Philippine Press: Its Initial Pages
Press: Its Initial Pages The first newspaper
was established in the Philippines 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
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 oppresive
conditions prevailing in the country then.
These newspapers were mainly written and
published by the so-called ilustrados.
Foremost among the nationalistic
newspapers was 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
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 Philippines Herald,
a pro-Filipino newspaper, came out.
Other nationalistic newspapers
during the period did not last long due
to American supression. 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
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
Golden Age of Philippine Journalism
The post-war era to the
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 - Carlos
P. Romulo, Mauro Mendez, Arsenio Lacson,
Modesto Farolan, Leon Guerrero, Armando
Malay, , S.P. Lopez, Jose Bautista, to name
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 the country."
The 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 the "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: Fernando del Mundo working
for United Press; Teddy Benigno and Roberto
Coloma for AFP; Shiela Ocampo and Rigoberto
Tiglao for FEER; Alice Villadolid for New
York Times; Nelly Sindayen for Time Magazine.
The nationalistic 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.
Women journalists proved
to be equally, if not more, daring than
men in their writing. 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 anmd 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 Ceres Doyo.
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
Excerpts from THE
PRINT MEDIA: A TRADITION OF FREEDOM
by Ramon R. Tuazon
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 dailies.
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, Dumaguetem 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
stories and horror. Among the popular ones
are Aliwan Lovelife, Beloved, True Horror,
True Ghost, Shocker, and Halimaw. Another
popular 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.
The Good News
Perhaps because it gives
priority to 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 felt agrievedby the negative
coverage he got 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 transparancy
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
Business and economics
is given the 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 "gossips."
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
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 full-time
news bureaus 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 newspapering - 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 publications.
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.
And 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
a non-issue/event or a "minor" one so as
to create a startling or scandalous effect.
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
positve media coverage or an end to negative
publicity. Some unscrupulous journalists
have shifted to ATM cards to make the transaction
The Philippine Press Institute
(PPI) has adopted the Journalist, 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
truth 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 coverage.
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 has 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 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 are
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).
From the Underwood
to Computer Age: Challenges for the Print
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.
Using computers requires
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
Many provincial 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 the main
source of news?
Not necessarily, 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
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
Excerpts from THE PRINT MEDIA: A TRADITION
OF FREEDOM by Ramon R. Tuazon