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The 'unwilling' and the 'ungrateful'.

Byline: Rina Jimenez-David

Autonomy -- utonomy, says a consultant from Finland, can often be an uneasy partnership between the "unwilling" and the "ungrateful." Speaking of the Finnish experience regarding the grant of autonomy to the Aland Islands in the early 1900s, Dr. Kimmo Roobert Kiljunen, a special representative for peace mediation of the Finnish foreign minister, said that the years of negotiations and mediation over the archipelago between Sweden and Finland and even the League of Nations (forerunner of the United Nations), were marked by distrust and reluctance on all sides.

The Aland Islands lie at the entrance to the Gulf of Bothnia in the Baltic Sea, inhabited by a predominantly Swedish population who speak Swedish, and whose emotional ties were decidedly bound to Sweden.

But upon the independence of Finland from Russia, the former colonizers granted the Alands to Finland, and in the wake of the islanders' vehement objections, the issue of the territory was brought to the League of Nations for mediation. In the end, it was decided that the Aland Islands would be an "autonomous, demilitarized and Swedishspeaking region of Finland." Still, despite the peaceful outcome of negotiations, in the early days, says Kiljunen, the Finnish government was "unwilling" to grant some of the concessions, while the citizens of the Alands seemed "ungrateful" for the compromises that had been reached. "Everybody was unhappy," says Kiljunen.

But, notes Kiljunen, a former member of the Finnish parliament, "there is a need for compromise on both sides," and despite the early misgivings, the Alands are today the most prosperous part of Finland, sourcing its wealth from shipping, fishing and tourism. And while the islanders exclusively speak Swedish, in the Finnish mainland schoolchildren are required to study Swedish.

Kiljunen, together with Thomas Phipps of the British Embassy who served as an international observer in the International Contact Group in Mindanao and who spoke on the UK experience with Northern Ireland, provided the international perspective in a roundtable held last Wednesday on "Media and Peace."

Perhaps the voices and experiences of foreigners, whose countries had undergone the wrenching transition from conflict to compromise, from calls for secession to agreeing to autonomy, from simmering resentment to respect for the "rule of law," were necessary to lend some perspective on the heated debates over the draft Bangsamoro Basic Law and the stubborn and persistent fears and apprehensions surrounding it.

Sponsored by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, the roundtable was the first of many activities planned to provide the media with background and context in their coverage of the historical transition toward official recognition of the Bangsamoro. Media practitioners from print and broadcast and from all over the country took part.

After all, said Melinda Quintos de Jesus, executive director of the CMFR, "news coverage is capable of influencing events" in this period of uncertainty. How so? Prof. Luis Teodoro, speaking on the CMFR's review of peace and conflict coverage (with particular attention on Mindanao), said media reporting could create a "them vs. us" mentality among the public, and without providing "context" to the issues that arise, could end up perpetuating stereotypes and feeding baseless fears and apprehensions.

BASED on studies the CMFR conducted over the last decade or so on the coverage of peace and conflict in Mindanao by three major newspapers and two networks, Teodoro said that first of all, "the media takes the hint from government" when it comes to reporting or analyzing conflicts. This is to be expected, he said, since the sources quoted or cited by media outlets come mainly from government and the military.

Recently, though, said Teodoro, there has been an "improvement" in providing context or background to the reporting, while he notes "better sourcing" in the sense that reporters now include other "players" when seeking views or opinions: leaders of the Moro community or of rebel groups, NGOs, academics. He also took note of a change in tone in that "hopes for peace" now surface in many reports.

When he speaks of the need for "context," he means the need for media "to go beyond the body count" of casualties and battles, added Teodoro. Instead, he suggested, why don't reporters ask combatants "what are they fighting for" and to strive to paint people involved in conflict "as human beings and not as caricatures."

There is an assertion in media studies, said Teodoro, that "peace journalism" is a "violation of objectivity." But peace journalism is based on "peace as a desired and desirable human value" that champions the "peaceful resolution" of conflict, he said.

IN THE discussion that followed, Howie Severino of GMA7 noted that much of the violence in Mindanao (and even elsewhere in the country) can be traced to what he called "smaller" and lowlevel violence, such as clan wars (or "rido" among Muslim families) and conflicts based on political or economic differences.

Even if the Bangsamoro law is passed and the Bangsamoro referendum results in the replacement of the ARMM, such smallscale conflicts will persist and pose a threat, said Severino.

For her part, De Jesus stressed that the "same values apply" in the coverage of "big" wars or "small" conflicts. The CMFR, as well as the

Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process, have also begun gathering data on a "conflict map" that could be used as a quick guide while planning or evaluating the scope of coverage. On Sunday: The "flash points" in the runup to passage of the Bangsamoro draft law, and the role played by the media.
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Publication:Philippines Daily Inquirer (Makati City, Philippines)
Geographic Code:4EUFI
Date:Oct 24, 2014
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