2013 McLuhan Fellow Eileen Mangubat Delivers Annual Journalism Lecture


Eileen G. Mangubat CDN FILE PHOTO

Journalism in time of calamity

By    –      –   Wednesday, December 4th, 2013

If journalism is done well, it empowers communities, saves lives, dispels dangerous rumors, cultivates compassion and keeps hope alive.

These are some roles of the media in covering disasters, according to publisher Eileen G. Mangubat in her inaugural lecture at the annual Marshall McLuhan Forum on Responsible Journalism held at the Marcelo B. Fernan Cebu Press Center Theater in Cebu City.

Mangubat, who is also acting editor in chief of Cebu Daily News, was conferred the 2013 Marshall McLuhan Fellowship by the Canadian Embassy yesterday. Newly installed Canadian Ambassador to the Philippines Neil Reeder handed the award to Mangubat.

“I’m very pleased to be here today and to present this McLuhan award to Eileen, to recognize her contribution to journalism in this country and for all the work she has done to promote the values of good faith and responsible journalism that has no boundaries and borders,” Reeder said.

Mangubat is the first Cebuano and the third community journalist to be named a McLuhan Fellow. The other two were Diosa Labiste of Iloilo City in 2010 and MindaNews editor Carol Arguilles of Davao City in 2011.

As part of the fellowship, Mangubat will travel to Canada in February for a two-week study and speaking tour.

Learning from disasters

Mangubat described 10 roles of the media ranging from providing a “reality check” to rallying the community behind relief efforts and “zapping rumors”.

“Community journalists know the power of local stories and images to connect with the various publics that we reach. The work keeps us grounded,” she said in her presentation “Journalism in the Time of Yolanda: The Evolving Role of the Media in Covering Disasters.”

She also told an audience of mostly mass communication students that journalism was “not just a job, but a vocation” carried out for public service.

“While everyone else is hunkering down, finding a warm, dry place to wait out the storm, you (journalists) are being sent to the front lines to be a witness of this awful occurrence. And the mission extends beyond that, to telling the story of how people are more than victims,” she said.

With back-to-back disasters of the Oct. 15 Bohol-Cebu earthquake and supertyphoon Yolanda in Nov. 8, she said it made her see more clearly the importance of the news media “not just in showing the scope of damage – as the traditional bearer of bad news – but in pushing the basic job of truth telling in other roles to achieve a broader sense of public interest, “ she said.

She cited as an example the prime attention given to the private sector’s support of the #BangonSugBohol”, a unified donation drive for calamity victims of the earthquake and supertyphoon Yolanda.

“What the media did was to help energize it by covering it as a news story.”

While it’s important to cover the big story in a calamity, “Community newspapers use another lens to focus on small but significant details,” such as stories of survivors which offer lessons in “perseverance, love of family, and sacrifice,” she added.

“Keep hope alive; cultivate compassion. These are two roles the media doesn’t do often enough. Or sometimes, we do it badly by trivializing what should be an exercise of human dignity,” she said.

Mangubat, who has been a journalist for 30 years, said the first job of the media in a calamity is to report the facts of damage and loss as well as to give a sense of why it happened.

“The journalist is an observer who tells it as it is. This also means not confusing one’s personal preferences with the work at hand,” she said.

Mangubat cited as an example broadcaster Korina Sanchez’s remark dismissing CNN reporter Anderson Cooper as not knowing what he was talking about in reporting about the lack of government leadership in the devastation in Tacloban City right after supertyphoon Yolanda.

As the wife of Secretary Mar Roxas, she should have avoided to comment.

“All Cooper had to do was show his tapes. Korina the broadcaster had violated the rule of conflict of interest and damaged her own credibility because she was never in Tacloban,” she added.

Mangubat, who finished a bachelor’s degree in journalism at the University of the Philippines in Diliman, admitted that the media committed lapses.

“There are many things we could have done better,” Mangubat said. She added that while the media put out public advisories and typhoon warnings days before Yolanda hit, nobody explained the full threat of a storm surge.


“What happened in Yolanda? A fatal lapse in communication. No one really understood what a ‘storm surge’ meant. In painful hindsight, the choice of term alone could have saved thousands of lives,” Mangubat said.

“We didn’t see that (storm surge) as the number one threat, even President Aquino. I looked up our raw reports in the Pagasa announcements and even the President’s national TV address. The storm surge advisory was somewhere buried in the body. It didn’t make any impact,” she aded.

Another media role she suggested was to “partner with peers”.

She cited the joint project of Cebu’s three newspapers to set up the #Relieftracker, a database to monitor where relief donations were sent in Cebu.

“In the community press, we compete fiercely for readership. But in this calamity of Yolanda, we found a common cause.”

On the question of whether it’s the role of a news organization to raise funds for calamity victims, she said that “if an organization has the heart and the means to do these efforts with transparency and good bookkeeping, by all means, the help is welcome. But it should be driven by a real spirit of service, not corporate ego,” she said.

Source: http://tinyurl.com/lzahceo
 Skyline of Metro Cebu

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