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Dedicating its victory to survivors of the tragedy, GMA Network earned its fourth George Foster Peabody Award in recognition of its coverage of the immense doom wrought by super Typhoon Yolanda (international code name: Haiyan).
The Peabody Awards, considered the equivalent of the Pulitzer Prize for electronic media, took cognizance of GMA's logistical challenges as Yolanda ripped across central Philippines last November.
"Facing logistical challenges and sharing in the national shock in the face of what may have been the most powerful typhoon in history, GMA news teams provided desperately needed spot news coverage and information, gaining strength and perspective as they worked, and followed up with solid reporting on the aftermath, heroic acts and relief efforts," the Peabody Awards announced on its website this April.
Recognition rites for the 73rd Annual Peabody Awards were held on May 19 at the Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City.
The awards are administered by University of Georgia’s Henry W. Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication.
GMA News and Public Affairs Senior Vice President Marissa L. Flores received the Peabody Award on behalf of the network.
Only a unanimous vote from the 16-member board will merit a Peabody statuette. Of the almost 1,100 entries this year, only 46 made the cut. GMA was selected as an international honoree.
"[The Peabody Award] is a precious win that the network shares with the Yolanda survivors who continue to struggle to rebuild their communities," GMA Network said in a statement.
GMA is the only entrant from the Philippines to ever win the prestigious award, and has done so three times in the past.
Its first triumph was in 1999 for its body of work made up of the i-Witness episodes, "Kidneys for Sale" and "Kamao" (Fist), both reported by Jessica Soho, and the Brigada Siete report on child labor by Jay Taruc. Its second victory was in 2010 with another i-Witness story, "Ambulansya de Paa" (Ambulance by Foot), that had Kara David as reporter. Three years later, GMA News TV's Reel Time was honored for its "Salat" (Touch) episode.
Since its inception in 1941, the Peabody Awards has maintained an overarching goal: "to recognize stories that matter."
Flores welcomed the recognition from the Peabody Award Board, and stressed the Yolanda coverage was only made possible through the consolidated efforts of the reportorial, technical, and production personnel, especially those who experienced the typhoon's wrath first-hand.
"Our teams went through a lot to be able to paint a compelling picture of Yolanda's horrific impact. Despite the physical and emotional toll on them, I can say that they never wavered in their responsibility to deliver the news. They were aware that lives were on the line, and that their television reports could help make a difference," Flores said.
Against the odds
The combined submissions of five programs from GMA News and Public Affairs constitute the network's latest Peabody victory. These are newscasts 24 Oras, 24 Oras Weekend, Saksi and State of the Nation with Jessica Soho, as well as the weekly magazine show, Kapuso Mo, Jessica Soho (KMJS).
Aside from bringing timely video images of Yolanda's fury to television sets across the country, these shows brought attention to the numerous obstacles in the aftermath of the tragedy.
GMA journalists, cameramen and broadcast crews were already in place in Leyte, Bohol and Oriental Mindoro on Nov. 6, two days before the onslaught of the most powerful cyclone in recorded history ever to make landfall.
Even with their lead time in anticipation of the worst, Yolanda's destructive power was simply overwhelming.
More than 6,200 people dead. Over 1,000 missing. Entire villages flattened. Food and water supplies wiped out. Cargo ships shoved inland. Hopes of survival turned to desperation.
Hell on Earth was unleashed, and GMA news teams were right in the middle of it.
Communication lines bogged down and this caused much stress. Newsroom staff members in Quezon City were working against the clock trying to reach the teams of reporters Jiggy Manicad and Michaela Papa.
Both of them had managed to deliver phone patch reports from Leyte on the morning newscast, Unang Balita, but became completely unreachable afterward as Yolanda thundered into land.
With remote broadcast from Tacloban City no longer an option, Manicad and his GMA colleagues walked six hours to Palo town where another live setup was established. Along the way, they walked through devastated neighborhoods and flooded streets strewn with fallen trees and posts.
Electricity lines were cut. Generator fuel was running low. Shelters were destroyed. Hotels were closed. Banks and ATMs were out of cash. Roads were impassable. Panic and fear were on the streets.
Grace dela Peña-Reyes, GMA Vice President for News Operations, said logistical setbacks came from numerous fronts, rendering satellite-based and even new Internet-based, wireless video transmission technologies unusable for a while.
