In the not-so-distant past, I was a community journalist. (Don’t ask me what I am now, I have no idea.) The job has its positive side — having an impact on a community in a way you wouldn’t if you worked for a big city newspaper — but it can also be the most tiring work in the world. As one of my former colleagues put it, “Nobody seems to understand the hell that is community journalism.”
One part of the job that was “hell,” or just annoying, was reporting on cyclical events — the things that happen over and over like clockwork. In Tahoe, I always knew I would be writing weather stories on the first snowfall, a major storm and when the snow finally melted enough for people to start going to the beach instead of the ski resorts. My colleagues that had been working in the same city for a decade or more had covered the same events so many times they could practically write the story before the event.
Working in a newsroom in the Philippines has given new meaning to the cyclical story. Here, every few months or so, we report the murder of a journalist. Since 1986, when Marcos fled the country, 73 journalists have been killed here. And last week, another journalist was killed.
A 27-year-old radio and newspaper commentator was shot in a public market in Cebu, the same city where, just a few weeks ago, a policeman was convicted of killing a journalist in 2002. That’s a major victory for journalism in the Philippines — where, according to Reuters, it’s the first conviction in 73 murders since 1986. The Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism says it’s the third conviction in 55 cases. (The PCIJ story details the saga of the case — including the murder of two key witnesses.)
I would love to offer an analysis of this situation, but it’s difficult to point to one thing or another as the reason so many journalists are killed here. The Committee to Protect Journalists, which has given the Philippines the unenviable title of “most murderous country for journalists,” offers a great analysis, reporting that it may be a combination of a lack of journalism standards, the inability to enforce the rule of law, widespread proliferation of illegal firearms, and a misunderstanding of the function of the press in a society.
There are a few patterns that have emerged over the last 20 years: Usually the journalists killed are radio commentators in the provinces who were speaking out against corruption. Because of this, my coworkers — TV reporters/writers/producers in Metro Manila — feel somewhat disconnected from the problem. But even well-respected journalists in Manila have received death threats because of their work.
The murder last week was the tenth case of a journalist being killed this year alone. I don’t think anyone here can afford to ignore the problem. It’s representative of so many problems in Philippine society, politics and media — and for the cycle to continue is a tragedy that affects more than just journalism and the media, but the entire country.
On the Radio, Under the Gun, CPJ, August 2005
In Search of Solutions to Media Killings, PCIJ, Sept. 8, 2005