“They have a bigger voice now because of the Internet,” Joseph Morong told students at Toronto’s Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School Feb. 11. “So they have the power to change perspectives.”
The Internet, he said, is a way for youth to have a more powerful presence in the world than their parents were able.
“When you are young you are a little bit more open,” he said. “You don’t have a lot of prejudices that probably your parents would have.”
Morong is no stranger to prejudice. He’s spent the past three years extensively covering attempts to establish peace in the Philippines’ Mindanao region, which was originally established in the 1960s as a safe haven for the country’s Muslim population.
Morong’s work earned him the Marshall McLuhan Fellowship for his investigative reporting. Launched in 1997, the award encourages investigative journalism in the Philippines with the belief that a strong media is essential for a strong democratic society. It is named after McLuhan, the Canadian Catholic communications theorist who explored media and communication in our culture. The fellowship is granted annually by the Canadian embassy in Manila to one journalist nominated and chosen by their peers.
The peace efforts were on the verge of bearing fruit in the form of the Bangsamoro Basic Law, legislation seeking to establish an autonomous political party known as the Bangsamoro, said Morong. But the bill failed to garner the endorsement of 145 of the 240 in the Philippines’ congress needed to pass when put forward in the house on Jan. 27.
“Peace talks… are back to square one,” he said. “It is going to be a very difficult process.” Morong has a strong opinion as to what caused the bill’s demise.
“The congress of the Philippines failed to pass the (bill) … because it is election season and there is a lot of prejudice still against Moro (Muslim) Filipinos,” he told the McLuhan student body.
Michael McLuhan, Marshal’s youngest son, who joined Morong for the final stop of his visit to Canada, told the students that not only do they have the power to tell stories, they also have a role in influencing what stories reporters like Morong cover.
“Making peace a topic of conversation in the press rather than war, that is up to the consumer of the media,” said McLuhan. “That is not the responsibility of the reporters. You have to make it known that those are the stories you want to hear.”
Morong wishes more would answer that call.
“The peace process in journalism is not a sexy topic,” he said. “I wish more people would get more excited when they hear about it. Many times I have asked myself is it just easier to report on war than on peace because peace is boring.”
There are those who yearn to hear about peace. Daniel Licuan, a 17-year-old Marshall McLuhan student originally from the northern region of the Philippines, is one.
“It feels great that someone, a journalist, is making a move against the corruption towards peace with his work,” he said. “He’s trying to make a solution to the corruption.”
For Morong that’s one down, countless more youth to go.
“They have a lot in their hands, the opportunity to change things … (by) highlighting all these stories from their perspective,” he said. “The way to counter that prejudice is through education, through repeating their history from their point of view.”
Marshall McLuhan Catholic Secondary School, 1107 Avenue Road, Toronto,ON