The Philippine press was born and
nurtured amidst a climate of political reform. The early Philippine
newspapers played critical role in the nation’s quest for freedom and
independence. Thus, the pantheon of our national heroes include such
journalists as Jose Rizal, Graciano Lopez Jaena, Mariano Ponce, Antonio
Luna, to name a few. Their writings inspired the Philippine revolution
against Spain, the first challenge by an Asian people against western
fervor is to be ingrained in the spirit of succeeding Filipino journalists
throughout our nation’s history. Perhaps equally dramatic as the Propaganda
Movement during the Spanish regime was the struggle of the so-called
alternative press during the Marcos regime, whose collective vision saw
fulfillment in the EDSA Poeple Power Revolution in 1986. The politicization
or conscientization of the Filipinos were fired up by journalists, many of
whom were women, who like their noble predecessors, risked their lives for
freedom and democracy.
The Philippine press is known as the
freest and liveliest in Asia. Because of the libertarian and free enterprise
principles institutionalized by the American colonizers, it essentially
played a "watchdog" function and has often taken an adversarial stance
against government. The freedom enjoyed by Philippine press (media),
however, has become a double-edged sword. The press (media) began to be
criticized for being rambunctious and sensational. Being commercial in
nature, the press is dependent on advertising as its lifeblood.
Philippine Press: Its Initial Pages
The first Philippine
newspaper was established in 1811. Del Superior Govierno was
published with the Spanish Governor General himself as editor. Its intended
readers were the local Spaniards and therefore the content was primarily
news from Spain. The first daily newspaper, La Esperanza
(1846), also catered to the Spanish elite. It dealt with non-controversial
subjects such as religion, science, and history. The best edited newspaper,
Diario de Manila, was suppressed by the Governor General after
38 years of publication, allegedly for inciting the Filipinos to rebel
against the Spaniards. Meanwhile, the first local publication was El
Ilocano which started in 1893 while the first publication for and by
women, El Hogar was published in 1893.
The history of the
free press in the Philippines has its roots in nationalistic newspapers
published in Europe and in the Philippines during the Spanish colonial rule.
The aim was to raise the level of consciousness with respect to oppressive
conditions prevailing in the country then. These newspapers were mainly
published and written by the so-called ilustrados.
the nationalistic newspapers was the La Solidaridad, the
mouthpiece of the revolution and the fortnightly organ of the Propaganda
Movement. Published in Spain, it first appeared in 1889 with the policy
"to work peacefully for social and economic reforms, to expose the real
plight of the Philippines, and to champion liberalism and democracy."
Other newspapers which
advocated for political reforms included Kalayaan (Liberty),
the only issue of which was published 1898. Kalayaan served as
the official organ of the revolutionaries. La Independencia
(1898), was the most widely read newspaper of the revolution. Other
newspapers were La Libertad (1898), and El Heraldo
de Iloilo (1898).
The use of the power
of the pen by the early heroes proved the feasibility of using non-violent
strategies for social and political reforms, a lesson well imbibed by
Filipino journalists even today.
The American regime
saw the introduction of new newspapers published mostly by American
journalists: The Manila Times (1898), The Bounding
Billow and Official Gazette (1898), Manila Daily
Bulletin (1900), and the Philippine Free Press
(1908). Some of these publications are still with us today. In 1920, The
Philippine Herald, a pro-Filipino newspaper, came out.
newspapers during the period did not last long due to American suppression.
Among these were El Nuevo Dia (The New Day) published
in Cebu and El Renacimiento. But the most
popular among the masa was the Tagalog newspaper Sakdal
which attacked regressive taxes, big government, and abusive capitalists and
landlords — issues which remain relevant today.
When World War II
broke out, all publications except those used by the Japanese were
disbanded. Only the Manila Tribune, Taliba, and
La Vanguardia were allowed to publish under regular censorship
by the Japanese Imperial Army. However, Filipinos during the period were not
left without an "alternative" media. Underground "newspapers", mostly
typewritten or mimeographed, proliferated to provide the people with counter
Golden Age of Philippine Journalism
The post-war era to pre-martial law
period (1945-1972) is called the golden age of Philippine journalism. The
Philippine press began to be known as "the freest in Asia."
The press functioned as a real
watchdog of the government, It was sensitive to national issues and critical
of government mistakes and abuses. Among its practitioners were a clutch of
scholarly, noble-minded writers and editors — Mauro Mendez, Arsenio Lacson,
Modesto Farolan, Leon Guerrero, Armando Malay, S.P. Lopez, Jose Bautista, to
name a few.
