Saturday, November 11, 2006

Cagayan de Oro Press Club marks milestones for 55th Anniversary


The Cagayan de Oro Press Club, Inc. (COPC) turns 55 today. One of the oldest in the country, it is also one of the few with a truly professional organization in the sense that it has a working board of directors, assets which allow it to undertake projects and employ a full-time staff, albeit on a small scale, and it is a respected member of civil society which plays an active role in the city and the region's affairs.

Today's celebration will be particularly significant because of a number of firsts the COPC has accomplished with today's anniversary, particularly in relation to its training module on Responsible and Independent Journalism.

This is a program undertaken over two years ago under the administration of past president Herbie Gomez with financial and technical assistance from the Australian government to professionalize the local media, particularly COPC members, and provide them with the tools, knowledge, skills and support needed to fight corruption in the city and the region. Its ultimate goal is to set up a local counterpart to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

First, this is the first time the COPC has undertaken such a training with a local educational institution, which in our case is the South East Asian Rural Social Leadership Institute, better known to locals as Searsolin, a division of the College of Agriculture of Xavier University (Ateneo de Cagayan).

Searsolin is a Catholic, Jesuit, Filipino and Asian institution. It is dedicated to the formation of socially-committed and competent leaders committed to poverty alleviation and holistic human development within the context of diverse cultural and religious traditions in Asia, Pacific and Africa. It aspires to attain a just social order where respect for human dignity, deference of various religious beliefs, equitable distribution of wealth and care for the bounty of the earth prevail. The training programs are geared towards understanding poverty, what creates and perpetuates it, and acquiring skills necessary to alleviate it and benefit the poor.

It's also the first time the COPC has worked together with Searsolin to train international students. During the second of our four-part program, we had Ismail Abid Aziz of Malaysia join our first batch of trainees who are mostly from Misamis Oriental's Provincial Communicators Association (Procoma) headed by Cedric Dayta of Luga-it, and now we had our friends from Indo-China and India whom we shall mention here for posterity's sake: Fr. Michael Raj from India, Nguyen Van Hoang and Nguyen Thi Hay Yen of Vietnam, Francis Cympanel and Theresa Min Min Myat of Myanmar (formerly Burma), Meng Chhay of Cambodia and Phouva Manipakon of Laos (I hope I did not mix up your countries!)

In behalf of the participants and training staff of our first batch, may I extend our thanks and appreciation to the Searsolin staff under the able management of Director Dr. Anselmo "Boy" B. Mercado, Ed.D. for their hospitality and expertise which helped make our first training a memorable training experience. We also wish to cite Training Officer Liza Gonzales and Lito Tagalog from the Library whose invaluable assistance and support were crucial in the COPC leanings from this 'first time.' Daghang Salamat!

May I also take this occasion to salute past president Herbie Gomez (sa way pabor-pabor) for his drive and vision in bringing to fruition this local version of the PCIJ. I know you sometimes lose heart when people don't perform as expected and obstacles seem to rise up on every occasion but this is a good thing we've done here and you should be proud you were instrumental in bringing it to life. Maybe JACNet wil have its own building someday which will house its operations and we can call it the Herbie Gomez Center for Investigative Journalism. Puede na bisan dili posthumous ha?

In addition to our training module, we've also revived our Journalists Against Corruption Network (JACNet) initiative, re-organizing the JACNet Editorial Board and bringing our JACNet Website back up in cyberspace with the help of my fellow director Comrade Ben Balce. Earlier this week, the Board approved the business plan which shall hopefully set this particular component of our project on the road to self-sufficiency, long-term stability and sustainability.

Kudos too is in order for Director Terry Betonio for successfully reviving the COPC Newsletter, which we shall soon set on the same road of self-sustenance with a similar business plan.

However, much remains to be done. The financial planning and execution of the COPC needs a lot of hard work to set it straight, and a long-term business plan has yet to be formulated. This, together with the ongoing membership revamp, will be the pillars upon which the foundation of the COPC's success in the long run would be anchored upon. With Director Ruffy Magbanua and Joey Nacalaban taking care of business at this end, members have a lot of confidence we shall prevail.

Our COPC Code of Ethics will also need to be updated. Following the mandate of the Ethics Committee as spelled out in our charter, we have researched the Codes of Ethics of respectable media aggrupations in the country, as well as those without in the United States, Japan and Australia, and have come out with five key provisions which are not included in our present Code of Ethics. This we shall do during our next general assembly this December.

