Asia-Pacific

Journalists on Journalism

Philippines: Elusive Access to Information

This article appeared in the December 2001 World Press Review VOL. 48, No. 12)

Most foreign correspondents would say how easy it is to cover the Philippines source-wise: The majority of Filipinos can speak and understand English and are very open in expressing their views on just about anything, including politics. Yet, the irony is that access to information remains elusive, especially for the rural population of this country of 75 million people.

National newspapers are down to eight from a high of 22 in 1986, when a popular uprising toppled the dictator Ferdinand Marcos and unshackled a suppressed media. There are 408 community newspapers spread over the country’s 7,100 islands-most of them English weeklies and monthlies in tabloid format. Both national and local newspapers are limited in circulation. National dailies only average from 10,000 to 400,000 copies; provincial papers from 500 to 45,000.

Many theories abound as to why print media growth has remained stagnant: the prohibitive cost of newspapers (from 5 pesos, or 10 U.S. cents, to 15 pesos, or 31 cents) in a predominantly poor populace, the lack of a reading culture, and the lack of start-up capital for publishers, especially in communities.

Radio remains the most popular medium, especially in far-flung barrios. There are 539 stations in the country, 273 of them on the AM band. Television also outpaces the print media in terms of popularity, especially in the urban areas. There are 63 television stations, 50 relay, and 24 UHF channels nationwide.

Philippine media today have been touted as the freest, most rambunctious in Southeast Asia. Yet, according to Sheila Coronel, executive director of the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, they remain “vulnerable to pressures on their proprietors and protective of the interests of their
owners.”

In the case of community papers, “the picture is made more complex by the preponderance of feuding political clans and families, the persistence of patronage politics, and the resistance of antiquated political structures to change,” says Chay Florentino-Hofileña, writing about “The Travails of the Community Press” in the book Investigating Local Governments, published by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism and edited by Cecile C.A. Balgos.

The Philippines inherited American-style journalism and with it the structure of media as business enterprise at the turn of the 20th century when it was a U.S. colony. Ownership of the media, according to Coronel, still follows “the changing face of Philippine business.”

Advertise with Worldpress.org