A Duty to Make Change - Peace Boat Welcomes Journalists Tiffany Ang and Jon Mitchell (2018)
For the final leg of its journey, Peace Boat's 97th Asian Cruise welcomed journalists Tiffany Ang and Jon Mitchell. Though each has different areas of expertise, they share similarities: both have contributed to major Asian print and broadcast media outlets, received awards for their work, and–most critically–used the platforms available to them to expose violations of human rights, a task which has compromised their privacy, their safety, and put them at odds with powerful institutions like the Catholic Church and the United States military. Through a series of onboard events, Peace Boat participants had the opportunity to learn of Ms Ang and Mr Mitchell's personal experiences, the challenges and opportunities of a life in journalism, and how we as consumers can help keep our newsmakers accountable.
Ms Ang told participants that journalism requires her to take on three simultaneous roles: that of a messenger, a watchdog, and a target. "Our job is to listen, report, and hopefully generate stories that impact change." Born in Singapore, she began her career at Channel NewsAsia before moving to Al Jazeera in 2011, for whom she produced award-winning documentaries on such topics as child labour in Cambodia's fast-fashion manufacturing industry and the Rohingya refugee crisis.
One of the challenges of her job is finding ways to connect local stories to a global audience. "With every report, I try to tap into the universal values that hold us all together. If I can do that effectively, anyone can relate to a story." Discovering this shared humanity helps her remain optimistic on the front lines of disaster. “While covering Typhoon Haiyan in the Philippines, I met a Japanese paramedic team supporting local relief efforts even though they barely spoke Tagalog or English. They told me that the world responded to the nuclear accident at Fukushima. Now, it was their turn to help."
In his own presentations, Mr Mitchell shared research from his investigations into human rights violations committed by the US military in Okinawa and mainland Japan, for which the Wales-born journalist received the FCCJ (Foreign Correspondent's Club of Japan) Freedom of the Press Award in 2015.
Through print and documentary work, Mr Mitchell challenges establishments who might otherwise seem impenetrable. “One reason that journalism initially appealed to me was its potential for taking on the elite," he said. "You don't need a license or a certificate, or even a formal education. The information is king."
His first onboard session focused on the American War in Vietnam, which claimed the lives of approximately 2 million civilians and continues to plague millions more through the aftereffects of notorious defoliant Agent Orange. Participants learned that the majority of this chemical weapon arrived in Vietnam via US military bases in Okinawa, and the improper storage and disposal of these contaminants has resulted in exponentially deleterious effects throughout Japan. For publicly exposing these atrocities, Mr Mitchell has been accused of being both an ally and an enemy of the US military, though his work is motivated by ethical rather than national allegiance. "Military contamination is a human rights issue. Media has a responsibility to force change."
Together, Ms Ang and Mr Mitchell offered a joint panel answering participants' questions about the opportunities and challenges of a life in journalism. Due to the sensitive nature of their investigations, they explained, a certain degree of risk is unavoidable. "It's best to assume that we are persons of interest because of the subject matter we cover," said Ms Ang. This can result in a myriad of infringements upon privacy: opened mail, blocked internet access, and government dossiers detailing their so-called “controversial” behaviour.
Sometimes these challenges are the result of prejudice. Working as an Asian woman in international media had lead to Ms Ang being misidentified as a translator instead of a reporter while on location and resulted in unsolicited suggestions that she "improve" her English by adopting an American, British, or Australian accent. “No one can guess where I'm from," she says, "which I can use to my advantage when working on a story."
Both guest educators helped participants improve their media literacy and understand the potential of journalism as a tool for peaceful and equitable democracy. "Lately, there's a lot of talk about fake media, but it's nothing new," says Ms Ang. “We’ve always had to fight to publicize the truth." For Mr Mitchell, the delivery of this truth comes with a personal pledge to refuse to glorify war. “What protects us is not a strong military but a strong peace constitution.”
For both Ms Ang and Mr Mitchell, a culture of peace can be supported through the provision of honest and accountable reporting–be it through print or broadcast media or more unorthodox platforms like the non-governmental space of Peace Boat. Says Ms Ang, "Our job is to tell an accurate and effective story, and use all of the platforms available to shout it out."