“Do no harm.” “Don’t add to the chaos.”

Two journalists said these as they appealed for prudence in practicing conflict journalism to future journalists from UPLB’s College of Development Communication (CDC).

JC Gotinga, Rappler senior producer, and Carmela Fonbuena, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), made this appeal in their talk “From Marawi to Ukraine: What You Need to Know about Conflict Journalism” at the CDC’s Department of Development Journalism (DDJ) Seminar Series on April 15, 2024 at the ICOPED Auditorium.

Gotinga and Fonbuena shared with the students the realities and challenges they faced as conflict journalists while covering the wars in Marawi and Ukraine.

They emphasized the importance of prioritizing the welfare of ordinary citizens affected by war over publishing sensational news and meeting newsroom demands.

Gotinga called on reporters to carefully assess how they frame their stories, despite their factualness, before disseminating them to the public, as sensitive information can make or break people affected by war.

He also urged them to use politically appropriate terms to avoid misinterpretation.

Gotinga said, “It’s so hard to judge war when you’re not part of it… sana huwag na tayong makadagdag ng gulo (I hope we don’t add more trouble). When you cover war or conflict, I would say the first thing you tell yourself is, “Don’t add to the chaos.”

“Dapat ‘yung isusulat mo at ‘yung irereport mo ay makakatulong sa resolution o pagbawas sa pagdurusa ng mga nasa giyera (What you write and report should contribute to the resolution or reduction of the suffering of those in war),” he added.

Fonbuena seconded his insight, discussing the concept of slow news, in which the press postpones publishing a story so they can first conduct in-depth information processing.

“Do no harm,” Fonbuena cautioned the students. Referring to stories on torture, Fonbuena said, “As much as it’s a big story, it is also important to show that you have a documented case of torture, but do you put the life of [people] you interviewed in danger?” she said.

After the talks, an open forum took place, which mostly revolved around ethics, fact-checking, and conflict journalists’ physical and mental welfare when on the field.

In her welcoming remarks, Dean Maria Stella C. Tirol tackled how conflict or peace communication is also one of the dimensions of development communication and acknowledged DDJ for providing an avenue for students to explore this field through Rappler and PCIJ, which she also thanked for their continued partnership with CDC.

In her closing remarks, faculty member Aletheia C. Araneta lauded the speakers for their humanistic approach to reporting conflict, which reflects development communication’s value of ‘knowing your audience.’ She said that she hoped that the practical wisdom shared by the speakers had inspired the students to keep telling the stories of the people.

The forum was coordinated with Rappler, Open Society Foundations, Perhimpunan Pengembangan Media Nusantara (PPMN), and the DEVC 80 (Communication and Society) class of one of DDJ’s lecturers and Rappler multimedia business reporter Ralf Rivas, who also moderated the event.

The forum was attended by CDC students and staff, as well as those from other state universities, colleges, and agencies.

The seminar was streamed live on the CDC Facebook page. (Jayvee Viloria; Photos by Jai Delos Reyes)