Media and Human Rights Education: Now More than Ever

To balance –what does balance mean? Does it mean to always include the opinions of the most powerful people –warlords, presidents and generals — some of who might disagree with each other?

Because you get the commanders of opposing sides in your story, does that make a story balanced?

Maybe balance can mean something more. Maybe balance means showing the real impact and effect of something – the effect of a policy.

In fact I often think our media is far too concerned with statements on policy and not the actual impact –or non-impact of that policy.
In this way, maybe our media is unbalanced in its choices and treatment of stories.

And sometimes if you are too balanced – the audience is left feeling confused. Take the recent Philippine annual report to the new Human Rights Council in Geneva. A lot of media reports had the government saying that Geneva and the international community were very, very, satisfied with the government’s report on human rights in the Philippines this year. At the same time, these media reports also said that the NGO groups here called the report a whitewash.

So the stories were balanced. But what was the truth? Is the government right or are the NGOs right? The public is left feeling confused. So sometimes the media has to call it. We the audience sometimes need more – a lot more.

I wish I could really talk about the media and human rights monitoring as there is much to do be done on that score –but time is short. Suffice to say, people interested should come talk to me and engage with our website and project. One thing, for example I would love to see is a commonly agreed list of names of people who have been summarily killed or disappeared. NGO figures on the one hand are distrusted by many – and the PNP’s own figures are likewise rejected by many.

The media I think has a role here in dispassionately and objectively coming together to determine a list – and then to seek justice for them.

And I think it is important too that media doesn’t always turn to the powerful and in so doing make them even more powerful to the extent that ordinary people are always shut out and ignored or only ever presented when they are victims. People don’t want pity – they want justice – they want the rule of law and they want a fair platform.

A good journalist should know how to choose, frame and balance a story that actually means and says something new and doesn’t simply give the platform to the same old politician and leaders saying the same old things.

The fact is we validate fools by always going back to them –and in that way new people and new ideas and new thinking is shut out. We need to be more creative.

When I first came to the Philippines to work last year, I was surprised and a little disappointed to learn that pretty much all coverage was determined by the beat system of reporting.

A lot of people told me how they would love to do more human rights reporting –only it didn’t fit in anywhere.
There is the political or city hall beat, the police or crime beat and maybe the business beat. But there is no time or space for a human rights beat.

But nor does there need to be –so long as journalists understand better human rights. In part it is about training –but in part it is about good old fashioned common sense.

As an example, a few days ago I wrote a blog on our website saying that all journalists covering the Mindanao crisis should take some time to visit a particular website so they know when to recognize and report a crime of war. Correctly calling something a crime of war is the first step in helping to prevent a repetition.

Somebody here once suggested that better observance and reporting of human rights is a luxury that the Philippines cannot yet afford. There were too many other pressing problems that take precedence he said.

Now to be honest but blunt I think that view is silly. Human rights pervade through virtually everything. They are not just about crisis or conflict. Moreover, awareness and protection of human rights is what makes a society a society.

It is only human rights and the adherence to laws and the delivery of justice that separates us from anarchy and the jungle. The day we say human rights are not for us –or at least not right now – is the day we all give up and succumb.

The family of human rights and human rights laws equally relate to socio-economic, cultural and developmental rights. This is why we focus a lot in our project on issues like poverty, the right to education; employment laws, domestic violence and land rights.

These are every day issues here in the Philippines that the media have a moral obligation to understand and cover.

This is why the person who told me that human rights are a luxury that the Philippines cannot afford is, I believe, quite simply wrong.
In travelling around the country I meet local journalists –some of whom have complained that everything is appalling and that it is no use and there are lots of covenants, declarations and laws about human rights –but that in reality here there are none.

To that I said and I say human rights are not delivered from the back of a truck or from on high.

They are fought for every day. The entire history of mainstreaming human rights has been a battle. For those who don’t already know it you should read up on how one solitary Polish lawyer battled for decades to get the term genocide introduced, understood and accepted by the international community.

One thing we all need to agree on is that the issue of human rights is not a Leftist one any more than it is a Christian concept. Observance and protection of human rights is the bedrock of any civilized society and relate to the child the mother, the marginalised and dispossessed – but equally to the worker, to the civil servant, the policeman and soldier. We all have rights. And we are all responsible for defending and improving them individually and collectively.

And so back to the role of the media — and to the jobs of many here as media educators:

Share This Post