“Our teams on the field already had experience covering massive weather disturbances before, but to say that Yolanda gave them a hard time would be an understatement. We always want to get the best stories, but we never ever want to compromise the safety of our teams,” Dela Peña-Reyes said.
No dead air
When communication was finally reestablished and broadcast links were up early that evening, Manicad was promptly able to deliver a short live report towards the end of 24 Oras.
GMA was able to show the first images of Yolanda's destruction and sound the alarm about the plight of the affected families.
But as the remote camera panned to the GMA personnel that converged in Palo, it was clear that their situation remained dire, and time was of the essence.
GMA in Manila had wanted to send new teams to Yolanda-devastated areas, but this proved difficult, as commercial flights were unable to land their aircraft. The Philippine Air Force, for its part, had to prioritize relief operations. Tacloban airport was shattered, forcing GMA reporter Ian Cruz and his team to stay for a while at the ruined facility as they fought off hunger.
Telling the story
With the live report serving as the spark plug for GMA broadcasts from Leyte, State of the Nation went on air an hour after 24 Oras and let Manicad deliver a more extensive report. He was joined by reporter Love Añover, who tearfully recounted how she and her teammates witnessed howling winds blowing off the roof of the Palo Cathedral.
This broadcast on Nov. 8, along with its episode six days later (Nov. 14) served as State of the Nation’s contribution to the Peabody triumph. Soho anchored the program remotely from Tacloban City in the latter airing, showing incidents of looting in the aftermath of the tragedy and faces of residents who were dealt a crippling blow.
The critical days immediately after the tragedy were closely documented in GMA Network’s submissions to the Peabody Award Board.
24 Oras Weekend's episode the day after Yolanda hit (Nov. 9) featured Papa's report on how her team were trapped in their hotel at the coastal village of Baras. Floodwater rose up to the second floor, with the walls and ceiling panels shaking as Yolanda howled. They also walked for hours, managed to catch a ride on a military 6x6 truck, walked some more to Tacloban before finally finding Manicad and other GMA staff. In total, the situation of Papa’s team was unknown for 24 hours.
On Sunday (Nov. 10), Soho and her KMJS team boarded a helicopter from Mactan airport in Cebu to get a broader perspective of the extent of the damage. Footage was taken of Ormoc City, the towns of Dulag, Tolosa and Palo, then finally Tacloban. The episode also carried up-close interviews by Soho, who handed over the microphone to devastated residents so they can personally relay their appeals.
Then on Monday (Nov. 11), GMA News' flagship newscast 24 Oras featured anchor Mike Enriquez's observations from a helicopter. His crew was able to shoot footage of a huge “Help Us” sign made out of white stones, as well as looters taking sacks of rice from cargo ships on land. Co-anchor Mel Tiangco hosted the show from the Kapuso Foundation warehouse in Quezon City as relief operations were underway.
For its part, late night newscast Saksi presented on Nov. 13 its analysis of how the state was lagging in search, rescue and retrieval operations; restoration of the rule of law in affected areas; and assistance to local governments.
Raising the bar
Soho, GMA Network's First Vice President for News Programs, noted that the Peabody Award underscores the value of effective news reporting during disaster situations.
She said, "The Peabody is certainly a feather on our cap, but it is also important to remember the lives lost and the lessons of Yolanda. Viewing destruction from typhoons as a mere fact of Filipino life is dangerous."
The veteran broadcast journalist issued the statement amid disturbing trends over recent years that tropical cyclones were becoming stronger and forming more frequently. The Filipinos' lexicon of frightening weather disturbances is already long—Yolanda, Ondoy, Pablo, Reming, Milenyo, Habagat, and more—but will probably continue to grow in the coming years.
"Clearly there are times when the lives of our men and women in GMA are at risk during disaster coverage. Yolanda was certainly no exception. As the country learns to prepare more adequately for disasters, we at GMA also look towards building upon the Yolanda experience to make our newsgathering and reporting operations more effective, able to adequately capture relevant information, yet keeping our teams out of harm's way. We owe the award, and our continuous improvement in the media practice, to all Filipinos who look to us for information during times of adversity," she said.
Soho noted that with Yolanda, Filipinos' expectations for weather and disaster reporting are now higher, and GMA Network wants to rise to the challenge anew. —KG, GMA News