The Philippines press is often referred to as the freest in Asia, in terms of the Constitutional protection for and the ample jurisprudence supporting freedom of expression and press freedom. Influenced by the American ideal of the watchdog role of the press (the country was an American colony for half a century from 1898 to 1946), the Philippine media have historically checked the excesses of the political class. The press and the media wield enormous power and influence in the Philippine society.
However, despite the Constitutional protection available to free speech and the power of the media, it can be said that the socio-political-economic environment of the Philippines is not conducive to the existence of a truly free press, which is part of the reason for the frequent indiscriminate murder of journalists in the country (in 2009, the Philippines witnesses the highest number of journalists’ killing in the world, according to Committee to Protect Journalists report). The murder of journalists, common mostly in the provinces rather than the cities, is the most critical crisis that confronts the Philippine media at present. Despite the importance given to its democratic role, the media are also accused of not adequately portraying pertinent issues that affect the common people as a result of extreme commercialization.
In addition to the mainstream media, Philippines also has a strong tradition of smaller community media, especially community radio stations, which operate with the goal of serving particular small communities. However, there is a phenomenon of exploitation of the community media, especially in the provinces, by local politicians and businessmen for personal interests. Such media are often accused of violating ethical and professional journalistic standards. Many journalists, working with the smaller media companies, especially in the provinces, are often accused of being patronised by local politicians and businessmen. The Internet remains free and so far there has been no initiative by the government to regulate the medium.
Press and the People
Since the collapse of Ferdinand Marcos’s regime in 1986 (who imposed Martial Law in 1972 after being re-elected as President in 1969 and took complete control of the media), Filipino journalists became aware of the need of self-regulation, as democracy was restored in Philippines and the media regained freedom. Self- regulation was deemed necessary by journalists primarily to evade government regulation and for a realistic evaluation of the status of the press. Thus post-1986, there was a sudden increase in the number of media advocacy groups like CMFR, Philippines Center For Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) and Nation Union of Journalists Philippines (NUJP), which along with other groups like Philippines Press Institute (PPI, which runs the press council), Kapisanan ng mga Broadcaster ng Pilipinas (KBP, self-regulatory body for broadcasters) and Center for Community Journalism and Development (CCJD) which monitors the media. Apart from the existence of the Philippine Press Council, founded by the PPI, and the KBP, the country has seen the development of Citizen Press Councils since 2001 to enhance the participation of the community. One Philippine newspaper also appointed an ombudsperson as part of its efforts to be accountable to the public. The mainstream English broadsheet Philippines Daily Inquirer also runs a correction box as part of its internal mechanisms of checks and balances.
The PPI and the KBP have established individual Code of Ethics, which are followed respectively by the mainstream print and broadcast media. Over the years while the big mainstream media have appreciated the need to be ethical and professional for the sake of credibility to their audiences, many of the smaller media organisations still continue to dodge ethical guidelines, with very few of the practitioners in the latter being even aware of journalistic codes of conduct. Luis V Teodoro of CMFR said that the local tabloids particularly resist media advocacy and training. In certain instances even journalists working with the big television networks are found to violate ethical standards in spite of the management’s willingness to comply with the Code of Ethics. Teodoro added that the challenge remains in educating a community of journalists who over the years have became habituated to the practice of a certain kind of journalism that is not sensitive to the issue of ethics. Thus a culture of self-regulation needs to be instilled in individual media organisations – the senior management and editors should be convinced to adopt these values so that they can be trickled down the hierarchial order. The local tabloids, which so far have resisted any form of self-regulation, especially require better-trained and educated editors who can initiate sensitive and responsible news reporting. John Nerry, senior editor with the Philippines Daily Inquirer, said that the concept of journalistic competency and efficiency needs to be intertwined with the issue of ethics to make young journalists receptive to the idea of self-regulation.
Related to journalistic ethics and standards, the usage of the Filipino language by the small tabloids which are derogatory towards women, is also an issue of concern. Even in the mainstream media, it is often observed that the women continue to be stereotyped (for instance as the weaker sex or making unnecessary references to the attire of prominent women personalities) though there are lesser instances now as compared to before. However, smaller media companies, especially those in the provinces, remain unaware of the need to protect the identity of powerless social groups like rape victims.Back to top