THE PHILIPPINE media community, one of the freest and most rambunctious in all of Asia, is an incredible, hopefully not incorrigible, story of dissonant currents and practices.
For instance, while press freedom has broad and firm guarantees in law and jurisprudence in this country, the Philippines remains one of the deadliest places in the world for journalists, even as the executive and legislative branches have been slow to move on strategic reforms, including the Freedom of Information Act.
Reporters and editors also zealously guard and assert their freedom and resist all attempts by state authorities to restrict their trade, and yet self-regulation by professional and industry associations has always lacked vigor and constancy. Indeed, self-criticism of media by media remains scant and thus ineffectual, even as competition for sales, revenues, and audience share drives most editorial decisions of most gatekeepers.
Moreover, as much as journalists assert their independence from state authorities, and insist on the strict observance of the laws by political leaders, media managers have tended to ignore and neglect concerns of media rank and file about economic benefits, safety provisions for those assigned dangerous areas, and security of tenure for correspondents and stringers in the provinces.
Gender equity in junior to senior positions has markedly improved in major media agencies, but only token to modest print space and air time have been devoted by media in the capital region to the issues of women, those from minority ethnic and faith groups, the marginalized, non-celebrities, and the provinces.
These are among the findings of the Asian Media Barometer: The Philippines 2011 Report that will be launched on Tuesday, December 13, at a forum in Quezon City for journalists, and students and teachers of the country’s major journalism schools.
This first Philippine report of the Asian Media Barometer, a project of the Friedrich-Ebert Stiftung (FES), was co-organized and co-authored by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ).
Fear & freedom
“The media landscape in the Philippines is characterized by diversity, freedom, an active stock of journalists and citizens and an executive and legislature slow on media reforms,” the report said.
“However,” it added, “operating in a culture of impunity and in one of the most dangerous countries for journalists, it comes as no surprise that even the free and rambunctious media of the Philippines reflect the constraints of fear and a growing concentration of ownership in their journalistic practice.”
“Within this context, the courage of many journalists is as remarkable as the lack of self- criticism of the media remains deplorable,” said the report.
Other findings of the ANMB Philippine Report include:
- The standards of reporting are very varied. Low salaries and the lack of skills and training often lead to poor writing and reporting.
- Media practitioners complain about the deteriorating quality of graduates coming out of journalism schools.
- Whilst TV anchors make more money than their education warrants, small community newspapers can’t pay living wages for their reporters or correspondents.
- Poor unionization of the journalistic workforce outside of the top television networks leaves journalists in small cities and rural areas exposed to the whims of the publishers. The result is a subculture of corruption where some journalists take bribes to perform their professional function.
- The Philippines has no independent broadcasting regulator that issues licenses in the public interest; neither has the state-owned PTV-4 a board representing society at large.
- Whereas previous governments had run PTV-4 as their mere propaganda arm, the current administration is said to propose a law for the transformation of the national into a public broadcaster. But the very low ratings and the considerable debt and losses of PTV-4 will make this a difficult political project.
- Unlike in some other Asian countries community radio stations have not taken off and usually serve only communities of interests and not small geographical communities.
Media measure tool
The Asian Media Barometer or ANMB is an in-depth and comprehensive description and measurement system for national media environments in Asia. Unlike other press surveys or media indices the ANMB is a local self-assessment exercise based on criteria derived from international standards for media freedom.
It thus serves as a practical lobbying tool for media organizations. Its results are presented to the public of the respective country with the aim to push and lobby for an improvement of the media situation using international standards as benchmarks, which are then integrated into the advocacy work by the FES-offices and their local partners.
The design and method of the ANMB had been adapted for Asia from the African Media Barometer (AMB), which is based on homegrown criteria derived from African Protocols and Declarations, such as the Declaration on Principles on Freedom of Expression in Africa (2002). Since 2005 the African Media Barometer has been held more than 70 times in over 28 African countries in intervals of two to three years. It offers FES and its local partners a long-term analysis of media landscapes and is used as a valuable instrument in their campaigns for media reforms.
