March 25, 2010 · Posted in: General

Keeping the faith in Journalism

PCIJ executive director Malou Mangahas (second from right) receives the Kate Webb Award from Eric Wishart (far left), director of AFP Asia-Pacific, and Kate Webb's siblings, Jeremie Webb and Rachel Webb-Miller.

(PCIJ executive director Malou Mangahas [second from right] receives the Kate Webb Award from Eric Wishart [far left], director of AFP Asia-Pacific, and Kate Webb’s siblings, Jeremy Webb and Rachel Webb-Miller. Photos by Tita Valderama.)

(Agence France-Press)

The Philippine Center For Investigative Journalism was on Wednesday presented with Agence France-Presse’s prestigious Kate Webb Award for its outstanding contributions to press freedom.

The Kate Webb award is for local reporters or media organizations in the Asia Pacific who have produced exceptional work in dangerous or difficult circumstances, or have demonstrated moral or physical courage while reporting.

It carries prize money of 5,000 euros, which will be used by the PCIJ to conduct a training program for Filipino journalists on how to safely conduct investigative reporting in dangerous environments.

The AFP Foundation and the Webb family commended the PCIJ for its fearless investigative reporting over two decades, the dangers of which were highlighted with the massacre of 57 people, including 32 media workers, in Maguindanao province last year.

“The PCIJ has been a beacon of press freedom in the Philippines, and deserves to be a source of inspiration for all of us who believe that journalists should shine a light in all the dark corners of our societies, whether it pleases those concerned or not,” AFP Asia Pacific director Eric Wishart said.

PCIJ executive director Malou Mangahas received the award at a ceremony attended by Wishart, Philippine media executives and Webb’s relatives at the Museum Cafe in Makati.

“We are most humbled and fully inspired by this award and the legacy of Ms Kate Webb. We accept it in honor of over a hundred Filipino journalists, including 32 in Maguindanao, who had been killed for bringing to light the evils of corruption, political dynasties and bad governance,” Mangahas said.

The PCIJ is the second winner of the annual prize, which was created in memory of Webb after she died of cancer in 2007 at the age of 64.

New Zealand-born Webb was one of the finest correspondents to have worked for AFP, and earned a reputation while covering the biggest events in the Asia Pacific as a brave and compassionate reporter.

The AFP Foundation, a non-profit organization created to promote higher standards of journalism worldwide, and the Webb family administer the award.

Speech by AFP Asia-Pacific director Eric Wishart at the Kate Webb Award ceremony

Ladies and gentlemen,

Thank you for attending tonight’s presentation of the Kate Webb Award to the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.

I would especially like to welcome Kate’s sister and brother, Rachel and Jeremy, who have made the trip from Australia to be with us tonight.

Before I talk about the decision to present the prize to the PCIJ, I would like to say a few words about Kate Webb, whose birthday it would have been today.

Kate was one of the pioneering women war correspondents, starting in Vietnam in the 1960s and subsequently covering many other major conflicts including Afghanistan, the first Gulf war and East Timor, to mention but a few.

She even had her own death notice appear in the New York Times when she was captured by the North Vietnamese army in Cambodia, only to walk out of the jungle the day a memorial service was being held for her. She was in the classic mould of war correspondents — hard smoking, partial to a drink or two, but with a real sense of humanity which shone through in her treatment of local staff when she went on to become a news editor and bureau chief for AFP.

When Kate died of cancer in 2007 at the age of 64, the Webb family and the AFP Foundation agreed to create an annual prize in her memory, which would be open to local Asian journalists working in difficult or dangerous circumstances. The AFP Foundation is a non-profit organization dedicated to the training of journalists around the world.

The first winner was a Pakistani journalist operating in the dangerous border region between Pakistan and Afghanistan, and normally the prize should be awarded to an individual.

However, the jury decided this year to award the prize to the PCIJ, in the wake of the unprecedented massacre of 57 people, including 32 media workers, in Maguindanao last November.

