PH gets barely passing score in media assessment

PH gets barely passing score in media assessment
13-Dec-11, 3:54 PM | Nonoy Espina,

The Philippine assessment, presented to journalists and journalism schools on Tuesday, is the fourth undertaken under the Asian Media Barometer, a project by Friedrich Eibert Stiftung and partners in participating countries that involves a series of “self-assessment exercise(s) based on criteria derived from international standards of media freedom.”

The first three countries to undertake the assessment are India and Pakistan -- both in 2009 -- and Thailand last year.

The 104-page Philippine report is the result of a two-day panel discussion in early October in Tagaytay to which 10 experts -- five each from media and civil society -- were invited to assess the media situation in the country based on 45 predetermined indicators, in turn clustered into four sectors, that they were asked to grade anonymously on a scale of 1 to 5, with five being the best possible score.

Overall, the Philippines got what Malou Mangahas, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, the FES’s project partner, called the “barely passing score” of 2.6, which was the average of the sector scores that follow:

1) Freedom of expression, including freedom of the media, is effectively protected and promoted -- 3.7

2) The media landscape, including new media, is characterized by diversity, independence, and sustainability -- 2.8

3) Broadcasting regulation is transparent and independent; the state broadcaster is transformed into a truly public broadcaster -- 1.3

4) The media practice high levels of professional standards -- 2.6

The report said that “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 noted that media ownership in the country “remains largely under the control of interest groups vested with both economic and political interests,” a situation worsened by the lack of anti-trust legislation pertaining to media and “a growing and worrying tendency of politicians acquiring stakes in (local) media outlets,” particularly community radio, which “usually serve on communities of interests and not small geographical communities.”

Despite this, “the media (themselves) do hardly any explicatory or analytical reporting on these trends and the emerging media monopolies.”

The report also noted that although reporters and editors “zealously guard and assert their freedom and resist all attempts by state authorities to restrict their trade … self-regulation by professional and industry associations has always lacked vigor and constancy.”

Melinda Quintos-De Jesus of the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, one of the participants in the October panel discussion, noted reluctance among media owners and managements “to discuss how ratings and revenues impact on content.”

“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,” the report said.

It also said conditions within the media industry have led to “a subculture of corruption where some journalists take bribes to perform their professional function.”

Among these problems, the report said, are low salaries and the lack of skills and training; the “deteriorating quality of graduates coming out of journalism schools;” the fact that television anchors “make more money than their education warrants” but small community newspapers “can’t pay living wages for their reporters of correspondents:” and “poor unionization” of the media workforce that “leaves journalists in small cities and rural areas exposed to the whims of the publishers.”

Rowena Paraan, secretary general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines, said the economic welfare of journalists and the ownership patterns in media “are very important” because of their “implications not just on welfare but on press freedom and the free flow of information.”

News 5 head of research Danton Remoto, who also participated in the October exercise, said the media are often at a disadvantage in the hiring of the best new talents because of the higher compensation invariably offered by public relations firms or even call centers.

The report also noted that “not all the voices of ethnic, religious, and social groups are reflected fairly in the media coverage.”

De Jesus stressed the need for “the little opinions, the small communities (to) be given equal hearing as Malacanang.”

And while parity in gender has been achieved in newsrooms, the “fair representation of women’s voices” is still sorely lacking.

As for government, the report said it has made no effort “to help increase the regional distribution of newspapers nor is there a coordinated strategy with the aim of supporting a diverse media landscape.” It cited the downgrading of the Commission on Information and Communications Technology to a mere bureau of the Department of Science and Technology despite the growing prominence of new media.

While acknowledging that President Benigno Aquino III has not been accused of using his power over advertising placements -- as some of his predecessors have done -- to influence reportage, “he has also told advertisers that they should support only ‘responsible media organizations.'”

It also noted that, because journalists operate “in a culture of impunity and in one of the most dangerous countries” to practice the profession, the Philippine media also “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,” it added.

The Asian Media Barometer, adapted from the African Media Barometer first undertaken in 2005, stemmed from the lack of a regional charter on freedom of expression for the region and is supposed to be a tool to lobby for media reforms.

The organizers aim to update the barometer every two to three years because, as Mangahas said, “this is an ever changing picture.”