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Filipino Women Journalists Must Prepare for Dangerous 2022 Polls

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Third/last in a series on the Roundtable discussion organized by IAWRT Philippines, OsloMet Journalism and Media International Center, in partnership with the Philippine Press Institute and Hanns Seidel Foundation.

by Janness Ann J. Ellao

Gigie Cruz, Filipino photojournalist and editor for ABS-CBN News and former chairperson of the Photojournalists’ Center of the Philippines (PCP), discussed the safety of women journalists in covering the elections amid the pandemic during the roundtable discussion and forum, “Halalan 2022: Ready na ba ang kababaihan sa media?” on October 9.

Women journalists and female journalism/communication teachers and students participated in this online event organized by the International Association of Women in Radio and Television (IAWRT) Philippines and Oslo Metropolitan University (OsloMet) Journalism and Media International Center (JMIC) in partnership with the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) and Hanns Seidel Foundation (HSF).

Cruz emphasized that the safety of women journalists is brought to the fore again as the Philippines prepares for another national election. Citing a study by Dr. Tom Smith, principal lecturer in international relations and terrorism in the University of Portsmouth in the United Kingdom, Cruz said the Philippine elections next year could be “the bloodiest ever.”

I hope that will not happen, but we have to prepare ourselves. Given the forecast that it will be violent, do we step down? We have to find a balance between risk and safety. Women journalists in the Philippines have shown us that there’s always a way to tell our stories.

Gigie Cruz

As it stands, the Philippines is one of the most dangerous places for a journalist, with President Rodrigo Duterte named as one of the world’s 37 press freedom predators of 2021, according to the Reporters Without Borders. Also, during the pandemic, the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP) said there were more attempts at silencing journalists through charges of libel, which is a criminal offense in this part of the world.

Cruz recalled that in recent history, among the deadliest attacks against journalists worldwide was the infamous Ampatuan massacre that killed 58 people, where 32 were journalists and media workers. This, she added, happened during the election period.

“It is also important to create safe spaces for women journalists where they can find support from each other, especially when things get rough. I think it is always helpful to have organizations like IAWRT and PCP and NUJP, so you can always have people to have your back in case threats happen,” said Cruz.

Apart from looming violence, the risks amid the COVID-19 pandemic must also be considered by journalists who will be covering the elections. Cruz pointed out that there have been changes in how Filipino journalists have been covering, including the wearing of double masks, the use of longer microphone posts, and physical distancing, to name a few.

In her presentation, Cruz highlighted the importance of assessing the risks and opportunities during pre- and post-coverage and protecting one’s digital security. To prepare for coverage, she said it is important to have a contingency plan, make use of location monitoring applications for the newsroom, and use personal protective equipment.

“We always do risk management. Is the threat bigger than the opportunities? Or are the opportunities bigger than the threats? And then you make a decision: should I stay or should I go?” she said.

Cruz also underlined the need to revisit the rights of journalists. “Before we go out there, we should know our rights. We should know the laws that cover journalists, so every time there is a threat against us, or harassment, we can emphasize to these people that I know my rights and I have the right to cover this story,” she said.