructor shares his story through his photos. This photographer, despite being a freelancer, is not a beginner and is no  stranger to dangerous coverages. He submits updates through photographs and the story behind it to the media networks since most media outlets cannot afford full-time war correspondents, so they rely on freelancers. He is in fact considered to be a daredevil and a veteran in war-zone coverage.

The Philippines being dubbed as a deadly country for journalists, shows that it is really dangerous to become one in this country. Although even terrorists have a particular respect for journalist, Froilan Gallardo still continues to believe that it is dangerous for media to cover in a war-zone because they ‘are not bulletproof’.  He also disclosed his story when he was targeted by a sniper, but he shouted that he is a journalist, and he was asked to stay away. There was even one instance where he got mad at a young colleague because he took photos in front of a war tank without wearing his bulletproof vest and helmet.

 

The thought of putting oneself into danger does not hinder this journalist to stay in the comfort zone for as long as they avoid greater endangerment. What makes Froilan stay in this kind of profession is the thrill. He said that there are numerous wonderful views, people, cultures, and other things in the country.

The Philippines is very rich in culture and destinations, “It was a wonderful experience riding in a banka in the middle of the sea and all you witness is an unusual scenery– not an everyday view.” Same as in covering a war, the uncertainties alert them and keep them in focus. He also added that the opportunity to grasp and capture literally those ‘hidden treasures’ and people’s interest  made him to travel a lot more and share it with others through his photographs and paragraphs.  

Facing the dangers for others
In our society, putting levels is learned accordingly. The more you are seen or heard, the more you will be remembered, and one of the known journalist and advocate in the country is Rodrigo Defeo Manicad Jr., popularly known as Jiggy Manicad. He is a national television news Anchor with various awards in his 11 years of experience as a journalist. This personality has covered national and international relevance.

In covering a conflicted area, there are questions to check whether the specific person really has the will. “Among the considerations for a journalist to cover a war-zone are questions if they do have previous experience, at the very least to cover violent stories; if they are physically or mentally fit, meaning they can handle the pressure of covering stressful situations because other people easily panick under pressure”, Manicad said.

He also added that it is extremely dangerous especially if you did not do research prior to deployment. Without knowing locations, you might stumble into enemy positions and get caught in crossfires. Because of these instances, journalists are told to be crazy to cover in a conflicted area but for Manicad, this will not stop him from doing his duty.

Prioritizing their safety

For journalists like Corrales, Gallardo, and Manicad, they dedicate themselves for their work. As to the parents, the people they are working hard for are their children; with these journalists, they are working hard for the benefit of their countrymen. This is what drives these journalists in their profession. But then, love for oneself is their key and is innate in them, so they will be able to sustain the service they provide because ‘you cannot give what you don’t have.’ So in order to share it through service for others, most especially to the ones who need it the most, they prioritize their safety and their lives.

Although it is given that being a war-zone journalist comes with dangers, Gallardo personally would not risk his life just for a certain photo. He also puts up deadline on going to war-zone areas, that if no one calls him by 5pm to dispatch him, that means God did not allow him that day. For him, being in the media is only a job, and that he could only do so much for it. Considering his age also, he believes that young journalists has an edge in covering in war-zone.

Though veteran journalists are more knowledgeable, younger journalists are more able. Froilan opened up about his former colleague who was killed when he was capturing a beautiful sunrise in Basilan. He agreed on the harsh reality of the country to be technically unsafe. “I was so guilty when we found out he [colleague] was shot in the head by the terrorist early in the morning,” Froilan explained. That journalist was so good in his profession but sadly, he experienced such cruelty in a young age.


It takes a lot of guts on the side of the journalists to qualify to cover a war-zone, there are no structured rules to be there, just guts. Journalism is a public service and as long as they do not have the truth about a particular topic, they will always search for it. But safety and security have to be prioritized– journalists must live to tell the story.

Jessa and Jeremiah are students of Development Communication at Xavier Univeristy-Ateneo de Cagayan.

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