community media

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Emerging 'Dynamism' of Cebu Media


IT is said that for every advancement or growth in whatever aspect of human activity, there is always a commensurate loss in what the people had been used to having or possessing. Thus, at the fall of the Marcos regime through the so-called People Power, the era of disciplined or cautious society also ended, as an atmosphere of freedom took over the guarded thought and movement of the citizenry. Similarly, the media in Cebu also felt the same atmosphere of unbridled dynamism and free expression as the local practitioners went back in pursuit of their pre-martial rule roles in local society.

People Power that toppled the Marcos regime became a symbol of new life in the nation, although the same was not as deeply felt in the Visayas and Mindanao as it was in Metro Manila, and probably in the northern provinces as well.

However, while it was not as deeply felt in Cebu, and elsewhere in the Visayas and Mindanao, it did have, though, a spin-off effect in the circumstances of the community media. After having gone through a period of “psychological” curtailment, the restored freedom from the shadow of military controllers endowed the Cebu media practitioners with unusual opportunities for growth.

Thus, the dailies in Cebu that sought permission and were granted permits to publish and gained a degree of growth and momentum during the martial rule years continued to circulate for a while under the Cory Aquino regime. These were the Republic News, the The Freeman, the Morning Times, the Visayan Herald and the Cebu Advocate. The dailies, some of which were suspended during the initial weeks of martial law, sought permission to resume publication a few months after these were shut down.

Since there was no tacit authority issued to the regional offices of the Department /Ministry of Public Information, then entrusted with the information dissemination activities of the government, the DPI issued such permits to those who applied for it, to individuals and corporations, to publish newspapers or magazines. The DPI issued permits that took a safe tact, starting with the phrase “We interpose no objection to ___, to publish daily/weekly/monthly newspaper/pamphlet/magazine…”

The dailies that were extended permission by the region’s Public Information office to resume publication in 1973, continued to circulate until the end of the Marcos regime and beyond. But eventually the Cebu Advocate ceased publication with the death of its publisher, Cesar Aleonar in the late ‘80s. Not long after, the Morning Times followed when publisher/editor Pete Calomarde suffered a stroke, and later died, too. The Visayan Herald closed down due to management problem as I earlier pointed out, leaving Cebu’s print media field in the early the late ‘80s to the Sun Star Daily, The Freeman, and the Republic News. But soon, in the early ‘90s Republic News followed, with the retirement of publisher Dioscoro Lazaro, and the death of its editor, Jose Logarta.

With the start of the Aquino regime, the Cebu media assumed a new dynamism as the five year-old Sun Star Daily led the way into the open celebration of press freedom as a gesture of assumption of responsibility regarding the professionalism and the ethical practice of journalism in Cebu. It may be said at this point that Cebu has become the print media “role model” in the Visayas and Mindanao. For where professionalism and ethical practice of journalism in Cebu was at in the decade of the ‘90s, the rest of the Visayas and Mindanao, particularly in such cities as Tagbilaran, Dumaguete, Iloilo, Bacolod, Tacloban, Catbalogan, Cagayan de Oro, Butuan, Davao, Zamboanga, and Ozamiz, the level of professionalism and ethical practice was where Cebu was at in the 1970s. It may be too sweeping a conclusion to make, but sadly it is based on personal knowledge.

(In the 1992 and 1998 presidential elections, I went on leave as columnist of Sun Star Daily to handle the media side of Lito Osmena’s presidential then vice presidential campaign with FVR in 1992, Serge Osmena III’s senatorial campaign in 1995, and then Lito Osmena’s presidential campaign in 1998. Consequently, I traveled and developed media contacts from the far north of Luzon to the whole of Visayas and Mindanao. In September ‘97, I invited radio people from Luzon to Mindanao for a weekend to Cebu. As a result, I gained deeper insight into the workings of countryside media during those years, enabling me to develop an approach to the ethics involved in the political media campaign that more or less assuaged in some way the moral issue of what I was doing.)

At any rate, during the period from the mid 1980s to the decade of the ‘90s, there emerged in Cebu an unusually strong interest in the area of communication. Suddenly, the local universities, which never showed interest in mass communications during the ‘70s, started opening mass communication courses. The University of the Philippines’ Cebu College opened courses in journalism with some local media men as instructors. Then the St. Theresa’s College followed suit, with the University of San Jose-Recolletos coming in during the mid-1980s. With the mass communications graduates joining the staff of the local dailies, young blood was infused into the journalism profession.

The young ones, with fresh idealism and healthier outlook on the dynamics of domestic and global social, political, and economic development, infused more vigor to the Cebu media, not only in the print medium, but also in the broadcast sector. Radio and television were mutually ganging up on print, especially since the mass audience was drawn more and more to the radio soap opera which was just starting to peak in [public interest with such radio play as Flor de Luna, among others.

As of the beginning of 2005, Cebu finds itself with more FM radio stations than the AM ones. The FMs number 23, while the AMs are only 16. Of the ten television stations operating in Cebu, the most prominent are the ABS-CBN 3, GMA-7, RPN 9, ABC 21, RPN 9, PTV 11, and CCTN 47. Only one cable TV, the Skycable, is prominently serving the Cebu public at the moment. But in the battle for the mass television audience right now, the two most aggressive protagonists are the television giants ABS-CBN and GMA-7. They are in more3 waysw than one, practically at each other’s throat in trying to win the Cebuano mass audience. In a province where radio and television have already gone up to the hills, penetrating the highlands where the power lines have practically criss-crossed the in-land villages, it is not difficult to understand the reason why.

The mountain villages of Cebu have become open market for detergents, cosmetics, and everything that women use to fulfill not only their fantasies about themselves, but also their attractiveness to the men. The battle of the female market for shampoos, conditioners, lotions, and body wash, not to mention the soap, the deodorants, etc., has opened an entirely new battlefield for the radio and television. The two have become far more superior tools for marketing than the dailies with their limited reach. The print media is thus left as a poor third in the media advertising war.

Against the backdrop of this advertising tussle among the manufacturers of commodities for mass consumption, the media in Cebu has achieved a definite level of economic ascendancy that assures its survival over the long haul in the new century. Only a return of, or the suddenly emergence, of another “dictatorship” could arrest its current momentum of development and progress.