KASAMA Vol. 17 No. 3 / July-August-September 2003 / Solidarity Philippines Australia Network

A Collaborative Effort is Needed to Build a Free and Responsible Press

At the Magsaysay Award ceremonies on August 31st the Executive Director of the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), SHEILA CORONEL, was recognised for "leading a groundbreaking collaborative effort to develop investigative journalism as a critical component of democratic discourse in the Philippines". Sheila is one of seven to receive this year's Ramon Magsaysay Award, Asia's equivalent of the Nobel Prize, honouring greatness of spirit shown in service to the people. The following is Sheila Coronel's acceptance speech.

Your Excellency President Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, trustees of the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation, distinguished guests, fellow awardees, ladies and gentlemen.

The great Filipino film director Lino Brocka, who received this same award in 1985, once told me, "You cannot have the great Filipino movie unless you have the great Filipino audience."

The same, it must be said, is true of journalism.

Twenty years ago, in August of 1983, I was a rookie reporter covering the aftermath of the assassination of Senator Benigno Aquino. Ferdinand Marcos was then president and he held the media in a very tight grip. Even when millions of people were out in the streets in protest, we were not allowed to write about them. I covered the rallies in a car that had the name of my newspaper prominently painted on its doors. Several times, angry crowds surrounded our vehicle, and on one occasion, pelted it with stones. "Write the truth!" the protesters shouted at us. "Write what you see."

Those people out in the streets were our readers. And since then I have kept my faith in them. That incident and many others through the years have affirmed my belief in the wisdom of the great Filipino audience. With them behind us, I do not see why we cannot produce great journalism.

Seventeen years after the fall of Marcos, we have an adolescent press. Its hormones are raging. It is lively and exuberant, but also unruly. Yet, for all its flaws, it has seldom shirked from its duty to hold the powerful to account. My colleagues and I at the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism believe in the power of a watchdog press. We have seen how conscientious reporting empowers citizens with the information they need to take collective action against corruption and the abuse of power.

Democracy is not a spectator sport, and our people know that. We witnessed in 1986 and again in 2001 the power of people who are informed, engaged, and enraged. We are in awe of such power - and those who hope to lead us should beware of this power as well.

We thank the Ramon Magsaysay Foundation for affirming our faith and for recognizing the role that investigative journalism plays in our fledgling democracy. I will be honest by saying that this democracy has caused us much grief; but despite that, we believe in its promise. We also recognize that democracy is a sham if it is impervious to the pleas of the poor and the powerless, if it is incapable of renewal and reform.

We thank the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation for recognizing that a collaborative effort is needed to build a free and responsible press. We accept this award with gratitude and humility, remembering those who have labored in this field before us, especially those who have been killed or imprisoned for believing in the power of the word. We accept it also in anticipation of those who will come after us. May the power of the word be with them. May they keep the faith alive.

Mabuhay at maraming salamat.

On the Ramon Magsaysay Awards web site there is a history of the award, biographies of past and present award recipients, acceptance speeches and the text of their lectures. The web site is at

Sheila Coronel's speech and lecture is also available at the Philippine Centre for Investigative Journalism web site at

Democracy is not a spectator sport. It relies on the collective wisdom and action of informed citizens. Without this, democracy is a sham.

(From "Enriching Democratic Discourse: Investigative Journalism for an Informed Citizenry", Sheila Coronel, 2003 Magsaysay Awardees' Lecture Series.)