The press during the period was forced
into a "marriage of convenience" with large business enterprises and
political groups. Most of the newspapers were wholly or partly owned by
large business complexes. Some newspapers had control and interest in other
media particularly radio and television.
In 1952, the National Press Club was
organized "to promote cooperation among journalists and uphold press freedom
and the dignity of journalists." In 1964, the Philippine Press Institute (PPI)
was organized "to foster the development and improvement of journalism in
Marcos Years: Controlled and Alternative Press
When martial law was
declared on September 21, 1972, the first order issued by the late President
Ferdinand E. Marcos was the "take over and control of all privately owned
newspapers, magazines, radio and television facilities and all other media
communications." Editors and journalists were among the first to be arrested
and incarcerated in military prison camps. Of the pre-martial law papers,
only the Daily Express and Bulletin Today (Manila
Bulletin) were allowed to re-open. A new newspaper, Times
Journal, was allowed to open one month after the proclamation. These
newspapers were later to be known as "establishment press."
As expected, the press
during the martial law period was highly controlled. Almost overnight, the
print media changed its traditional adversary relationship with the
government to that of "cooperation." Many journalists learned to practice
brinkmanship and even self-censorship in order to survive or avoid direct
confrontation with the regime.
To counter propaganda
churned out by the pro-government private media and the government’s own
media infrastructure, the so-called alternative press emerged in the 1980s.
These were a handful of tabloid newspapers and some radio stations which
defied government instructions on how to handle news stories (despite
constant harassment and intimidations). Among these publications and the
people behind them were: the father and son team of Jose Burgos who were
behind the courageous tabloid WE Forum and its broadsheet
affiliate, Pahayagang Malaya; Felix Bautista and Melinda Q. de
Jesus edited Veritas; Raul and Leticia Locsin published
Business Day (now Business World); Eugenia D. Apostol
and Leticia J. Magsanoc published and edited Inquirer and
Mr. and Ms. Magazine.
In addition to the
alternative press, the people also opted for samizdat or xerox
journalism. These were news clippings, mostly from foreign publications,
censored for mass dissemination by the regime, which provided an accurate
reading of developments in the country. Many of these articles were written
by Filipinos working for the foreign news services.
fervor was also strongly manifested among the youth through campus
publications which have taken an activist stand on national issues. Notable
among them were the Philippine Collegian of UP-Diliman,
Ang Malaya of the Philippine College of Commerce (now Polytechnic
University of the Philippines), Pandayan of Ateneo de Manila
University, Ang Hasik of the Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila
and Balawis of Mapua Institute of Technology.
proved to be equally if not more daring than men in their writing. Even the
emergence of the so-called alternative press came about essentially through
the efforts of women editors and journalists. Several women journalists were
subjected to harassment, threats and intimidation by the military. Among
these courageous women journalists were Eugenia D. Apostol, Betty Go-Belmonte,
Letty Magsanoc, Arlene Babst, Ninez Cacho Olivares, Domini Torrevillas,
Melinda de Jesus, Tina Monzon Palma, Malou Mangahas, Sheila Coronel, and
Among the outstanding
heroes during the struggle against the Marcos regime was Joaquin "Chino"
Roces, publisher of the pre-martial law The Manila Times and
regarded as the Grand Old Man of Philippine journalism.
Newspapers Today: A Press in Transition
There are a total of 14 "national" daily broadsheets and 19 tabloids
published in Metro Manila (1998 Philippine Media Factbook). The combined
circulation of these newspapers is estimated to be only about 7 million,
including pass on readership, in a country of almost 75 million.
Of the 14 broadsheets,
only two are in Filipino — Kabayan and Numero Uno.
Among the newspapers with biggest claimed daily circulation are Manila
Bulletin (280,000 on weekdays and 300,000 on Sundays),
Philippine Daily Inquirer,(260,000 and 280,000 respectively)
and Philippine Star (271,687).
Tabloids, with an
average cost of half the broadsheets enjoy a higher circulation and seem to
be preferred by readers in the C, D and E income brackets. Tabloids are
written in Taglish, a combination of English and Filipino and have an
entertainment gossip slant. The most popular tabloid is Abante
with a claimed circulation of 417,600. Another favorite is People’s
Journal with claimed circulation of 382,000.
There are also five
Chinese broadsheets, all published in Binondo, Manila’s Chinatown. These
include Unversal Daily News, China Times, World News, United Daily
News, and Chinese Commercial News.
