community media

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Cebu Media at Mid-Century


THERE is no doubting the fact that the Filipino equally profited from the Americans than they ever did from the Spaniards. While at the turn of the century they were almost able to gain a measure of self-determination from Spain with the bravado of a group of Filipino illustrados in Spain who organized to publish a newspaper, and to sway influence in the Spanish Cortes, still the fact remains that it was only under the American regime that journalism and creative writing among the Filipinos grandly blossomed.

This is a reality that should support the notion that free expression did really flourish more under the Americans than it did under Spain. Indeed, the mere fact that about eighty publications saw print in Cebu alone from the close of the 19th century up to 1940, just before the outbreak of World War II, indicate the veracity of such a situation. As mentioned earlier, when the war broke out there were seven new publications in Cebu. Among the seven, one was an English daily, The Challenger, of Cornelio Faigao, one a Spanish daily of the Escano family, one English bi-monthly of the Escano family, and the rest Cebuano weeklies, one monthly and one bi-monthly.

But when the war was over, all these publications closed shop, and none resurfaced in 1945 at the end of the war. In 1950, there were two English dailies, the Pioneer Press that begun publication in 1945 and the guerrilla daily, Morning Times of Pete Calomarde that continued come out in the post-war years. Both showed editorial independence, showing a stance of detachment from the heating up of political competition between the Liberal Party of President Roxas, and later of President Quirino, with the Cuencos as the Cebuano champions, and the Nacionalista Party, the latter being championed by the Osmenas. The Osmenista was led by Serging Osmena, Jr. who became its local head.

At the start of the decade of the '50s, there were of course, the Spanish bi-weekly La Prenza of Jose del Mar and the daily Republic News of Dioscoro Lazaro, both of which begun publication in 1947. But the decade of the '50s saw a resurgence of publications in the city when the political environment began to heat up as it had never been before as political fiefdoms and "warlordism" started to develop and take roots.

Taking the cue from the national picture, where the national media became the political battleground of the politicians seeking national exposure or were aspiring for national positions, their local allies and counterparts likewise sought the help of the local media to promote their political interests. Journalists' professionalism in Cebu at this point could not be guaranteed due to difficulties in ascertaining their political independence.

The coming in of more radio stations and the entry of television only heightened the people's consciousness of the importance of media. And this situation farther opened the eyes of local politicians and political aspirants to the importance of media as a tool of reaching out to the people. That is the reason why the decade of the '50s saw the "birth" of at least nine publications, and six of them dailies, not counting the Pioneer Press and the Republic News which were able to survive in spite of intense competition.

The Pioneer Press was the most "respected" among the dailies in Cebu because of its perceived independence. It was managed and edited by two journalists who were not Cebuanos, Alfredo Cruz and Angel Anden being journalists from Luzon who pioneered a truly independent daily in the province. People patronized it since the handling of the news and the reporting indicated objectivity, and without political slants that the other dailies that had hidden political interests could not help showing on their pages.

One such daily was the Republic News. Although its editor tried to show journalistic objectivity and independence, almost everybody in Cebu knew that the Cuenco family had a majority interest in the daily. And at that time, Sen. Mariano Jesus Cuenco was the opposition's titular head, and Liberal Party was his political organization. With the LP in power, the Republic News enjoyed unusual circulation opportunities.

Opposing the Republic News were the dailies identified with the Osmenistas, Napoleon Dejoras' Courier-Press which came out in 1951, and was later superseded in the same year by the The Daily News. Then there were the The Cebu Advocate of Cesar Aleonar which had an independent ownership, but was barely surviving for the more than two decades of its existence since 1959. The years 1950 to 1970 actually produced a total of 20 publications. But only about four of them had their presence really felt by the Cebuano audience. The right may be termed as fly by night, many of them political papers.

The more significant among them include the Republic News, The Freeman, The Cebu Advocate The Cebu Star. There was the monthly magazine called the Police Files which survive through the personal man-to-man approach for advertising. The magazine made it a point not come out unless the ads it is able to raise covered the cost of printing, and the livelihood of the editorial staff. Then there was weekly La Prenza, that survive d=for years because there was still the Spanish-speaking community that supported it. They were so-called the habla-espanol crowd in Cebu City society.