It was a killing which sent shock waves through the entire media business, and in a terrible way showed the dangers faced by journalists around the world in pursuit of their duties.

I was very impressed by a talk given by Malou Mangahas, the head of the PCIJ, at the Hong Kong foreign correspondents’ club a couple of years ago, when she revealed the shocking fact that the Philippines is the deadliest country for journalists in the world.

Including the victims of the Maguindanao massacre, more than 130 journalists have been murdered since the fall of Ferdinand Marcos, with the majority of the killings in the past nine years.

It is not AFP’s role as an international news agency to get involved in local politics, it is our role to cover the news accurately, rapidly and impartially. But we do stand for freedom of the press, and the freedom of our colleagues to carry out their work without facing threats, abductions, imprisonment or murder.

The PCIJ has been a beacon of press freedom in the Philippines, and deserves to be a source of inspiration for all of us who believe that journalists should shine a light in all the dark corners of our societies, whether it pleases those concerned or not.

The PCIJ has only 10 full-time editorial staff, but with its fearless investigative journalism, it is firmly entrenched in Philippine society as a courageous and essential watchdog.

Its dedication to the truth is summed up in its motto: “We tell it like it is. No matter who. No matter what”.

This year’s Kate Webb prize of 5,000 euros, or almost 7,000 USD, will be used by the PCIJ to train local journalists how to safely carry out investigative reporting in dangerous environments.

It is a cause of which our dearly beloved Kate would have strongly approved.

Thank you.

Eric Wishart is the Asia-Pacific director of AFP, and chairman of the Kate Webb Award jury. A former editor-in-chief of AFP, he started his career in newspapers in Scotland, and has worked for the agency in Paris, the Middle East and Hong Kong.

Remarks of Malou Mangahas
Executive Director, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism
The Kate Webb Award Ceremony, 24 March 2010, M Café, Makati City

Ms Rachel Webb Miller, Mr. Jeremy Webb;

Esteemed colleagues from the Agence France Presse – Mr Eric Wishart, Mr Bobby Coloma, Mr Karl Malakunas; Friends from the Embassy of the Republic of France, Mr Georges-Gaston Feydau and Ms Gretchen Wilwayco;

Dear editors, staff, fellows, conspirators and accomplices of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism;

Ladies and gentlemen:

There is something about journalism that sometimes makes one keep faith – sometimes – in many good things.

Such as the goodness of man; the wisdom of democracy and good governance; the power of the people to defend and assert right against wrong.

As well, keeping faith in the merit of chasing stories, no matter how difficult the process, the content ugly, and the job fraught with peril to one’s safety, if not to one’s sanity, sometimes. Yes, sometimes, through all that chasing, a good story comes and triggers good results.

And sometimes, in that moment, a journalist gets affirmation that he or she has probably done right by the profession. Or even better, by the memory of those who had, by their work and their legacy, lent journalism respect, integrity, honor, and faith.

Sometimes we all should keep faith. Such as tonight when we remember the work and memory of a great journalist – Ms Kate Webb – and the journalism award named in her honor.

Tonight, the editors and staffmembers and fellows of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism are truly and fully affirmed. Affirmed that over the last 20 years of our young organization’s life, we might have been doing some good things we have been chosen to receive the prestigious Kate Webb Award.

We accept it in all humility as a most welcome recognition of the journalism we do, but also in honor of over a hundred Filipino journalists who had been killed for doing what we do – exposing corruption, criminals, and crooks.

By all accounts, however, Ms Kate Webb was a tough act to follow.

Fearless, she was a war correspondent and had been locked up in Vietnam and in Cambodia, when doing journalism there was more repressed, more dangerous.

Tireless, she worked the rounds of countries in Asia amid wars, conflicts and uneasy peace, for the Agence France-Presse, until she had to retire not to rest but to raise vegetables in her small estate back home.

Selfless, she gave part of her own pay to supplement the salary of her deputies that she had thought were not getting their work’s fair return.

Generous, she supported the flight to freedom and safety in Australia of an Afghan family that had assisted her.

