Engaging a foreign diplomat in the time of Yolanda
His Excellency, Neil Reeder, ambassador of Canada to the Philippines blew into town last Tuesday to confer the 2013 Marshall McLuhan Fellowship on Eileen G. Mangubat, this paper’s publisher and editor in chief in simple rites at the Marcelo B. Fernan Cebu Press Center.
The conferment was followed by the McLuhan Forum on Responsible Journalism, with EGM giving a presentation of “Journalism in the Time of Yolanda: The Evolving Role of Media in Covering Disasters.” The forum was organized by the Canadian Embassy in cooperation with the Cebu Association of Communication Educators (CACE).
My colleague’s inaugural lecture had the Canadian envoy, who holds a bachelor’s degree in journalism from Carleton University, listening intently. I think he could very well relate to the task of putting out a newspaper, having edited the Canadian Foreign Service magazine Bout de Papier in the late ’90s and prior to that, the Disarmament Bulletin, another publication of Canada’s Department of Foreign Affairs.
In her paper, Eileen zeroed in on 10 roles of the media during a disaster, ranging from providing the public with a “reality check” to keep people well-informed not only about the intensity or magnitude of the calamity but also about what to do ahead of time; rallying the community to positive action, dispelling unfounded rumors, to conveying hope.
In the time of Yolanda, the role of media in truth-telling still hews to the fourth estate’s traditional function, that is, as bearer of bad news, but the gore and horrifying scenes of the devastation just went off the scale that placing it on the front pages day after day would be perverse if not ghoulish.
Eileen stressed that she balanced the paper’s daily fare by highlighting stories of compassion which, in this city known as the first one to respond immediately for relief assistance during natural and man-made calamities, were more than sufficient and not difficult to find.
However, I think Ambassador Reeder’s attention was gripped by the dynamics of running a community paper from ground zero.
To recall, a 7.2-magnitude earthquake hit Bohol and Cebu last Oct. 15 and the toughest challenge then was to get the newsroom running despite fears that the building was not structurally sound. Fortunately, Eileen narrated, they were able to find an engineer before 3 p.m. that same day, and after he gave the CDN office building a clean bill of health, so to speak, they were able to put out the paper.
In the time of Yolanda, CDN relied on its senior photojournalists, reporters and correspondents covering the northern part of the province for raw reports on Yolanda’s fury. As we know, the island of Bantayan and the 4th district in the north Cebu was where the supertyphoon made its second landfall. The dynamics of making sound decisions during difficult times did not quite get the attention that it deserved during the open forum, but I’m sure Ambassador Reeder was impressed by the McLuhan Fellow’s crisis management style and steely character.
All in all, Ambassador Reeder will find the media perspective post-Yolanda to effectively monitor the massive humanitarian aid that his government has poured out for the Philippines. To date, Canada has pledged more than US $26 million in cash and given more than US $5 million in relief aid channeled through humanitarian partners like the United Nations, Red Cross, Red Crescent and nongovernment organizations like World Vision.
Some 170 personnel from the Canadian Armed Forces’ Disaster Assistance Response Team or Dart had also been deployed in typhoon-ravaged areas mostly in Panay. I will write about this in succeeding articles. Suffice it to say that Canada was one of the first foreign countries to come to our rescue, and for this, we are all eternally grateful.
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Eileen’s stellar professional career spans 30 years. She rose from the ranks, first as a reporter and editor in another paper and much later as the first editor-in-chief and publisher of Cebu Daily News, the local affiliate of the Philippine Daily Inquirer. She is also a pioneering member of the Cebu Citizens-Press Council and sits as trustee of industry bodies like the Cebu Newspaper Workers Foundation or Cenewof, the Cebu News Workers Cooperative, and is an active member of the Philippine Press Institute.
In my book, EGM is a role model worthy of emulation. The Canadian Embassy and the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility or CMFR which coordinates with the Canadian government in the selection of the McLuhan Fellow, could not have chosen a better man or woman.
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