Enjoying a "revival"
are the provincial newspapers. The 1998 Philippine Media Factbook reported
that there are now 408 provincial publications nationwide. Of this number,
30 are daily publications, 292 come out weekly, and the rest are either
monthly or quarterly publications. In the 1980s, there were less than 10
provincial dailies located in the key cities. The immediate readership of
provincial newspapers is estimated at about 2,000 subscribers for each of
the publications. Assuming that each subscriber passes on the newspaper to
at least one person, there are a million Filipinos reached by the provincial
An important trend is
the emergence of a chain of provincial newspapers nationwide owned by a
single corporation. An example is the Sun Star dailies found
in major cities nationwide such as Baguio, Angeles, Cebu, Iloilo, Dumaguete,
Cagayan de Oro and Davao. Most of these provincial papers were existing but
not viable when bought by Sun Star. The acquisition has
enabled the new owners to infuse additional capital, acquire new printing
equipment and facilities, and hire more editorial staff. The result is
significant improvement in the editorial quality of most of these
newspapers.. Some provincial dailies can now compete with the so-called
national (Metro Manila-based) dailies in terms of editorial quality.
But the most popular
reading fare in the country is still the illustrated komiks.
The Media factbook reported 46 komik titles published either weekly or twice
a week. Most of these feature drama-love story and horror. Among the popular
ones arre Aliwan Lovelife, Beloved, True Horror, True Ghost, Shocker,
reading fare are the magazines. Of the 38 magazines listed in the Media
factbook, almost half are movie/fan magazines such as Gossip, Glitter,
Kislap, Hot Copy, Rumors and Moviestars.
Perhaps because it
gives priority on its watchdog function, newspaper content tends to be
dominated by government issues and events, inevitably involving government
officials a.k.a. politicians. This has resulted in frequent misunderstanding
between the "rulers" and the fourth estate. Government officials often
criticize newspapers for inaccurate and sloppy reporting and even for having
a "hidden agenda," leading to the filing of multi-million libel cases
against editors and journalists. One major daily experienced advertising
pullout by advertisers sympathetic to a top national official who feel
aggrieved by the negative coverage he gets from the newspaper. The press
regard negative reportage as part of their "watchdog function" and consider
libel suits (and ad boycott) as serious threats to press freedom.
Newspaper pages have
served as an effective forum for dialogue (and even debate) on national and
local issues — constitutional amendments or cha cha, Visiting
Forces Agreement (VFA), death penalty , among others. It has succeeded in
ventilating local issues into national consciousness such as the agrarian
problem of farmers from Sumilao and other places. Another good news is the
increasing number of investigative stories focusing on diverse issues —
graft and corruption in government (and business), environment, human
rights, agrarian and urban land reform, and the Marcos hidden wealth. Many
of these articles had led to investigations by Congress and other
appropriate government agencies. Investigative stories have significantly
enhanced transparency in governance and may have reduced if not prevented
abuses and corruption. Many of these stories are being written by
journalists from the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism.
Business and economics
is given adequate coverage it deserves. Many major business stories are
given front page treatment while business sections of most newspapers have
been expanded both in terms of additional pages and topics. Business stories
are not only limited to news but now carry features (including
personalities), in-depth articles and in some newspapers, even corporate
Likewise, there have
been significant improvements in the coverage of science and technology,
agriculture, education, health and similar topics. Many newspapers provide
at least a page (or section) on these topics once a week. The major dailies
now have a weekly information technology (IT) page.
Although our so-called
national dailies are still Manila-centric in terms of content, there are now
serious efforts to feature more diverse stories from the regions beyond the
traditional natural and man-made calamities. Sections or pages are devoted
to human interest stories from various regions of Luzon, Visayas and
Mindanao. Some major dailies such as the Philippine Daily Inquirer
has set up a full-time news bureau in major regions throughout the country .
If our pages have
improved in terms of their contents and appearances, this can be partly
attributed to continuing efforts towards professionalism in the industry.
These efforts can come from professional organizations and the academe. The
Philippine Press Institute (PPI) conducts about a dozen training courses
each year on various aspects of newspaper publication — editorial,
management, and ethics. It also sponsors the annual Community Press Awards
which recognizes excellence among provincial newspapers. The Center for
Media Freedom and Responsibility focuses on the upgrading of professionalism
and responsibility of media workers through workshops and publications. In
addition to offering graduate degrees in journalism and communication
management, the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC)
conducts short-term training, media research, policy advocacy, and
There are over 100
communication departments/colleges nationwide which provide a ready source
for media practitioners. However, the quality of their curriculum, and
therefore their graduates, may need improvement, a task which requires
partnership and support from the industry.
