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March 08, 2004

LUIS V. TEODORO

If awards determine the success of any enterprise, then Philippine mass media must be very successful indeed.

Mass media being widely perceived as capable of exerting tremendous influence on the values of a society as well as on the social and political consciousness of the populace, a number of organizations periodically hold various competitions among mass media practitioners. These awards uniformly seek to encourage excellence in mass media. The assumption is that better media can better discharge the responsibility of providing the information that a free people need in democratic decision-making.

Media: Recognition and Reward

In the press the more prestigious awards include the Jaime V. Ongpin Awards for Investigative Journalism and the Konrad Adenauer Foundation-Philippine Press Institute (PPI) Community Journalism Awards, both of which have been around for over a decade. There are also the Science and Technology Awards sponsored by the Department of Science and Technology (DOST), and administered by the PPI, and offered for the first time this year, the Truth Awards administered by Ateneo de Manila University, which provides grants for ongoing investigative reports. In addition to achievement in the print medium, the annual Catholic Mass Media Awards also recognizes achievement in broadcasting as well as film. In the film industry, the Filipino Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences (FAMAS) awards along with the Urian Awards of the Manunuri ng Pelikulang Pilipino are rewards much sought-after by practitioners.

In addition to these homegrown recognition awards are the foreign-based or foreign-sponsored ones, all with the similar aim of encouraging excellence in mass media. Among others are the Peabody Awards offered by the University of Georgia in the United States, the Premio de Periodismo offered by the Instituto Cervantes of the Spanish Embassy in Manila, and the Benigno S. Aquino Fellowship for Professional Development offered by the United States Embassy in Manila. Only for this year, which marks its 50th anniversary, the International Press Institute also presented awards to “Fifty Press Freedom Heroes” from all over the world.

The first three prizes in the Jaime Ongpin Awards for Investigative Journalism this year went to: Yvonne Chua, first prize; Chay Hofileña and Ian Sayson, second prize; and Donna S. Cueto, third prize. Chua, Hofileña and Sayson are from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) while Cueto is a reporter with Philippine Daily Inquirer.

For the KAF-PPI Community Journalism Awards, 10 community newspapers were named this year in each category.

Among the weeklies, the environmental advocacy newspaper Bandillo ng Palawan was named best in science, technology and environmental reporting; Leyte Samar Weekly Express (Tacloban City), best in business and economic reporting; The Voice (Angeles City), best in photojournalism and newspaper design; Mindanao Mirror Bulletin (Davao City), best edited newspaper; and Mindanao Cross (Cotabato City), best editorial page.

In the daily newspaper category, the winners were Sun Star Clark (Mabalacat, Pampanga), best in science, technology and environment reporting and the best in photo-journalism; Mindanao Gold Star Daily (Cagayan de Oro City), best in business and economic reporting; Sun Star Cagayan de Oro (Cagayan de Oro City), best newspaper design; Mindanao Daily Mirror (Davao City), best edited newspaper; and Bohol Times (Tagbilaran City) for best editorial page.

Sun Star Cebu and The Freeman, also of Cebu City, both of which have been consistent awardees in the daily category for several years, were elevated to the Philippine Community Newspapers Hall of Fame as models for other community newspapers. As such they will henceforth not be in the running for future awards.

The awardees in the DOST-PPI Science and Technology awardees were: Lina Sagaral Reyes of Business World, first prize; Earl Warren Castillo, also of Business World, second prize; and Maurice Malanes of Philippine Daily Inquirer, third prize.

The Ateneo-administered Truth Awards were announced this year. Supported by a group of businessmen who wish to remain anonymous, the Awards consist of a maximum of P100, 000 for an ongoing investigative report on a subject of public significance and with a fair chance of being disseminated through either print or broadcast.

The Awards are administered by a board of directors headed by Father John Carroll of Ateneo, with Amando Doronila (Inquirer), Luis V. Teodoro (Philippine Journalism Review and Today), Doreen Fernandez (Ateneo), Melinda Quintos de Jesus (Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility), Mary Racelis (Ateneo), and Anna Marie Karaos (Ateneo) as members. The Awards were given to three projects this year. The board did not name the winners and their topics so as not to make their investigative efforts more difficult.

