September 28, 2009 · Posted in: General

PCIJ seminar: Pushing cross-border journalism

The regional conference on peace, human rights and good governance conducted by the PCIJ opened today at the Asian Institute of Management in Makati City, two days after the nine-hour deluge that is typhoon ‘Ondoy’ that packed rainfall in volume so massive it triggered floods so high and so widespread in most of Metro Manila, the worst in the last 40 years.

The three-day seminar on the theme “Peace, Human Rights, Good Governance: East Asian Democracies at the Crossroads” coincides with the 20th founding anniversary of the PCIJ. It was conducted with support from The Japan Foundation and the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA).

It opened with a moment of prayer for the victims and survivors of ‘Ondoy’ that as of last count included almost a hundred people dead and about 300,000 people displaced or uprooted from their homes, according to the National Disaster Coordinating Council (NDCC).

David Celdran, chairperson of the PCIJ board of editors, welcomed the speakers and participants who flew in from Indonesia, Thailand, Cambodia and Hong Kong after enduring flight delays, not to mention flight turbulence. The PCIJ itself earlier cancelled the scheduled anniversary cocktails with seminar guests and colleagues on September 27, or a day after the flooding to allow those affected by the historic torrent to recover from the aggravations it caused. (PCIJ Executive Director Malou Mangahas instead welcomed speakers and other guests to a simple dinner at the conference venue.)

Celdran gave a backgrounder on the seminar organizers, stressing the need to promote investigative reporting and cross-border collaboration among journalists in Southeast Asia.

Mangahas underscored the need for regional seminars on common concerns of human rights, peace and good governance in light of strategic leadership shifts in the region through elections and parliamentary processes These changes are taking place amid remarkable developments in media and technology and media consumption patterns across the region. Mangahas, a co-founder of the PCIJ, expressed hope that the seminar would achieve the following objectives:

  1. Help foster better understanding and engagement between and among independent and mainstream journalists, civil society groups and the academe and development agencies about the protection and promotion of human rights, peace and good governance in the region;
  2. Provide learning sessions for the region’s journalists while encouraging cross-border reporting on these concerns; and
  3. Provide journalists in the region with a wider network of expert and relevant sources from various sectors.

Mangahas concluded by exhorting participants to make new friendships and keep them alive through the years, while expressing gratitude and faith that the Japan Foundation will continue to help inspire the work of independent media organizations across the region..

For his part, Ben Suzuki, director of The Japan Foundation, congratulated the PCIJ for holding the seminar on its 20th anniversary. Suzuki noted the timeliness of working for cross-border actions and advocacies, and as well as historic shifts from authoritarian to democratic rule across the region. Suzuki shared that Japan is likewise embarking on an experimental approach to re-establishing democracy, after the newly installed government broke half-a-century of conservative rule here.

In his welcome remarks, SEAPA Executive Director Roby Alampay warned the audience that he has an unlucky streak, noting that disaster always follows him to different places, from Bangkok to Greece, to Indonesia, Bhutan and finally here in Manila where calamity struck anew soon after his arrival.

He said that natural disasters such as ‘Ondoy’ made him realize about the seminar’s importance and in particular, how it is an auspicious occasion for journalists from different parts of the region to contribute to finding the big picture that should enlighten the public to explain the flooding, beyond simple statistics.

Alampay stressed that it was not about the number of dead or the amount of rainfall, but perhaps other bigger, deeper issues which the media could look into. One issue which Alampay noted could contribute to a deeper understanding of the tragedy could be the 800-million peso contingency fund for emergencies such as calamities, which a congressman alleges has been diverted to augment the administration’s foreign trips based on a Commission on Audit report.

He said that given the environment for press freedom and independent media in the region, “we can piece the big picture together,” the kind of journalism that he said the PCIJ has exemplified in the last 20 years.

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