Yet because a different situation exists is Asia, individual attempts have been made in several South Asian countries to come up with a charter or indicators of freedom of expression and freedom of the media. Unfortunately, these initiatives have not been successfully established within individual countries, let alone implemented on a sub-regional, or a more ambitious regional scale.
In fact, the Joint Declaration of 2006 by the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression and his counterparts from regional organizations notes that Asia-Pacific region lacks such a mechanism that would pass up for an Asian Charter or Declaration on Freedom of Expression.
Nonetheless, the absence of such a charter is no excuse for Asian governments to restrict media freedom or deny citizens their right to access information. Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), which guarantees freedom of expression, including “the right to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas,” applies to all UN member-states.
No protocol for Asia
The UN system has confirmed the international benchmarks being used in the Asian Media Barometer. The only Asian document that has tried to suggest non-binding benchmarks on media freedom, however, is the Bangkok Declaration on Information and Broadcasting of 2003.
In that document, the Ministers of Information and Broadcasting from various countries in the Asia–Pacific region, as well as heads of radio and television organizations, policy makers, decision-makers, scholars, and representatives of international organizations, discussed and signed on to recommendations on Freedom of Information and Broadcasting Legislation.
Ahead of the Philippine Report, the FES had also sponsored the conduct of the Asian Media Barometer for India and Pakistan in 2009, and for Thailand in 2010.
The methodology of the Asian Media Barometer involves conducting a two-day intensive panel discussion every two to three years with experts, including at least five media practitioners and five representatives from civil society. The panelists meet to assess the media situation in their own country.
They discuss the national media environment according to 45 predetermined indicators on which they have to score in an anonymous vote on a scale of 1 to 5.
The indicators are formulated as goals, which are derived from international political protocols and declarations. An FES-trained consultant moderates the discussion and scoring, and edits the country report.
After a discussion of each indicator, the panel members score the indicator in an anonymous vote, according to the following grading system:
- Country does not meet indicator, for a Grade of 1.2
- Country meets only a few aspects of indicator, 2.3
- Country meets some aspects of indicator, 3.
- Country meets most aspects of indicator, 4. 5
- Country meets all aspects of the indicator, 5.
This means that if the country does not meet the indicator, the score will be 1. If the country meets all aspects of the indicator it would be 5, which is the best score possible.
The sum of all individual indicator scores was divided by the number of panel members to determine the average score for each indicator. These average indicator scores are added up to form average sector scores, which then made up the overall country score.
The final, qualitative report summarizes the general content of the discussion and provides the average score for each indicator plus the sector scores and the overall country score. In the report panelists are not quoted by name to protect them from possible repercussions.
Over time the biennial or tri-annual reports measure the media development in that particular country and should form the basis for a political discussion on media reform.
The 104-page Asian Media Barometer: The Philippines 2011 Report resulted from a two-day panel discussion held October 8-9, 2011 at Canyon Woods Resort in Tagaytay City, Batangas province, with the following expert-panelists:
Arnold E. Belleza, executive editor of BusinessWorld
Lesley Jeanne Y. Cordero, assistant secretary for Legislative Affairs, Presidential Communications Operations Office
Miriam Grace A. Go, fellow, Newsbreak
Cherry Ann T. Lim, managing editor, Sun.Star Cebu
Solomon F. Lumba, assistant professor, College of Law, University of the Philippines
Norkhalia Mae Mambuay-Campong, information officer, Reform ARMM Now
Rowena C. Paraan, secretary-general, National Union of Journalists of the Philippines
Peter Angelo R. Perfecto, executive director, Makati Business Club
Melinda Quintos-De Jesus, executive director, Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility
Danton R. Remoto, desk manager and head of Research, News 5
Jonas C. Soltes, regional correspondent, Philippine Daily Inquirer (Bicol)
Karol Anne M. Ilagan, PCIJ researcher director, was researcher, and Malou Mangahas, PCIJ executive director, rapporteur of the Asian Media Barometer-The Philippines 2011 Report.
Rolf Paasch, FES Media Coordinator, served as moderator, and Marina Kramer, also of FES, as editor of the report.
Berthold Leimbach, FES resident representative in the Philippines, attended the panel discussion and supervised the project. – PCIJ, December 2011