A sober look at the current Philippine media landscape and the role of media
(Journalism’s) first loyalty is to citizens — The Elements of Journalism by Bill Kovach and Tom Rosenstiel
Philippine media faces yet another test.
With news of broadcasting giant ABS-CBN’s uphill battle to renew its Congressional franchise set to expire in March 2020, and the more recent quo warranto case filed against it by the Solicitor General, it is hard NOT to ignore this development, especially from someone who has been part of this industry for so long.
In filing the quo warranto case at the Supreme Court, the Solicitor General argued that “[m]ass media companies operating in the Philippines must be 100 percent Filipino-owned because they play an integral role in a nation’s economic, political, and socio-cultural landscape.”
Let us zero in on that statement for a moment.
Agree that Philippine media organizations should be owned by Filipinos. But as businesses, they also need to turn in profits to pay talents and employees, while making sure they keep the lights on.
Mass media (or media that intends to reach a mass audience) is primarily an advertising-driven business. Other organizations and businesses rely on mass media’s reach to advertise products and services. This is the economic aspect that mass media plays. Considered the number one network in terms of reach, ABS-CBN employs around 11,000 people — a significant number of people.
Meanwhile, mass media plays a critical role in politics. While politicians used mass media to promote their platforms before national elections, it also assumes the role of a “watchdog” who keeps politicians and government in check, and accountable. Its first obligation is to truth, thus the mass media — or the press — will challenge questionable policies and will bring to light facts that intends to ferret out the truth. Mass media serves as a platform for debates, and has been the primary channel that often decides the fate of politicians — that is if they understand mass media.
Finally, mass media is supposed to empower citizens, giving voice to the voiceless. It’s loyalty is to the citizens first, more than government. The media is expected to fight for the powerless, the bullied, the oppressed, and the silenced. Media will expose ineptitude, corruption, unwarranted violence and extra-judicial killings. Media will shine a light on poverty, lies, poor health conditions, illiteracy, injustice, and greed. These are all under the socio-cultural role of mass media.
The plight of Philippine media
Amid the known lofty roles of mass media, the story and the experience of the local press has been bittersweet.
The country’s Constitution grants press freedom and freedom of speech, as “[no] law shall be passed abridging the freedom of speech, of expression, or of the press…” However, media as we know it has experienced darker days under authoritarian and corrupt governments. Efforts to muzzle media has never been more pronounced during these times.
Of late, mass media and so-called “new media” organizations have remained critical of government, its policies, and leaders. With social media helping amplify and distribute news to a global audience, members of the media are increasingly being muzzled.
Media are exposed to age-old tactics of intimidation and threats to “cyber bullying,” the 21st century version of the same tactics. Philippine journalist Maria Ressa has also been harping on a more recent tactic, dubbed “weaponizing the Internet.” This involves political forces using social media and an army of paid trolls to spread false information, fake news, and disinformation — all with the intent of “poisoning the well” and to shift public opinion.
Ressa admitted in numerous interviews that she has been one of the primary targets of this modern means of discrediting journalists (another tactic to muzzle media), along with the news organization that she co-founded with a group of local journalists.
The social media and its divisive nature
The invention of social media was once celebrated because it has given “voice to the voiceless.” Liberating the citizens to become media themselves, social media has also shifted news agenda setting from the ivory towers of media elite and oligarchs to more vocal citizens who have learned how to harness this technology and do “acts of journalism.”
We saw the rise of citizen journalists who used the power of the Internet to broadcast themselves, to witness wars not covered by mainstream media, to expose anomalies in government, and to debate leaders and politicians through platforms like Twitter. Facebook paved the way for the Arab Spring, where people power movements overthrew authoritarian leaders in countries in the Middle East.
However, social media soon turned against the people who started these movements. Because of the way it was designed, social media networks have contributed to polarization of people in countries were leaders were divisive. This has been the case in many countries around the world, including the Philippines.
From being a boon, social media is now the hotbed for propaganda, misinformation (i.e. fake news), and worse, disinformation. Amid the global outbreak of the Covid-19, we have also witnessed the spread of misinformation, prompting the World Health Organization to warn people against contributing to the “infodemic.”
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The youth and its waning interest in journalism
Is Philippine media and journalism still relevant to a younger generation who are more interested in binging on streaming movies, creating TikTok videos, and sharing memes — instead of news?
“Social media and and online streaming platforms like Netflix or Spotify are quickly reducing the demand for television, radio, as well as print media. These types of platforms present us with both the practicality of receiving valuable information, and the accessibility we long for as viewers,” said Carlos Michael Cheung in a class blog he wrote for my Publishing class.
Do the younger generation consider news important? Or, are they just satisfied with “news” they see on their social feeds, and never bother to dive into national and even world issues, unless it aligns with their interest?
If there is any gauge of the young generation’s interest in journalism, we should listen to what campus journalists are saying. Young journalists agree that campus journalism has helped them develop “critical thinking.”
Franco Luna, a campus journalist from the Ateneo de Manila University (ADMU), was quoted by Rappler as saying, “I’ve seen how campus journalism triggers critical thinking on campus.”
However, as they’re called, campus journalists often focus on campus issues, and very few tackle bigger, political and national issues that can shape public opinion of the community, or even the society at large. With the exception of school newspapers from the likes of the University of the Philippines where campus journalists often go “beyond classroom” issues, most local campus journalists have school guidelines and protocols to follow.
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