Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Communicating Peace and Mindanao to mainstream Media

I was still enjoying my self-declared holiday when our admin officer texted me that I need to attend a forum sponsored by Mindanao Economic Development Council (MedCo) and it would be greatly beneficial for a communication arts graduate like me.

Venue: Cafe El Gato, Rancho Palos Verde. Hmmm. Place unknown for me.

The swimming pool at the clubhouse. I would really love to take a swim if not for P110 pesos fee! (Actually it was only for exclusive use of members).

It was inside the premises of Davao Butterfly Garden and the Crocodile Park. Two places I haven't been to. Pathetic! hehe

and since the venue is near the crocodile park, look what's on their menu.

Croc meats!

So what transpired during the event? It was quite intriguing and at the same time timely, since Mindanao, Maguindanao in particularly is in the bad light again. How can we communicators link the gap with reality and sensationalism? How can we communicators from Mindanao bridge the gap between Manila and Mindanao media?
So let me share a narrative report I made.

Day 1

The event was graced by communication consultant and media relations experts from Metro Manila. Mr. Marcelino Ballesteros, a professor in Asian institute for Journalism (AIJC) and communications management consultant discussed how to manage communication resources. He talked about the importance of resources like money, human resources, time and the new media. Other resources both intangible and tangible was also tackled. Networks, media, professional memberships and other intangible resources such as image and reputation, credibility, goodwill and experience are important in communicating well our messages to another person. He stressed the importance of having these resources and maintaining it for future partnerships. Since the resource person used to work for IBM-Phils., he shared some of his experience in media relations and corporate activities and the integral role of communications.

He was also the resource person for crisis management and communication wherein he tackled foreseeing the future by reviewing past events. He also reiterated the importance of close media relations in times of crisis particularly in corporations are important in maintaining the image and credibility. Preparing for crisis to come is also very crucial yet sadly, 80% of our government agencies do not have any crisis communications planning as shown by handling of the previous disasters. Setting up the crisis communication plan which will set the guidelines when that eventual situation happens. Preparation and even post-mortem and future crises is important for survival and rehabilitation.

The next resource speaker is Teng Reyes-Castillo, who used to work for Growth and Equity for Mindanao (GEM) and according to her resume, was responsible for the creation of Mindanao section in every newspapers. She's also a PR consultant. She discussed the publicity, public relations, and maintaining the relationship with the press. She also shared 15 ways how to get the stories printed.

During the open forum, the issue on the thin line between maintaining media relations such as gift-giving and being equated to bribery was discussed. To this, Amy Cabusao answered that she advised her staff in Mindanao Times not to accept gifts. She also defended Mindanao media practitioners, aside from the unscrupulous ones, as persons who are dedicated to their work.

The recent Ampatuan massacre has been the topic for the day too, knowing many journalists has been killed from the said convoy. A moment of silence were offered for them. And again, Mindanao is in the limelight for the atrocities done. Mindanao's image and peace building efforts are being tested again.,

In the afternoon, panelists are from print media, bloggers, film and television and young Moro Professionals. Mr. Bloggie Robillo, one of the founders of Mindanao Bloggers, a loose group of Mindanawon bloggers in the island who aims to promote and talk about issues in Mindanao. (FYI: Sir Pete Laviña was one of the members of the core group who conceptualized gathering Mindanawon bloggers). Robillo also shared the previous holdings of Mindanao Bloggers Summit (MBS) in Mindanao (first in Davao City, followed in Gensan and just last October in Cagayan de Oro. The 4th MBS will be on Zamboanga). Blogging for tourism promotion and food appreciations tours are regularly conducted. He was also the resource speaker in Hong Kong for the gathering of Asia-Pacific bloggers and software developers. He emphasized the role of blogging, not necessarily sugarcoating, but presenting Mindanao as it is through individual and collective initiatives of bloggers is important in spreading information through the lens of the inhabitants of the islands.

Amy Cabusao, the editor-in-chief of Mindanao Times shared also the commitment of Mindanao media decision-makers- editors, radio and television station mangers to uphold their role as source of information. The media who reports the news, does not only shows but can also “distort” reality. On their own initiatives, they have been holding their own media summits with different annual themes. For this year, they held the 5th Mindanao media Summit in Cagayan de Oro with the theme: “Elections 2010: Vote for Change, Vote for Peace”. She also shared their frustrations of Mindanao reportage by their Manila counterparts. But she also shared the local initiatives and partnership with community- based media in info dissemination.

Samira Gutoc, the co-convenor of Young Moro Professional, shared her view show communicators promote peace and development in Mindanao. As a correspondent for, she shared that indeed, there is a need to bridge Mindanao and Manila Media. A short historical overview of Phil. media was presented and how it evolved and the bad coverage Mindanao always get. She also attended Media Nation wherein they were able to gather major mass media gatekeepers and how they view Mindanao and the framing of the stories coming from the island. It seems that there is a low demand and interest in Mindanao stories in the mainstream, not unless it is all about gore and war. Bias and prejudice and lack of educations remain to be the reason. There is always a tendency to “exoticize” the island by generalizing it. The aborted MOA-AD; the lack of knowledge in the peace process and Muslim concerns are also considered as “hard sell”. A woman's face in peace negotiations is also lacking.

