From seek­ing an­swers, jour­nal­ist Jamela Alin­do­gan takes a turn at an­swer­ing ques­tions


Philip­pine so­ci­ety from a jour­nal­ist’s stand­point

“If you want to be­come a good jour­nal­ist, study phi­los­o­phy. Don’t study jour­nal­ism,” ad­vises Al Jazeera cor­re­spon­dent Jamela Alin­do­gan. She says phi­los­o­phy teaches critical think­ing and em­pa­thy, two vi­tal qual­i­ties that jour­nal­ism re­quires; in col­lege, she her­self took up jour­nal­ism as a pre-law course, with no in­ten­tion of be­com­ing a jour­nal­ist.

From a re­cent in­ter­view with the pres­i­dent and sur­viv­ing a chest-deep flood dur­ing Yolanda to cov­er­ing a crime scene where “a piece of the vic­tim’s brain was left on my sneaker,” Alin­do­gan has done ev­ery­hing imag­in­able. Af­ter a decade of de­liv­er­ing news, the ta­ble turns for her as she takes the in­ter­vie­wee’s seat to dis­sect the land­scape of jour­nal­ism in the Philip­pines.

How would you de­scribe a typ­i­cal work day?

I al­ways have two travel bags ready: one for 10 days and one for three days, both equipped for cov­er­age on ei­ther a nat­u­ral dis­as­ter or armed con­flict. In Manila, I al­ways wake up at 5:30 a.m. I go through the morn­ing news and I just live in my head for a while. I like those morn­ings. Af­ter that, I help

my son pre­pare for school. For the rest of the day, I can say that, of­ten, I do not own my time. Some­times, I don’t know if I have to get on a chop­per or brave the wa­ters or cover a street rally. Any­thing can hap­pen in a day.

Jour­nal­ists are ex­pected to main­tain neu­tral­ity, but do you think they should take a stand?

De­mo­niz­ing jour­nal­ists seems to be the lat­est trend. Some call us bi­ased; they even coined a new term, ‘pressti­tutes.’ I be­lieve that all jour­nal­ists [should be] moral­ists. Our man­date is to stand for truth and hu­man­ity. There has to be ob­jec­tiv­ity in re­port­ing as a method, but our fi­delity is to the truth. Our job is to bear wit­ness, so if we’re in a sit­u­a­tion where we see a vi­o­la­tion is be­ing com­mit­ted, our job is to call it for what it is. Stay­ing silent means we are party to those crimes. No sit­u­a­tion, though, is black or white; I al­ways say there are so many dif­fer­ent shades of gray, and our job is to re­port on con­text. [To] al­ways be the voice of the mi­nor­ity. With all the human rights vi­o­la­tions around the world, I say there’s never been a bet­ter time to be a jour­nal­ist.

And, there are so many fake news sources on so­cial me­dia now.

There is so much dis­in­for­ma­tion now, and so­cial me­dia sites are also re­spon­si­ble for that. I be­lieve that there are de­lib­er­ate, state-funded ef­forts to dis­credit jour­nal­ism, to weaken the Fourth Es­tate in or­der [for the heads of state] to pur­sue their own po­lit­i­cal agenda. We now live in the post-truth era where de­bate is now largely framed based on emo­tions. Truth is not be­ing re­spected. That is dan­ger­ous, and we must all fight against that. When a new hege­mon is ris­ing, a war should also rise.

What do you think is hap­pen­ing right now?

What’s hap­pen­ing is the nor­mal­iza­tion of dic­ta­tor­ship, the nor­mal­iza­tion of fas­cism, the nor­mal­iza­tion of big­otry and sex­ism. This is not just a job for jour­nal­ists. This is what civil so­ci­eties should fight against. His­tory is the best in­di­ca­tor of what could tran­spire. I may sound like a pes­simist, but the fu­ture is not look­ing too rosy.

With all the chal­lenges we’re fac­ing this year, do you still be­lieve in cit­i­zen jour­nal­ism?

To a cer­tain de­gree, yes. I still be­lieve that they help shape the agenda for a lot of news­rooms be­cause the feed­back is in­stant and di­rect, but it has also been largely abused. We need to po­lice the in­for­ma­tion that we have out there: sift through fake in­for­ma­tion, ex­pose fake sto­ries, and speak strongly against vi­o­lent rhetoric.

From a van­tage point in­side the news­room, how would you de­scribe 2016 so far?

It was a very, very news­wor­thy year be­cause of the out­come of elec­tions. Thank­fully, there were no ma­jor nat­u­ral dis­as­ters like the Yolanda ty­phoon or the earth­quake in Bo­hol, but the war on drugs has clearly dom­i­nated our cov­er­age. And rightly so. The year is not over yet. We also have a con­tro­ver­sial pres­i­dent who seems to rat­tle ev­ery­one ev­ery time he opens his mouth.

You’ve been de­liv­er­ing news for many years. Do you still fear any­thing?

I have cov­ered so many dan­ger­ous as­sign­ments that when sol­diers see me land­ing in a town or an is­land, they ask me ‘Jam, why are you here, is some­thing bad about to hap­pen?’ I have, sadly, be­come the de­liv­erer of bad news. Like a bad omen, per­haps?

There’s been a long dis­cus­sion about gen­der roles. As a woman jour­nal­ist, what can you say about it?

Cul­tures evolve dif­fer­ently. Women have dif­fer­ent roles in dif­fer­ent so­ci­eties. I have been to far-flung places, em­bed­ded with rebels who were sur­prised to know that I am mar­ried and with child. Some of them tell me they have not met any­one like me be­fore. I think it is not that a lot of them look down on women; they just have dif­fer­ent ex­pec­ta­tions. What we have in the Philip­pines is a machismo so­ci­ety, but this is also a coun­try run by women. I don’t go to work think­ing that I’m a woman. I am a hu­man­ist and in the field, I don’t ex­pect to be treated dif­fer­ently.

Duterte has been called out for cat­call­ing fe­male jour­nal­ists. What can you say about that?

You know, his be­hav­ior is very typ­i­cal of a lot of pro­vin­cial politi­cians. He does not shock me be­cause I’ve trav­eled to many places where they ac­tu­ally speak like that. If they in­sist on it, I call their bluff, or call out their be­hav­ior. No one is ex­empt from this, not even the pres­i­dent.

Are there any books that you would rec­om­mend for as­pir­ing jour­nal­ists?

El­e­ments of Style. That’s num­ber one, that’s a bi­ble. I love mag­i­cal re­al­ism so yes, Gabriel Gar­cia Mar­quez. I love the clas­sics: Leo Tol­stoy’s Anna Karen­ina and Ge­orge Or­well’s 1984. I also read a lot about war. Chris Hedges is my fa­vorite. He’s rough. He’s been a war cor­re­spon­dent for the long­est time, and he wrote a book called War is a Force That Gives Us Mean­ing. It’s a jour­nal­ist’s per­cep­tion of war. Bao Ninh’s Sor­rows of War is also an­other fa­vorite— achingly beau­ti­ful.

“What we have in the Philip­pines is usu­ally machismo so­ci­ety, but this is also a coun­try run by women. I don’t go to work think­ing that I’m a woman. I am a hu­man­ist first. In the field, I don’t ex­pect to be treated dif­fer­ently.”

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