Not the least, may I also urge all COPC members in behalf of the Board to accomplish their personal data sheet in the office. This data will not only serve to provide you with an updated press card but even more important, be the basis for approval of a personal life insurance policy which considering the state of journalists in the country today, is a very welcome initiative.

Happy Anniversary to All! As the famous song by the Carpenters goes, "We've only just begun…"

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In Search of a Responsible Press

May 4, 2006

DAVAO CITY -- After all these years, it comes down to this—rummaging through files in search of ideas and opinions to share. Call it a suppressed desire to mentor the young, but when it comes to the writing craft, I'd fish out archived prose anytime to share to others, if only I had enough of them. Well, happily, here's one: a somewhat personal testament to the working press, delivered last year before the Rotary Club of Waling-Waling.

I am pleased to say to you that this isn't the first time I've met with the Rotary. The more recent one was last December, when the NGO I represented then, the Mindanao Center for Peace and Development, collaborated with the Rotary Club of East Davao.

The MCPD was on its fourth year of giving awards to Mindanao journalists. We were recognizing those who wrote stories about conflict in Mindanao, but these stories were written not to sensationalize the war but to inspire others to work for peace. The Rotary Club of East Davao was an important supporter of that initiative, along with our other partners, the Philippine Information Agency and the ANFLO Group of Companies.

The reason I'm telling you this is that I'd like to acknowledge the role of civic organizations in improving the quality of community journalism. The state of the local press, as you most probably know, leaves much to be desired. Before we can even talk about responsible journalism, we must look at how the press goes about its business, and how it comports itself. And sadly, for an institution whose rights and freedoms are protected by no less than the Constitution, the press is fraught with many weaknesses and even excesses.

Competent, qualified reporters and editors are hard to come by. Radio and TV anchormen, not to mention some columnists, continue to moonlight as PR agents of politicians and businessmen. And because of this basic flaw in the industry, we read stories without depth, listen to broadcast commentaries that glorify or slander an official, and endure television segments on the accomplishments of politicians passed off as legitimate news.

This is not the press that we, the public, deserve. Yet finding fault is one thing; venturing into the root causes is quite another—which leads us to ask why, for such a noble profession, media practitioners allow themselves to be less than what's expected of them.

Largely, the answer lies in economics. Community reporters, especially the radio anchormen, are among the poorest paid employees. And so long as they are marginalized, they will continue to seek other sources of income, even if these do not sit well with the ethics and standards of journalism. Partly, too, the answer lies in some of the owners of media establishments, who may not always be filled with enough civic sense, or idealism—to inspire young reporters to do the job right despite the low pay.
To be sure, journalism isn't an easy job. Responsible journalists must be well read, inquisitive to a fault, and very hard working. Above all, they must be able to write fairly well, with an eye for detail and a commitment to the facts. Journalists must be beholden to absolutely no one, not to mayors and congressmen, not to big businessmen, not to rebel leaders. This fierce independence is what defines the mettle of the journalist.

Which is, by most standards, a tough act to follow. For even if reporters were paid reasonably, and even if some of the publishers, editors, and station managers had the good sense to instill some high purpose in the newsroom, the demands of the trade would still be daunting—if not dangerous.

In our city alone, social issues cry out for attention and concerted response. The killing of our minors. The persistence of illegal drugs and child prostitution. The disturbing state of our watersheds, Sex in the Internet. Corruption in high places.

And how must the true journalist respond to these—and a host of many other problems—without risking life and limb? It can't be done. There is really no way a journalist can have the best of both worlds, simply because seeking out the truth and asking the right questions can have the direst consequences.

But, as the saying goes, that's par for the course. Which is why, all the more, the media needs the full support of the community.

Support, in fact, may have been slow in coming, but steady. Only recently, the MCPD teamed up with The British Council in organizing a workshop for the Davao media. For six days at the Eden Mountain Resort, both neophyte and veteran reporters exchanged views about their work, interacted with their British counterparts, and resolved to address the dilemmas they faced when covering the news.

Small steps, these may be. And time may be running out, considering how rapidly our society is changing. With over 30 million cell phone subscribers nationwide, people tend to believe texted rumors more than our newspaper headlines.

But there is no other alternative but to hope. If we believe in our capacities to transcend ourselves, then we must have faith in the capacity of our journalists to exceed our expectations. For only when we understand their limitations and potentials, and only when we begin to work with them can we fully appreciate their indispensable role as the true watchdogs of our community?