In the field of Film and television, Mr. Dax Cañedo talked about the initiative of local artists to come out of a distinctly Mindanawon cinema. The head of Davao Alchemy Lights and Vision and co-convenor of Mindanao Film and Television Development Foundation, he shared the rich and diverse narratives in the island that is untapped. Locally produced movies in vernacular is slowly gaining recognition in the international festivals. Sadly, they are also facing promotional problems to the audience since they have to compete with the “internationally-savvy” movies. Next year, the group plans to show the movies in schools for bigger audience and also to promote it to the youth.

The panelists L-R (Amy CAbusao, Dax Canedo, Samira Guto and Bloggie Robillo)

Day 2

Fr. Bert Alejo presented the results of the consultation conducted by Konsult Mindanaw as commissioned by the Bishop's Ulama Council (BUC). At the heart of the controversy of the controversial MOA-AD document the lack of communication. After the aborted signing of MOA-AD, Malacañang tapped BUC to conduct a consultation in the communities. The BUC, on the other hand choose a “neutral group” and decided to tap the academe.

Fr. Bert Alejo, Konsult Mindanaw's Project Coordinator

One of the issue thrown is the source of fund for the consultation. But Fr. Bert defended that they “will not be influenced by the source of fund” and in order to avoid issue, they proposed that they will only make the research design and another group would implement it. But the BUC ask them to do both.

The consultation, according to him is the “sincere response to people's desire participation in th peace process.” The questions anchored on the visions of peace, the GRP-MILF Peace talks, on broader peace process and personal commitment of the people in peacebuilding. He shared the findings of the consultation (Please see attached ppt. presentation.)
Based on the findings, they recommended the following:
1.Sincerity – This are clearly manifested in reforms; the OPAPP's mandate should be also reviewed.
2.Communication- there is a need for a comprehensive media and communication program. OPAPP had one but it was too late for implementation. It was formulated and presented on July 2008 while the signing of MOA-AD was scheduled on August 4. The research proposes to start the communication program by using MOA-AD document as the reference. Secrecy of the negotiations did not work. There is an ICG (international Contact Group) but how about a Local Contact Group? There is a need for parallel, horizontal and even vertical communication. Two substantive issues were also raised by the Supreme Court in the constitutionality of MOA-AD. First, is the process. So what constitutes a legitimate consultation to get SC's approval? Is BUC's Konsult Mindanaw's 300+ groups consulted enough?
3.A Coalition of Consultation Studies Group – Fr. Bert proposes for all NGOs and other groups who already conducted consultations to converge and meet.

Peace has a political and social dimension.

In the afternoon session, speakers are from a national media and correspondent in international media.

Carlos Conde, a freelance correspondent for The New York Times and International Herald Tribune shared his thoughts on what are the international media's impressions on peace and development stories coming from Mindanao. He grew up in Mindanao and used to be a writer for Sunstar. The following are the snippets of his talk:
- Peacebuilding needs blending.
- The recent Ampatuan massacre could be an opportunity to discuss Mindanao problem or we can live it as a hiccup Mindanao subject itself every now and then.
- When you stay in a place long enough, you were not able to see the big picture.
writing for international audience is hard but it is also an opportunity.
- Mindanao is not just a Public Relations problem. There is no way we can present the good news of Mindanao without telling the stories of violence. Apart from the good news, do not ignore the bad news but try to explain it. It is crucial that we try to reach to them (media) and be candid about it.
- We cannot detach Mindanao problem from the national government.
Mindanao is not just an angle (in making the article/story); but for a complex region like Mindanao it should be more than that. If you are a communicator, try to engage the journalist, try to enliven him/her, try to develop into a good source of information and a good relationship with him/her.

The next speaker was from Newsbreak of ABS-CBN, Lala Rimando.

- “Readers appetite” for story. We only pattern our style according to their appetite.
- We journalists need someone who's credible and we can go to anytime for information.
- We need a story that “sells”. Important also to consider several factors to determine if your story is “newsworthy”: timeliness, scope. interest.
- There are lost of peace and development stories in Mindanao but at the back of our mind, we have to think if the story would sell.
- It is the nature and structure of media to be that way. they had to shock the audiences in order for them to grab a copy or read the story.
online media change the dynamics of the newsroom.
- communications should assess traditional media. Take advantage of the power of the web to influence agenda.

Day 2 panelists (L-R) Carlos Conde, Lala Rimando and Fr. Bert

In the afternoon, a focus group discussion was conducted to be incorporated for Mindanao 2020 of MedCo. Minda2020 is a Peace and Development Imperative, a plan that will set development imperatives in Mindanao for the next 11 years. The participants were asked to share its vision for Mindanao in the next 20 years, what are the important things or reforms to be done. Most of the participants shared their views, majority are still hopeful for sustainability of Mindanao and the importance of good governance in the island. While two or three participants, sees more devastation for the island if there are no crucial reforms in education, environmental protection and people's behavior.



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