The vernacular publications within this period included two dailies, four weeklies, and two quarterlies. The problem was that they were competing with the more popular Cebuano magazine Bisaya, which is published by the Liwayway Publications in Manila since 1930, and circulated throughout the Visayas and Mindanao, and even among the Cebuano community in Manila. The Bisaya was the most popular vernacular publication in Cebuano up to the years before Martial Rule. Unfortunately, while it continues to circulate in the Visayas and Mindanao to this day, its circulation has stagnated because it failed to catch up with the changing times in both format and content.

Among the dailies, thee was the Demokrasya of Andres Camasura, but it failed to take off simply because its publisher did not invite public trust. He was involved in certain cases that put to question some of his business dealings, and hence affected the credibility of his publication. But the Bag-ong Adlaw of Ramon Abellanosa attracted initial attention in the sense that the publisher was himself a recognized Cebuano writer. The only drawback to the paper is the publisher's political involvement at the time.

During this period in Cebu's media history, it is estimated that at least 80 percent of all the publications had political bias. With the unwarranted closure of the Pioneer Press due to political threat and pressure after the 1951 elections, a kind of hiatus occurred, where professionalism in journalism was concerned. While the Morning Times and the Republic News continued to circulate, in the public mind was the shadow of doubt regarding the true ownership of the two dailies.

While it was the general belief that the Morning Times publisher in essence directly and independently owned the daily, there was however, a strong feeling that it was secretly being supported by the Osmenas as a political counter balance to the Republic News which was generally known, although not publicly acknowledged, that the Cuencos owned it. Given the circumstance, the NPs perforce had to secure its media outlet. The two other dailies which could have assumed real independence were The Freeman of the Gullases who owns and operate the University of the Visayas, and the Cebu Advocate of the Aleonars, but not only was it under-staffed but the fact that it was cash-strapped showed in the machine it was printed in and the news print it was using.

In this sense, considering that these were the only four publications that have gained a measure of circulation reach and readership, having managed to exist for more than five years since the liberation, the Cebuano print media may not be considered as wholly independent in the true sense of the word. And the people had no choice but to patronize them for lack of any alternative. It took many years before the hiatus could essentially be broken and a genuine effort to professionalize journalism in Cebu was undertaken.

There were, of course, still many other publications in Cebu. There were the Cebuano weeklies like the Silungan, the Bag-ong Suga of the political warlord Ramon Durano, the Southern Outlook, a weekly newsmagazine which this writer edited for about six months, owned by Julian Yap, a Cebuano businessman who decided to invest his excess capital on a weekly, and the daily The Cebu Bulletin of Joseph Goyangco.

The radio broadcast media in the early 1950s were somehow a monopoly with the return of the pre-war KZRC, which had swayed unchallenged dominance when the war broke out in December 1941. In 1950, a new station was put up, the KZBU. With only the two stations alone competing in some way, the broadcasting field appeared wide open for more players to come in. Thus, by the time President Marcos proclaimed martial rule in 1972, there were already nine AM stations competing for the Cebuano ear.

And with politics becoming stringently competitive and even violent, the politicians were looking at the media with covetous eyes. And here, somehow, lies the problem of the Cebuano journalists at this point. With the media industry still unable to support the practitioners with enough financial rewards for their efforts, they were easy prey to the political temptations of the political overlords in Cebu at this time.

A good number, if not most, of the media practitioners in Cebu had to play footsie with the politicians. Not only were many of them receiving monthly retainers, but they were also being paid on a case to case basis for the political press releases they were able to publish in the dailies, but they were also extended financial assistance when they travel to Manila or elsewhere in the country. In fact, traveling to Manila which many did often, were usual excuses for "fund raising" among incumbent politicians.

In a way, the local media then was a bane not only to the local businessmen but also to the politicians who were in an influential position, particularly those in Congress. Media men who go to Manila invariably visit the offices of their Congressmen "friends" to ask for pocket money, and spending allowances while in Manila. This was the period when the practice of buying personal radio time emerged. Radio commentaries on personal radio time became political tools to attack or defend political friends who pay for the radio time.