Dart Asia Pacific Fellow Paraan named 100 Information Hero

Rowena “Weng” Paraan, Dart Asia Pacific Fellow and long time fighter for journalists’ safety and security in her native Philippines, has been honoured as one of the world’s Information Heroes.

Reporters Without Borders named Weng as one of 100 Information Heroes ahead of World Press Freedom Day on May 3.

The list, the first of its kind, was published to honour a wide range of journalists, bloggers and communicators from 65 nations who “constantly sacrifice their safety and sometimes their lives to their vocation,” said the organisation.

“These ‘information heroes’ are a source of inspiration to all men and men who aspire to freedom," Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. "Without their determination and the determination of all those like them, it would be simply impossible to extend the domain of freedom."

Citing Weng, the organisation said: “Rowena Paraan has been a journalist for more than 25 years. Formerly the head of research at the Philippines Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ), she is now the chairwoman of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines where for a long time she has been running the journalists’ safety program.

“This is a major issue in a country where 32 journalists were massacred in Ampatuan in Maguindanao province in November 2009, a scar on the national psyche which is unlikely to heal.

“Paraan subsequently led a fact-finding mission to try to establish the circumstances of the massacre. She has constantly pressed the authorities for justice for the victims and their families and an end to impunity. She now faces a charge of contempt as a result of her commitment.

“More committed than ever to freedom of information, Paraan now runs Bayan Mo iPatrol Mo, a citizen journalism outlet that encourages Filipinos to get involved in disclosing instances of corruption and shortcomings of society that they are aware of.”

Cait McMahon, Managing Director of the Dart Centre for Journalism and Trauma Asia Pacific, who has worked closely with and been inspired by Weng, said Weng has been a tireless leader in regard to freedom of the press as well as a great supporter of journalists’ safety – both physical and psychological.

“Weng quickly understood the importance of psychological safety for media practitioners following the Ampatuan massacres where she, and fellow NUJP colleagues wanted to find a way to support their traumatised colleagues,” McMahon said. “This led Weng to Dart Centre Asia Pacific, which worked in collaboration with the IFJ to bring peer support training to Philippine news workers.

“Following this work Weng demonstrated clear leadership skills, linked with a natural understanding of the relationship between journalism, trauma, psychological safety and press freedom.”

Weng has twice been a faculty member on the Dart Centre Asia Pacific Fellowship program, which is a weeklong program examining issues of psychological safety for media practitioners from across the region.

“This acknowledgement of Rowena Paraan and the NUJP as a Press Freedom Hero is well deserved and DCAP says congratulations Weng,” McMahon added.

Among the other Heroes named by Reporters Without Borders were Syrian journalist Mazen Darwish, who has been held by the Assad regime for more than two years on terrorism charges; Le Ngoc Thanh, a Catholic priest who has been under constant police watch for his coverage of human rights abuses in Vietnam; and Hassan Ruvakuki, a correspondent for the Swahili service of Radio France Internationale who spent 15 months in Burundi prison.

Glenn Greenwald and Laura Poitras who revealed the documents leaked by Edward Snowden showing the National Security Agency’s mass surveillance programs were also cited.

The full list of Information Heroes can be seen here.