The six SAF 2014 fellows—one Malaysian, two Indonesians, and three Burmese–are currently doing their fieldwork in the Philippines to work on this year’s theme, “Promoting a regional understanding of impunity in journalists killings in the Philippines” .
They went to various cities in Mindanao Island in the Southern Philippines to interact relatives and victims of violence for journalists, interview sources, as well as visit the massacre site in Ampatuan, Maguindanao. Afterwards, they went to Manila to conduct more interviews with government officials and media advocates.
The fellowship began with an Orientation Session on 28 to 31 October that gave them an opportunity to learn more about the impunity phenomenon and journalist safety. It was also a time to fine tune their preparations for the stories they will write.
The first session on Impunity in South East Asia and the emerging international mechanisms that can help address the situation and led by SEAPA’s Ed Legaspi, presented a general picture of the trends in each country in the region. Violence against journalists normally occur outside the context of armed conflict, and mostly in connection with reporting on sensitive topics such as corruption, crime and human rights abuses. Impunity also occurs in the context of coverage of political conflict, where journalists are reporting on state action to breakup protests, and get caught up in violence or are targeted for their news coverage.
Ed also presented an overview of the key developments with the UN system that responds to the issue of impunity against journalists. Important resolutions have recently been passed that provide a framework of how different states can work to promote journalist safety and end impunity.
Later, SEAPA Campaigns manager Kulachada Chaipipat explained how SEAPA works on the issue of impunity and how the current fellowship contributes to the campaign.
Fellows also had an opportunity to learn skills and best practices on keeping safe while reporting. The interactive briefing was facilitated by senior journalists of the International News Safety Institute (INSI), Red Batario and Chino Gaston. Through this briefing, fellows learnt about the importance of team and protocols while covering news in the conflict zones, such as emergency contacts, fallback places, “no-contact” periods, and data security. The two speakers also gave inputs on what to expect and how to best conduct the fellowship field work in the Philippines.
Commenting this session, one fellow said, “[It] opens up my mind about how important the safety is.” Another commented,” I learnt a lot of practical safety tips that I can apply in [my work].”
Discussions on the impact of impunity on the work of journalists and human rights activists was the highlight of the second day. Naulnoi Thammasathien, a senior journalist from the Southern Thailand, and Sunai Phasuk, country representative of Human Rights Watch described the challenges of impunity relating to political conflict in Thailand, as well as the armed conflict in the southernmost provinces. Political polarization, the presence of vested and criminal interests, as draconian laws sich as the lese majeste law had made it more difficult to eliminate impunity in this country, and obstructed the works of both journalists and human rights defenders.
Later, Renato Mabunga of the human rights network Forum Asia explained about the similarity of impunity against human rights defenders, and the role of national and international mechanism to address impunity.
Forum on impunity in Thailand
Since this year SAF Program is coordinated with SEAPA’s campaign against impunity, a forum was held on third day to discuss Impunity in Thailand. SEAPA is coordinating similar activities in Cambodia and Indonesia as part of its campaign.
In order to end impunity, the panelists proposed some recommendations, including: 1) Ensuring Thai society are aware of the culture of impunity by making information widely available; 2) Ending martial law; 3) Preventing political interference in court proceedings; 4) Upholding the law enforcement and eliminating any discrimination in its implementation; 5) Supporting the victims and their families in seeking redress, especially by educating them about the law and human rights; as well as 6) Supporting the work of NGOs and media who conduct documentation of cases.
The fellows will continue further phase of activities by attending the debriefing phase in Manila from 16 to 20 November.
Each fellow is expected to produce one main story and one sidebar on the theme. They will be supervised by three senior editors, Cecile Balgos, Red Batario, and Rosario Liquicia, who will work with them as in a “newsroom” to enable them to finish their stories by the end of the debriefing session.