Talking Heads and Human Rights: Media’s Poor Grasp of Something Basic
CRITICISM OF the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) has reflected the limited understanding of and even a lack of appreciation of human rights. Social media threads hold the angry accusations of netizens against CHR for siding with alleged drug suspects killed in police operations, and being silent when people are robbed, raped or murdered by non-state agents. (See “Understanding the Commission on Human Rights“)
It may also be a blind spot for some in the media.
An October 18 report by Light Network’s program News Light evoked the same kind of reactions. The report said the CHR was going to investigate whether the Armed Forced of the Philippines (AFP) violated human rights in the “bloody” killing of Isnilon Hapilon and Omar Maute, top leaders of the ISIS-affiliated Maute terror group that took over Marawi City. News Light showed a video clip of Atty. Gemma Parojinog, CHR Policy Advisory Officer, saying that all humans have rights and that the CHR will investigate whether the rules of engagement were followed to ensure that the rights of the enemy were also respected.
InterAksyon reported on October 19 a “clarification” provided by CHR spokesperson Atty. Jacqueline de Guia, who explained that the commissionhas been focused on the alleged violations of the rights of the displaced Marawi residents, and had not looked into the deaths of the Maute and Hapilon. De Guia said that Parojinog was “misquoted,” saying that what was really meant was that CHR would continue to monitor human rights violations in Marawi. She added that the commission has not flagged violations in the incidents involving the deaths of the Maute members.
Parojinog’s quotes were actually presented out of context.
On October 20, News Light claimed that it is not “inventing news” and only relies on its sources’ statements. It posted on its Facebook page a longer clip of Parojinog that included her exchange with a reporter, which was not shown in the previous report. The unidentified reporter asked why Maute and Hapilon were killed that way — shots fired to the head and chest — and whether the method violated their human rights. Parojinog responded that CHR still does not know how the ground operations went and that it would be better to wait for the findings. The reporter then asked Parojinog if terrorists still have human rights.
While it is true that Parojinog did say that criminals have human rights, the narrative of the News Light report made it sound like the CHR only looks at terrorists’ rights, which the report seemed to indicate as surprising and unacceptable.
CMFR did not find in any report reference to rules of engagement in combat, or the treatment of prisoners of war as embodied in the Geneva Conventions of 1949 and their Additional Protocols.
GMA News’ report on October 26 showed a more informed and enlightened treatment of the issue. It featured an exclusive video obtained from a “GMA source,” which showed soldiers taunting and beating a man stripped to his underwear. As some were shouting questions, asking the man if he was a Christian, some tried to pacify the other soldiers, even calling for a medic. It was not clear whether the prisoner was captured or if he had voluntarily surrendered. But the video recorded the physical assault before he was handcuffed and taken away.
In this same report, Col. Romeo Brawner, deputy commander of Joint Task Force Ranao told GMA News that the AFP does not tolerate human rights violations and that they will look into the incident.
Social media users seemed to disagree. Most comments on the report, as uploaded on GMA’s Youtube and Facebook accounts, said the suspected terrorist deserved the harsh treatment, and that the video only wanted to put the military in a bad light.
Following GMA’s release of the video, journalists sought the AFP for comment. Brig. Gen. Restituto Padilla, AFP Spokesperson, told the media in an October 27 press briefing that captives should be treated decently, but dissuaded the public from sharing the video as it can be used as propaganda against the military.
Those assigned to report on war and conflict areas should be equipped with a stronger background on the issues of human rights. Hopefully, members of the media believe in the universal application of these rights for all persons. Otherwise, they will feed the mistaken belief that human rights are only for some human beings.