The Catholic Mass Media Awards this year were dominated by Philippine Daily Inquirer, which won four out of seven awards (best news coverage, best special feature, best news photograph, and a special award for opinion writing) in the print category.

The other winners in the print category were Saranggola Magazine, Gospel Komiks, Philippine Star, and The Manila Times (tied with Inquirer for best photograph).

In radio, the winners were a mix of student, religiously-oriented as well as commercial radio programs. In television the awards were concentrated among the three major commercial networks (ABS-CBN, GMA 7, and ABC 5).

The best film award was won by Star Cinema for Anak.

In the advertising category, DOB Philippines, ACWS, United Broadcasting Network, Ace Saatchi and Saatchi, and Basic Advertising won the awards.

Among the foreign-sponsored awards, the Peabody Awards cited GMA 7 for its investigative reporting, placing it among only eight winners from countries other than the United States. The Award was the first for a Philippine TV station in 59 years. The station won for its reports on Filipino boxers, child labor, and the trafficking in kidneys. The child labor story also won a UNESCO citation and was a finalist in the New York Video Festivals in early January.

Melinda Quintos de Jesus of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility was the media awardee this year in the US Embassy-sponsored Benigno S. Aquino Jr. Fellowship for Professional Development. The awards were launched in 1999 to honor the media and public service accomplishments of the late senator, and consists of a one-month familiarization tour of media institutions in several cities in the United States.

Media Impact and Responsibility

The significant media events for 2000 were not limited to awards. Ateneo de Manila and Konrad Adenauer Foundation inaugurated their Journalism Center last June 8 in Makati, with former President Corazon Aquino delivering the keynote address. Intended to be a regional training center for Southeast Asian journalists, the KAF Journalism Center at the Ateneo will offer short-term programs to be conducted by Filipino as well as German instructors.

The pioneering editor and publisher of Philippines Free Press, Teodoro M. Locsin, died, thus depriving the Philippine press of one of its most distinguished and respected practitioners. As a journalist Locsin upheld the highest standards of ethics and professionalism, a legacy that he has left to succeeding generations of practitioners.

GMA 7 inaugurated its new Network Center in Quezon City from where the network will broadcast to the entire country and other parts of the world with state-of-the-art broadcast technology.

In cable television, meanwhile, a number of issues have remained unresolved even as the sector continued to grow. Among them are the opening of cable television to foreign investments, whether to allow local advertising in cable, and the lease on excessive capacity. A bill introduced by Sen. Ramon Magsaysay Jr. in 1996 addresses these issues, but has so far not passed the Philippine Congress. Its re-discussion in the Senate in March 2000, however, began the process to address the problems of the industry, among them conflicting laws and substandard cable systems.

Neither technology nor awards are the real measures of media achievement, however. Only media’s impact on society—insofar as they are able to provide the information and interpretation people need to make sense of what’s happening around them—is. The year 2000 was particularly crucial as far as this impact was concerned because media were key factors in public understanding and resolution of both the complex crisis known as the Mindanao conflict and the equally complicated political crisis now known as jueteng-gate.

As far as the Mindanao conflict was concerned, there was in general a failure among media to provide adequate information in terms of background material, with only Inquirer, and the lesser known Philippine Post, making any attempt to source their stories from elsewhere than the government, or even to provide such basic information as the causes of the conflict and the state of the peace negotiations when war broke out in May. One study by the media advocacy group Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility established the overwhelming dependence of five major government sources as well as their emphasis on the kidnappings and the actual war itself at the expense of information on the refugees from the war zones, the economic impact of the war on Mindanao as well as the entire country.

The September assault on Jolo, however, evoked expressions of professional outrage from much of media as a result of the news blackout imposed by the military on the island. The initiative and creativity of media practitioners were tested by the blackout, in terms of their succeeding, despite the blackout, in somehow getting the news. Jolo was a critical juncture in the re-awakening among media people of the awareness that the revival of threats against their professional lives and freedom needed only a plausible excuse.

