Saturday, April 9, 2011

Philippines and alternative press

I found an alternative news agency in the Philippines only to find that it is now defunct. I am not sure the reasons for its demise, but I will explain the publication, its origins and why it was successful when it existed.

Philippine Signs was launched during Ferdinand Marcos’ presidency in 1984. Philippine Signs advocated the theory of social change and was committed to exposing the truth. When Marcos declared martial law, newspapers were closed and media outlets that remained open were tightly controlled. During the presidency of Marcos (1965-1986) and Gloria Macapagal Arroyo (GMA) (2001-2010) many journalists sacrificed their lives and become martyrs in fighting for truth.

During martial law, Philippine Signs provided a wide range of stories about “human rights violation, economic issues such as the country’s rising foreign debt to the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund, farmers; demand for real agrarian reform, labor strikes, and coverage of the various levels of sectoral protests against Marcos’ rule” (Khor 179) markedly different from Marcos controlled news. The Philippines needed information for empowerment to challenge the status quo and mainstream media, and these independent media outlets played a key role in the end and overthrow of the Marcos regime. Without the help of the independent media, the People Power Revolution (pictured above) could not have restored democracy in the Philippines.

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In 1986 under the presidency of Corazon Aquino, Philippine Signs became a mainstream newspaper. Philippine Signs kept the Philippines well informed and articulated the voices of the powerless and neglected. Because it did not rely on the funds of big business or vested interests, it could not compete against other newspapers. Similar to the Associated Press, Philippine Signs became an independent news agency that “regularly dispatched news, features, analyses and commentaries. The mainstream newspapers would be the news agency’s outlets. Philippine Signs became Philippine News and Features (PNF) with the mission to help articulate, interpret, analyze and comment on the basic issues the mainstream media tend to gloss over” (Khor 179). Further its tasks are “to develop and raise social awareness and foster change, human dignity and genuine development” (Khor 180). PNF published underground stories that would not be featured in mainstream media. PNF stories were published prominently by national and regional dailies and kept the Philippines informed.

Abel and Saxton stated in their study results to the FCC in 1977 “women do not hold executive level positions in the broadcasting industry. They are excluded from the decision-making process" (Eddings 6). The role of gender in this story is the editor. Her name is Maria Christina Rodriguez. She held an executive level position at PNF and was included in the decision making process. Unfortunately I could not find any more information about her other than her name and title.

Third world countries like the Philippines need alternative means to express oppression, injustice, and inequality especially when media is controlled by a dictator or puppet government. It is unfortunate that this news agency does not exist. In 1997 lack of funding caused PNF to downscale its operations (Khor 188). This downscaling included halting the production of a monthly magazine for high school students which used plain language to describe current events.

I had read that PNF was trying to survive by posting on mainstream media outlets’ internet subscriptions. I can only assume that without funding the news agency could not survive. Like the Arab girls in Smith's article, journalists' freedom of expression has led to death threats and opposing journalists have been killed under GMA's recent presidency. I hope that the new president Benigno Aquino III will allow the press freedom of speech like his mother. I am not sure if print readership in the Philippines has decreased in past years, but I do know that almost everyone has a cell phone. While people in the Philippines do not use cell phones to talk, they use it to text, and social media like Twitter then comes in handy.

Works Cited:

Khor, Martin, and Lin, Lim Li, eds. Good Practices and Innovative Experiences in the South: Citizen Initiatives in Social Services, Popular Education and Human Rights. London: Zed Books, 2001.

Eddings, Barbara Murray. "Women in Broadcasting," Women's Studies Int. Quart. 3(1980): 6.

Smith, Grace. "Media Savvy Arab Girls Respond to the Mainstream," Youth Media Reporter. 14 Nov. 2007. 9 Apr. 2011.

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