Faultless, she spared her own family members from worrying about her serious bout with cerebral malaria, and other sorry episodes of her journalism career. She told them only after all the trouble and pain were done.

By all accounts, Ms Kate Webb was, more than just a brave and brilliant journalist, a good person.

I see a few parallels between the life and journalism she led and that of the PCIJ.

First off, from birth and to this day, the distaffed or female side of journalism had always dominated the PCIJ. The PCIJ was founded in 1989 – a squatter at another media agency’s office, with borrowed office furniture, a second-hand typewriter, and just enough money to pay a secretary — from the sweat and single-minded dedication of Ms Sheila S. Coronel, our founding executive director.

Nine journalists, happily myself included, are the founding editors of the PCIJ but it was Sheila who nurtured our baby until four years ago when she left to teach at Columbia University in New York. We have a number of female staff members perhaps because the women are more likely to accept pay cuts for the pleasures and perils of working with an independent, not-for-profit media agency like the PCIJ.

Don’t get me wrong: we have had our fair share of male editors and staff writers, including the chairman of our Board of editors, Mr David Celdran; our vice chairman, Mr Howie Severino; and our treasurer, Mr Dominick Danao. Two other women journalists complete the PCIJ Board of Editors – our resident editor Ms Cecile Balgos, and Inquirer columnist and book author, Ms Ma. Ceres P. Doyo.

But the PCIJ story would not be complete without giving due respect to the memory of Mr Alecks P. Pabico, our first multimedia editor who died of a serious ailment only last year, after 14 years of loyal service to the PCIJ.

PCIJ staff and board members
PCIJ staff and board members

We built the PCIJ in 1989 on a simple dream – to help nurture a culture for investigative reporting in the Philippines, and in the process, make good journalism a cornerstone of good governance, democracy and progress.

Investigative reports produced for parallel platforms – print, television, and online – remain our cutting edge yet we have produced as well a modest portfolio of journalism books, documentaries and full-length films, and what some call the databases of reference on Philippine politics and government, an online political history of the Philippines.

Twenty years hence, with generous support from foreign and Filipino foundations and donors, we have a bumper harvest of results: about 500 investigative reports (and only two minor libel suits), about 80 training seminars for journalists in the Philippines, Southeast Asia, and Southern Africa; and over 120 awards and citations from media and public policy agencies at home and overseas. The Kate Webb Award humbles and honors us the most.

A Filipino-American Pulitzer Prize winner who had worked with us for a year until last month calls us “a small but mighty organization.”

In truth, we are by physique and constitution small, except for our multimedia director, Mr Ed Lingao who is vertically-challenged, and our platform architect, Mr Jaemark Tordecilla and our system administrator, Mr Marc Racal, who are both horizontally-challenged.

The other staff members of the PCIJ are just light of weight – or we insist we are. They include our training director, Ms Tita Valderama; our multimedia associate producer, Ms Justine Espina Letargo; our senior researcher-writers, Ms Karol Anne Ilagan and Ms Che de los Reyes; and most important of all, our admin/finance officer, Ms Dona Lopez, and our admin assistant, Ms Yoly Nicolas, the employee with the longest service record.

If you have been keeping count, that is just 10 people in all. A small team of 10 but propped by a lot of secret sources of strength. Such as our network of fellows across media platforms across the Philippines. In 20 years, over 120 non-staff fellows had written for the PCIJ, most notable of them. Ms JJ Jimeno, who had also served as deputy executive director. Yet another secret is our deep reserve of goodwill from donors, patrons, and civil-society partners and associates.

Tonight we celebrate not just what the PCIJ has done but what good things good journalism, across generations, across nations, and across platforms could and had offered.

Ms Kate Webb will always be our Exhibit A of that kind of journalism, the journalism that makes us keep faith, for some time longer, that chasing stories everywhere and all the time is not a bad thing at all.

Thank you very much, Mr Jeremy Webb and Ms Rachel Webb Miller.

Thank you very much, Agence France Presse Foundation.

Thank you and good day, everyone!

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