Some Bad News
A common complaint
against the press is its alleged tendency to sensationalize and to focus on
or foment conflict situations. Sensationalism is defined as exaggerating an
non-issue/event or a "minor" one so as to create a startling or scandalous
Critics say that the
press resort to this unwritten "editorial policy" in order to "sell" or
increase circulation and of course, attract more advertisers.
A related concern is
the lack of follow-up stories. Newspapers (and media in general) do not
display the same tenacity that can uncover a Watergate scandal. Journalists
have such short memories that there is little or no follow-through of
heretofore major stories.
acknowledge that one of their serious problems is "envelopmental journalism"
practiced by some of their colleagues. This refers to envelopes with some
money distributed to journalists in return for a favor — a positive media
coverage or an end to negative publicity. Some unscrupulous journalists have
shifted to ATM cards to make the transaction less obvious.
The Philippine Press
Institute (PPI) has adopted the Journalists Code of Ethics. The Code
provides, among others that the journalists must "adhere to scrupulous"
reporting or interpretation of news, not to suppress essential facts or
distort the trust by improper omission or emphasis." But adherence to the
Code is voluntary and at best imposed through the ombudsman and press
council system. There is a need to improve the mechanisms for both.
The other issues often
raised focused on the quality of newspaper coverage of specific sectors —
women, children, cultural communities, among others.
Women and child rights
advocates have noted a significant increase in the coverage of women’s and
children’s issues over the past decade. While this has succeeded in
integrating such issues into the mainstream of national agenda, they also
lament the tendency of mass media, including newspapers, to prefer stories
which easily lend to a sensational and controversial slant — child abuse,
prostitution, child labor, and similar stories. On the other hand, equally
important but less controversial stories on malnutrition, lack of access to
pre-school and primary health care still need wider and more sustained
A related concern is
the quality of coverage on women as they are portrayed as weaker sex and sex
objects. Tabloids have been singled out for splashing scantily-dressed
"starlets" in provocative poses in their front pages as a marketing
strategy. Respect for privacy and dignity of women and children have often
been raised, especially in abuse cases. A Guideline on the Coverage of
Crimes Against Women and Minors prepared by the Center for Media Freedom and
Responsibility has been distributed to newspapers to help ensure a more
gender-sensitive newspaper reporting. Likewise, the Department of Justice
prepared a Guideline for Media Coverage of Children.
Although regional news
stories have increased, media coverage of the country’s 120 ethnic groups
and cultural communities are still wanting. The limited coverage tend to
focus on conflict situations (tribal wars), calamities, drought and hunger,
etc. Stories about their way of life is almost nil although there is a
continuing attempt at preservation of their dances, songs and ethnographic
materials. The more "visible" cultural communities like the Igorots and
various Muslim tribes are most apt to be stereotyped (e.g. tattooed Igorots
and fierce-tempered Muslim tribes).
the Underwood to Computer Age: Challenges for the Print Media
How are newspapers
coping with the advent of new information technology? Most of our national
dailies have integrated computers in their operations. Some are now
automated — from news sourcing and gathering, editing, layout and design to
production. Among the highly automated newspapers are Business World,
Philippine Daily Inquirer, Manila Bulletin. Most of the daily
newspapers are also on-line, reaching even people who would not normally
read the printed page.
require continuing retooling among editors, journalists and the production
people. Some jobs may eventually have to be phased out as machines take over
the work to be done e.g. paste up. Some veteran journalists admit difficulty
in adjusting as they miss the sounds of the typewriters. But even some new
journalism graduates are not fully equipped with the tools of the computer
age. Many journalism departments or schools lack electronic laboratories to
prepare their students with desktop editorial skills.
newspapers are still in the "Underwood (or Remington) age." Only the bigger
provincial dailies such as the Sun Star chain, The
Freeman, Visayan Daily Star, to name a few, have
access to more advanced technologies.
Will newspapers be
eventually replaced by television and other new media (e.g., cable TV and
Internet) as main source of news?
according to the World Trends in the Newspaper Industry as reported
in a national daily recently. The report noted that newspapers have a number
of advantages: (1) strong relationship with readers and advertisers, and (2)
high degree of credibility. Online services are regarded not as replacement
but as a supplement to newspapers.
Even the threat of
advertisers transferring to the web is still quite remote in the Philippines
considering the small population of Internet users in the Philippines. It is
estimated that our Internet base user is only 80,000 with a possible
multiplying factor of four. This brings the total Internet user base to
320,000. However, the annual growth rate of Internet users is at 30 percent.
But the newspaper
industry will continue to compete with television, cable TV, radio and other
media channels for advertising revenue. This would require more creative
news packaging amidst threats of declining readers in favor of the visual