An Overview of Cebu's Contemporary Mass Media
In mid-September, 2004, members of Cebu's media community celebrated for the 10th time, Cebu Press Freedom Week. When it was first held in 1994, its aim was "to remind the public and the press itself that the precious freedom it now enjoys must be protected from any and all threats." While it was the first organized week-long celebration, it was not the first time the media community had risen as one in behalf of press freedom.
More than a decade earlier, close on the heels of the ground- breaking political upheaval at the National Capital Region historically known now as the First EDSA Revolution, the members of Cebu's media community somehow felt the need to emphasize to Cebuanos the importance of press freedom.
The Council of Cebu Media Leaders was organized in September, 1988 spearheaded by Lawyer Pacheco Seares.
Editor of the six years old Sun Star Daily, Cheking Seares was editor of the The Freeman before he led a splinter group away from the paper to organize the Sun Star Daily. Until the advent of SSD, The Freeman and the Visayan Tribune were the two competing dailies in Cebu. There were other newspapers, but they hardly survive the harsh economic environment of the city. Many of them were politically-oriented and funded publications.
Only a couple of years earlier, some of Cebu's media community members were imprisoned by the military for what they had written and believed in, during the months immediately before the proclamation of martial rule.
Pres. Ferdinand Marcos declared martial law in July, 1972, and he simultaneously had Cebu journalists who were gravely critical of his administration arrested and imprisoned, like their counterparts in Manila.
Fortunately, they were soon released after spending a week or so in detention in the Philippine Constabulary stockade in Camp Sergio Osmena, Sr. along Jones Av., they were set free. They were largely detained on suspicion that they belonged to the island's radical left, and hence, could possibly lead a movement against the government. Or the PC felt it has asserted enough of its martial powers to cow the local media community.
But the unbridled activism for truth of some members of the island's media could not be contained with mere threats of incarceration. They went on their merry way with but very little leeway for caution, in so far as adherence to policies of the martial law government is concerned or of their news treatment of the Marcos administration. I know this to be true for at that time, I was the regional director of the Ministry of Public Information.
Today, the media community of Cebu is as vibrant and dynamic as ever. Many of the old guards are gone. The media practitioners who had covered then both the city and provincial governments, are almost all gone now. Only a few have remained. And it is the few who are is at the moment witnessing and guiding the progress of Cebu's new generation of journalists on the straight and sturdy path to professional performance. The state of Cebu media in the 1950s is a far cry from the current Cebu media today. Many years back, when the University of the Philippines conducted a nationwide survey on the "Communications Problems at the Barrio Level" with funds provided by the United States economic assistance program through Prof. John de Young, an exchange professor in sociology, there were hardly three out of ten families with radio sets.
There was only one radio station that was listened to by the people at the outbreak of the Second World War and resumed operation when the Americans liberated Cebu City. Its popularity among the people picked up where it left off in late 1941, but only because its program format also resumed its popular amateur singing contest early in the evening. But in that period of Cebu City's history, that was all the broadcast medium it had.
It is no longer so today. As of this moment in April, 2005, Cebu City has possibly the highest concentration of tri-media infrastructure in the country, next only to Manila. In the print media sector, Cebu City has three English community dailies with claimed circulation of more than 30 thousand each, and three vernacular dailies also with quite extensive circulation, the least among which is the Bandera, being the "youngest."
And finally, the audio visual broadcast sector, the television which is probably the hottest medium in the country at the moment, in so far as the comparable mass attraction of the tri-media is concern. The reality of the reach of electric power up into the hinterland, is attested to by the power lines crossing from mountain to mountain, lighting up distant city barangays and beyond, points to the wide reach of the broadcast media.
The keen and heated competition for the mass audience between the two giant television networks of the country, is easily felt by the viewers through the programming of each, especially for the non-tagalog audience. The two networks also have their respective radio stations that cater to radio dramas or soap operas, in the same manner that the TV stations promote quite intensely tele-novelas which are imported.
At any rate, there are ten television stations in the city, with one cable TV, the Sky Cable. But the more significant ones, outside of the two big networks, the ABS-CBN and GMA 7, include RPN 9, PTV 11, IBC 13, ABC 21, CCTN 47, Channel 23, Channel 27 and SBN 6. The CCTN or Cebu Catholic Television Network is relatively new, less than three years old, but it is reaching out to audiences in Eastern Visayas and Northern Mindanao.
In terms of media infrastructure, Cebu City appears to be up-to-date in quality, although it may be behind in quantity. But the latter could be largely due to audience density, being an island, unlike Manila that is contiguous to the provinces of Luzon.