Philippine journalists debate carrying guns
Karl Wilson, Foreign Correspondent
- Last Updated: February 01. 2010 10:57PM UAE / February 1. 2010 6:57PM GMT
A Filipino forensic expert shows the identification card of Daniel Tiamzon, one of the journalists killed in the Mindanao massacre last year. Getty Images
MANILA // Should journalists working in high risk areas be allowed to carry guns to protect themselves?
It is a question many journalists in the Philippines have been asking for years and one being asked more frequently since the massacre late last year of 57 people, including 31 journalists, in the worst case of political violence ever seen in the country.
Not only did the killings put the Philippines in front of war-torn Iraq as the most dangerous country in the world for working journalists, it was also the biggest number of journalists ever killed in one day while on the same assignment.
Among journalists living in the relative safety of Metro Manila, few feel the need to carry a gun, but for the hundreds of men and women of the Fourth Estate in other areas, especially in the restive south of the country, it is fast becoming a question of survival.
John Unson, chairman of the Cotabato City chapter of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said recently the “advocacy for arming reporters in the south has intensified” since the November 23 killings in Maguindanao, a poor province on the southern island of Mindanao.
“While many journalists outside of the hostile southern provinces are opposed to journalists keeping guns for their protection, most media practitioners in the region have no alternative but to arm themselves,” Unson said.
“Mindanao is not the easiest place to work as a journalist,” said one reporter who works in Muslim Mindanao and did not want to be named. “You work in constant fear that whatever you write or say may offend somebody locally. Down here, no one bothers with filing libel or defamation actions in the courts like they do in other countries. A bullet costs around 20 cents [70 fils] and you can hire a hit man for a hundred bucks. Killing a journalist is much cheaper than going through a long and costly court case,” he said.
“Yes, I carry a gun. I have had too many threats made against me and my family. It’s not a question of ethics, it’s a question of protection … for me and my family. Does it make me a bad journalist? I don’t know, but when I go out into the province on a story I feel a hell of a lot safer knowing I am armed.” . . .