Media and Human Rights Education: Now More than Ever

In many countries and customs – I forget which, couples when they get married – they symbolically jump over something, fire, a line or something. I’ve seen it on TV so it must be true….

I would like to see us symbolically agree to do something similar here today. I would like us to agree that if there ever was a line that divided media and human rights, we decide to jump over it today.

We agree that it is not a crime in journalism for reporters to be human rights advocates –rather we see it as giving clarity to our mission – and it provides us a badge of courage and commitment.

After all –lest we forget – modern journalism evolved out of the pamphleteers –people who wrote leaflets and papers which came out against what they saw as unjust laws in the 18th and 19th centuries.

So human rights advocates and journalists in fact share the same heritage. Likewise the best remembered journalists are those who wrote with their heart on their sleeve –from James Cameron to Ed Munro. Similarly, some of the best Philippine journalists are those who have moved in and out of the NGO community.

Sadly today, if you read the papers, listen to the radio and watch TV you sometimes get a sense of despair –not least with the political leadership.

I have written about the botched MOA and how it was apparently so badly handled by Manila on our project website –but that is only one instance of many that serves to lower people’s trust and confidence in the current political system.
At times like these, society looks around to try and find moral compass points to help them make sense of things in a crazy world – religious authority is one obviously –so too is the media.

And I would conclude that just as the media has to be committed and engaged when reporting crisis and conflict –so it has to be engaged and self-aware when reporting on more mundane things.

Speaking to journalists, editors and trainers over recent months I have heard it said that few young people want to go into journalism any more. Those who study communications, do so simply to get a better paid job in marketing, PR, or even in a call center.

These jobs are both better paid and there is far less of a chance of ending up dead.

But I would end now by saying that it is our job and your job in particular to try and inspire the new generation of journalists. And the way to do it is by showing how now, more than ever, the media and in particular human rights journalism is one of the best ways to serve, protect and strengthen society.

There is a saying that societies get the political systems they deserve – yet as the key facilitators for communication, dialogue and debate, the media has a critical role to play in challenging the status quo.

In saying that I don’t mean it should be working to bring down a government or to support a new leader. I mean instead the media has instead to consider a possible paradigm shift: It has to think up new ways of working that might include campaigns, alliances, linkages, ongoing narratives and different ways of framing stories and issues. It needs to platform new voices, new ideas and new thinking. We have to platform and empower people and groups we have not yet heard from.

One key linkage and continuing we need to make is the link between corruption, political nepotism, pork barrel politics and human rights.
And so – as journalism educators -rightly or wrongly- I believe a great deal of responsibility is now down to many of you here today:
It is for you to inspire and train the next generation of media professionals –those who understand and appreciate that human rights awareness and reporting lies at the very heart of their being as Filipino journalists and citizens.

In these very trying and testing days, we need them – and you — now more than ever. Philippine Human Rights Reporting Project/Posted by Bulatlat

*The author gave this keynote speech at the Asian Congress for Media and Communication International Conference on August 21-23, 2008 at the Ateneo de Davao in Davao City. The conference held the theme “Media in Asia: A Tool for Human Rights Education and Monitoring” to focus on the role of the media and the academe in reporting human rights.

Bulatlat is posting this speech minus the introduction and salutations. The full text of the speech can be read at…

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