Thursday, September 24, 2009

PCIJ at 20

Philippine Daily Inquirer/Opinion/by Ma. Ceres P. Doyo
This week the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) is celebrating its 20th anniversary. How time flies. The past 20 years have indeed been colorful, dangerous years for this journalistic endeavour which is an Asian first and which continues to be not only investigative but innovative as well in its reporting and use of new forms of media technology.

Part of the celebration is a seminar for Asian journalists. The theme is “Peace, Human Rights, Good Governance: East Asian Democracies at the Crossroads.” Why this theme? In the next three years, PCIJ explains, a number of countries in Southeast Asia will witness strategic shifts in leadership through elections and parliamentary processes. General elections were recently held in Indonesia. The Philippines will hold its first national automated elections in May 2010. Parliamentary elections in Cambodia are scheduled to be held in July 2011. Thailand and Malaysia have recently witnessed changes in political leadership, while other nations in Southeast Asia continue their evolution into fuller, more stable democracies.

PCIJ hopes that the gathering would foster better understanding and engagement between and among independent and mainstream journalists, civil society groups, academe and development agencies about common concerns with protection and promotion of human rights, peace and good governance in both the restored and restricted democracies of Southeast Asia. It will provide learning sessions for journalists from Southeast Asia and in the process encourage cross-border reporting and correspondence on these concerns.

Events are unfolding in Asian countries even as these countries grapple with common concerns – how to keep the peace and settle pockets of internal conflict, how to institutionalize, protect and promote human rights, and how to sustain reforms and democratic processes and to uphold good governance. These critical issues rate high on the agenda not just of governments but also of journalists, civil society groups, academe, business and the professions. These concerns are unfolding amid dramatic changes in media and technology, and media consumption patterns across the region.

PCIJ thinks that the reformed and young democracies of Southeast Asia have done very little to foster interaction and engagement among their peoples. To PCIJ, this is a stark, if sad, evidence in the paucity of media reports with a regional perspective, as well as the nearly total absence of cross-border reports on common concerns like peace, human rights and democracy, done by teams of journalists from across national borders.

Since its founding, PCIJ has produced about 450 investigative reports and other stories in major Philippine publications, produced five full-length documentaries, and launched over two dozen books and video documentaries. PCIJ has won many major awards including nine National Book Awards, a Catholic Mass Media Award, and more than two dozen awards and citations from the Jaime V. Ongpin Awards for Investigative Journalism and a Ramon Magsaysay Award for one of its founders and executive director for many years, Sheila S. Coronel who now heads the Tony Stabile School of Investigative Journalism at Columbia University and who continues to serve in the PCIJ board.

Seasoned journalist Malou Mangahas, the present executive director, is pushing PCIJ to new heights and frontiers of investigative reporting. Other members of the board are David Celdran (chair), Howie Severino (vice chair), Dominick Danao, and me.

There are many individuals who were behind PCIJ’s growth and becoming. PCIJ was founded in 1989 by nine Filipino journalists who realized the need for newspapers and broadcast agencies to go beyond day-to-day reportage, that is, to go deeper and broader, show the bigger picture.

While the Philippine press is undoubtedly the liveliest and freest in Asia, deadline pressures, competition and budgetary constraints make it difficult for many journalists to delve into the causes and meanings of news events. PCIJ provides opportunities for journalists to go beyond their daily beats. This is not to say that the mainstream media are found wanting.

PCIJ does not intend to replace the work of individual news institutions but encourages the development of investigative journalism and to create a culture for it. PCIJ believes that the media play a crucial role in scrutinizing and strengthening democratic institutions, that the media could — and should — be a catalyst for social debate and consensus that would redound to the promotion of public welfare. The media must therefore provide citizens with the bases for arriving at informed opinions and decisions.

PCIJ is now a byword in Asian journalism. It is an independent, non-profit media agency that specializes in investigative reporting. The center funds investigative projects for both the print and broadcast media. It publishes books on current issues and an online investigative reporting magazine, i, on its official web site, PCIJ also publishes, a daily institutional news blog, and, a database and resource tool on Philippine politics and governance. PCIJ is also a training center for journalists. It offers seminars for news organizations in the Philippines and Southeast Asia. It also tackles issues involving the media and access to information.

PCIJ reports have prodded government action on issues like corruption, public accountability and environmental protection. Some have triggered the transfer or resignation of senior public officials and justices, and formed part of the evidence in the impeachment, and eventual trial for plunder, of a Philippine president.