In the year 2000, however, there was no doubt that achievement in terms of impact on society and governance was most clearly that of the PCIJ. It issued a series of investigative reports starting July with a report on the involvement of Joseph Estrada and his family members in 66 corporations. PCIJ followed this with another report on Estrada’s real estate company and the numerous luxury houses he has constructed allegedly for his more than half a dozen mistresses. The findings of these reports have become part of history—as additional documentation in the impeachment complaint that the House of Representatives filed at the Senate in November.

Despite the PCIJ’s outstanding performance, however, the problems that have always haunted media became of pronounced relevance during the crisis.

As institutions on which depend whether the public will get the information it needs—or whether that information will be complete, accurate or significant—media themselves are burdened by problems which make their discharge of this responsibility difficult.

Media Corruption and Repression

Media corruption hampers the flow of information that reaches the public and even prevents relevant information from reaching it. Another source of weakness is the ownership system which too often leads to the media’s defense of the political and economic interests that control them. A third problem is the dominance of the use of the English language in the press where relative to broadcast media the more thorough and thoughtful commentaries and the more relevant news stories appear. In some cases incompetence (due to the inadequacy or even lack of training among some practitioners) rather than malice distorts or limits the information disseminated to the public. Often in interrelationship with each other, these problems help explain why too many citizens are uninformed.

As in some other professions, there are two types of practitioners in media: those who can be bought and those who can’t be, even as there are incompetent practitioners as well as capable ones. Some media owners interfere in editorial operations and decision-making while some don’t, although there are startling examples of the former type. Some of the newer owners (i.e., circa 1998) have only scant understanding of the media.

More Filipinos read the tabloids than the broadsheets not only because the tabloid staple is sex and violence but also because they are dominantly in Filipino. Not even Inquirer is as widely circulated as some of these rags. Most provide “information” as well as commentary that prevent intelligent appreciation of events, and which distort public awareness, in effect sowing further ignorance and stupidity.

In broadcasting, meanwhile, together with the shift to the use of Filipino in the news programs has come the tabloidization of the news in terms of emphasis and treatment. The shift from English to Filipino has apparently been interpreted as a license to forget standards, resulting in a decline in the quality and emphasis of the news programs that have made the shift. The distortion of TV news, whether in English or Filipino, is inherently difficult to detect. The nature of the medium—much of the information it can convey depends almost totally on time limitations as well as the anticipation of advertiser reaction—also makes the dissemination and analysis of complex issues in broadcasting problematic.

This was the media landscape when jueteng-gate exploded in October. Certain newspaper owners and broadcast executives immediately began pressuring their news staff to favorably report on the government. But some encountered unexpected resistance. The Philippine Post, for example, was denied newsprint by its owner last November 3 following weeks of attempts to force the staff to surrender its independence. Although the Post was not as widely circulated as the Big Three of Manila broadsheets, it was one of the few newspapers that published the series of PCIJ reports on President Estrada.

Even before the jueteng-gate, however, there were already reports of censorship and self-censorship in some newspapers whose owners were either close to Mr. Estrada or were afraid of his displeasure. Last year the Inquirer and The Manila Times cases demonstrated that Mr. Estrada’s displeasure could lead to losses in advertising revenue as in the case of Inquirer, and closure and then change of ownership as in The Times’. The demonstration effect of these cases has not been lost on the media, and the pressure for them to report and comment even more favorably on the political crisis will intensify as the present crisis continues.

The media landscape is not totally bleak, however. Despite widespread corruption and incompetence, there are honest practitioners who daily try to be true to their responsibility as professionals whose basic duty is to inform the public. They are in broadcasting as well as print, and even in the crony newspapers. They are in alternative news agencies, in the community press, and in the PCIJ. They put their jobs and well-being—even their lives—on the line daily for the sake of the profession and the right of the public to information.

These practitioners are already numerous enough to be a significant factor in the flow of information. It is on them where the country’s best hopes lie for the development of an informed citizenry via the media and for the enhancement of the democratic process.