Tuesday, March 10, 2009

The Provincial Media

I was in the South over the weekend to meet with about 30 journalists. As usual, when journalists meet, there were food (kinilaw, tinolang bariles, okra with ginamos, bulad nga bolinao, etc), drinks (Red Horse, San Mig Light and Pale, Generoso, Gran Matador, etc) and stories.

The stories were a mix of the funny, sad and the bizarre. A “tough-talking and hard-hitting” journalist supposedly survived an assassination attempt when the assassin thought he shot the wrong person because the journalist cried “like a woman” when a bullet went through his body. The killer did not fire the fatal shot and ran away.

The common thread of the stories is poverty. They talked about how they have to sell advertisements to politicians to get a 20 percent commission – their pay for working their asses off to cover war and conflicts.

Most journalists in the provinces are not employees. Some of them own weekly papers, which cost them about P5,000 per 500 copies to print, edit stories that they themselves write, solicit ads (a full page would cost from P5,000 to P10,000) from news sources and deliver the printed paper to subscribers and newsstands.

Broadcasters pay from P5,000 to P10,000 to radio stations to have a one-hour daily show. The prices vary depending on the station or the province.

Many provincial journalists admit that some of them are on the payroll of politicians. “We have families to feed,” they said, adding that anyway politicians own the radio stations or newspapers.

People depend of these radio stations and provincial papers as sources of information. Despite the growing reach of national television and radio networks, people in the provinces prefer local broadcasts that tackle local issues. Sometimes, these journalists are even looked up to as heroes, especially when they hit local warlords and politicians.

Provincial journalists agree that “irresponsible journalism” is a problem and that they encounter ethical dilemmas every day. They said these might have caused most of the attacks and killings of media practitioners. But they pointed out that the bigger problem they face is survival.

They, however, said there is hope for the provincial media and they can do better, but something must be done about their economic condition.

Unless the owners of big broadcast networks, national papers and small-town publications improve the lot of provincial journalists, there can be no end to the killings, attacks and threats on media workers.

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