“Reporting war should not be approached as breaking news,” the study entitled “Media on Marawi: Coverage of the Siege” said. “It is usually part of a long process involving a breakdown that usually has many causes and bears many issues.”
The study reviewed the news reports from three major broadsheets, namely the Philippine Star, the Manila Bulletin and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and news coverage from four networks, namely TV Patrol, 24 Oras, Aksyon and CNN Philippines. The news reports included in the study were either broadcast or published from May 23 to October 31, 2017.
The conduct of war took up the bulk of the coverage of the Marawi siege. This can be shown in the study entitled “Media on Marawi: Coverage of the Siege.” This report was made by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility and released last April.
The CMFR study reviewed news reports from three major broadsheets, namely the Philippine Star, the Manila Bulletin and the Philippine Daily Inquirer, and news coverage from four networks, namely TV Patrol, 24 Oras, Akson and CNN Philippines. The news reports included in the study were either broadcast or published from May 23 to October 31, 2017.
The CMFR study showed that journalists took note of airstrikes that missed their targets and casualties from “friendly fire.”
The study showed that “several interviews featured in TV reports with soldiers and officers recorded the admission of the lack of experience of the military in urban warfare.”
For its part, this writer also took note of this issue. According to other military officers and veterans of the Marawi fighting, the Armed Forces of the Philippines (AFP) didn’t lack experience in urban warfare, citing previous incidents that took place in the town of Butig and Zamboanga City .
“The reality is that our soldiers need to upgrade their urban warfare fighting skills in order to adapt to the conditions during the Marawi siege and deal with the tactics used by enemy,” the Graphic was told.
REPORTING THE EVACUATION
The CMFR study noted that “reports on loss of homes, of livelihood depended on random sources and varying estimates, suggesting the initial level of attention to the displace of communities.”
“At some point, reports turned to the subject of evacuees, life in the evacuation centers, the needs and the response to these calls for assistance,” the study said. “But there did not seem to be a central source for information for the missing or the relocation of families who on their own sought refuge with relatives.”
The study found that there were 52 reports about afflicted communities and evacuation while there were 185 specific reports about the conduct of war in broadsheets.
Stories about government policies and budget for the rehabilitation of Marawi during the period covered by the study accounted only for 65 reports.
Samira Gutoc-Tomawis of the Ranao Rescue Team and Zahria Muti-Mapandi of the National Commission on Muslim Filipinos and Al-Mujadilah Development Foundation, Inc. confirmed what the study found.
The two explained that the lack of in depth coverage of the conditions faced by those who fled the fighting in Marawi tended to downplay the urgency of the evacuees’ plight.
“While there were stories about refugees and internally displaced persons or evacuees, these were episodic, not reported as a system,” the CMFR study said.
“At some point (end of June or early July), authorities said there were at least a thousand refugees from Marawi,” the study added. “By the time the siege was over, however, it seemed that there was no system of tracking and knowing where these displaced people were.”
Muti-Mapandi agreed with CMFR study, saying that up to now, the list of the missing and dead civilians in Marawi was still not complete and that the accounting of evacuees needed to be improved.
Better news coverage of the plight of evacuees could have helped highlight the urgency of their situation, she added.
Melinda Quintos de Jesus, the executive director of the CMFR, said that since “journalists depended on the agencies of government to track the fighting, reports should have given attention to other issues in coverage.”
The lesser priority placed on news coverage about the evacuees can be a factor in the public’s apparent lack of appreciation of the urgent plight faced by those who fled the fighting in Marawi.
TERROR AND THE ISIS CONNECTION
During the forum in Quezon City where the CMFR study was presented, De Jesus noted that despite the news coverage of what had happened in Marawi, the Mautes were “as much a mystery to the public as before the siege.”
There was a “lack of information on international dimensions of terror threats on formation of ISIS cell in the Philippines,” she added.
“A new face to the evolving international terror front or national rebel front remains as much the stranger that the Mautes were when they first appeared in the media when they took over the city hall in Butig in November 2016,” the CMFR study said. “They gain prominence when the merger with the Abu Sayyaf broke into the news, but perhaps the prominence was in name only.”
“It is not the coverage of the brothers or leaders as personalities, because this would be glorifying the terrorist,” the study added. “The important issue here is the question of the ISIS connection and affiliation. As international press and experts saw the siege of Marawi as indicating the Philippines as a new arena for ISIS expansion, there were only 20 or so reports on this theme.”
The study found that in the broadsheets, out of 25,921 news reports, only seven were about ISIS connection or affiliation. For the TV news coverage, the study found that there were only 20 newscasts about this issue out of 25,921 reports.
“Information is a tool against terrorism as much as it is used to radicalize and recruit members,” the study said. “But there has been little effort to shine more light on the continuing threat of terror, with or without actual connection to ISIS in the country.”
POST CONFLICT REPORTING
“War is never just an episode or series of outbreaks,” the CMFR study emphasized. “There is always an underlying process, extending from its origins before the outbreak as well as its further unfolding as conflict after actual fighting has ended.”
De Jesus said news coverage should not cease with the end of the conflict.
She explained that continuing the coverage in the post conflict stage was valuable in “identifying critical issues and tracking these with follow-ups.”
This should include reports about the “critical preliminary steps to engage or failure to consider and address” the issue of the displaced folk from Marawi.
The study added that news coverage of both conflict and post conflict stages should be a part of a long process “involving a breakdown of many causes and bears many issues.”
“For our need of national unity and inclusivity, the media could earnestly begin to regularly report on Mindanao even when there is no conflict, war, disaster or crimes story; to focus on all the different kinds of public concerns that make up the news for Metro Manila,” the study noted. “Highlight the cultural, ethnic and religious diversity that characterizes the population.”
“The weight of coverage has not shifted to move the picture of Mindanao as a deeply troubled place,” the study said. “Perhaps it is time for Filipinos to admit that for so long as this does not change, the rest of our country will remain a deeply troubled place.”