AsPac Fellowship: Day Two

As the 2013 Asia Pacific Fellowship continues in Bangkok, Fellows Meena Ahmed, a reporter at The News International in Pakistan, and Julius D. Mariveles, a freelance and journalist and safety activist with the National Union of Journalists-Philippines, will provide thumbnail sketches of their colleagues and faculty members. (For a full list of Fellows, click here.)

Learning to Feel: Irma Martam, Indonesia

Irma Martam admits that it’s not easy helping journalists cope with trauma. “If we must learn how to walk and talk, recognizing trauma is also like that, we should learn how to feel,” the Indonesia-based psychologist said about working for journalists who have been through stressful and traumatic events.

Not that she is complaining. But in a profession steeped in macho culture, coaxing journalists to seek professional help if they are experiencing trauma is challenging enough.

“There are only a few of them who have come to me and have sought counselling,” she said. Martam, director and general coordinator of Yayasan Pulih, a foundation that does psycho-social support work in Indonesia, is part of the faculty for the Asia Pacific Fellowship. On Tuesday she described how journalists in Asia who are working under hostile conditions and combat situations are vulnerable to psychological injury while doing their work.

While Pulih, which means “recovery” in Bahasa Indonesia, had been working with trauma victims over the past decade, it was only in 2007 that Martam started linking up with Dart Centre in implementing programs for journalists. The challenge lies in helping journalists recognize that trauma can affect them and their reportage, Martam said. But with the stigma and high cost of seeking professional help attached to it, news professionals suffering from trauma often do not want to admit it is afflicting them much less seek help for it.

This is among the reasons Yayasan Pulih emphasizes informal support systems. Journalists would usually seek help from their peers rather than from professionals. “Peer support systems should be developed and even the families should be involved because they are the ones who are closest to journalists,” Martam said.

“I have met a lot of journalists who are traumatized and I would give them my contact details but only a few of them come back to have counselling,” Martam, who holds a Masters Degree n Public Health from George Washington University in Washington, DC, added.

- Julius D. Mariveles

A Troubling Encounter: Gil Da Silva, Timor Leste

Gil Da Silva, a Dart Asia Pacific Fellow from Timor Leste, is an active freelance online journalist, who has encountered many challenges thoughout a decade-long career. He shared one assignment he found particularly troubling during Tuesday’s Fellowship seminar, and agreed to be interviewed about it for this blog.

Da Silva described an assignment to interview a former interior minister of Timor Leste, who was allegedly supporting a local militia group by providing them arms and modern weapons illegally being imported from Belgium and Austria.

The individual proved difficult to pin down. Silva decided to follow him after one of the parliamentarian sessions.

Da Silva described stopping his source in the street and putting forward a question. Instead of answering, the interior minister gave him a deep look, and turned the tables, questioning about Da Silva about his background and experience. “My question was easily ignored by the interior minister. Instead he asked me if I have any clue about the needs of my nation,” recalled Da Silva.

With a dismissive expression, the former interior minister brushed Da Silva aside and asked his body guards to clear his way.

Da Silva was bothered by his own reaction: The interior minister’s questioning Da Silva’s credentials lowered the reporter’s morale. Although he continued to work on the story, he found the encounter discouraging, and has realized that such day-to-day attempts by sources to discredit reporters can be a significant issue for journalists throughout their careers.

- Meena Ahmed