Women in media
FROM THE STANDS - Domini M. Torrevillas (The Philippine Star) - May 28, 2020 - 12:00am

Every five years, governments submit reports to the United Nations Commission on Women on the situation of women in their countries since the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995. This year the Philippine government submitted its report for the period 2015-2020, covering 12 areas of concern, one of which is Section J.1 and J.2, on the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making through the media, and promoting a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media. An Alternative Report written by non-government journalists, has also been submitted.

The Beijing+25 Alternative Report which this column presents, was written by Maria Olivia H. Tripon, freelance writer and former executive director of Women’s Feature Service Phil. Inc. and Lisa Garcia, executive director of the Foundation for Media Alternatives, with reports from Diana Mendoza, freelance writer and associate producer of One News Cignal TV and editor and co-founder of womenwritingwomenorg, and Pennie Azarcon de la Cruz, news desk editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The Alternative Report starts that new words have entered the world’s vocabulary in this “post-truth” era: hate speech, “fake news,” “alternative facts,” trolls. “Such words have radically changed the landscape of language and the environment in which media, the purveyors of truth, and the public communicate.”

It is in this context that the authors examined the gains and challenges made under the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) on Women and the Media during the 2015-2020 period.

On how the environment changed in the last five years to encourage further women’s participation and access to expression and decision-making, the Alternative Report says caustically: “The metrics of politics under the Duterte administration paints a bleak picture.”

The government, it says, has “actually sought to limit women’s political participation and decision-making functions by targeting, among others, independent-minded female officials. The Vice President had been kicked out of the Cabinet twice; the Chief Justice was ousted not by impeachment but by legal maneuverings, and Sen. Leila de Lima has been detained for three years now on alleged drug charges using drug convicts as witnesses.”

It asks: “If the government can target and persecute these high-profile women leaders, could women journalists expect better?”

According to the AR, there are many ways to cut down women media practitioners critical of government, among them:

1.Disinformation and misinformation. Fake news, photoshopped images, edited videos, misquoted or out-of-context remarks, and “patriotic trolling” – spurious information or name-calling hiding behind claims of “national interest” –  have “changed the nation’s perception of reality. In response, media’s role has evolved into that of fact checkers, while preserving their turf as truth tellers.”

2. Vile rhetoric, rape jokes and actions by the country’s leader’s “slew of sexist remarks and vulgar jokes have not only made the ordinary woman feel vulnerable to rape and sexual harassment, they also resurrect her already discredited and outdated image as a sex object. The sexual innuendoes in the leader’s speeches and his confessed sexual abuse of their house helper, also negate what his allies maintain as his support of women when he signed in April 2019, the Safe Spaces Act that lays down penalties for the harassment of women in public spaces.”

3. Media threats: The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) declared the Philippines as the deadliest country for journalists in Southeast Asia in its 2018 Southeast Asia Media Report.

On whether the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making has increased through the media and new technologies of communication, some 76 million Filipinos use the internet for an average of 10 hours a day, according to reports, with more women found to be more active than men in social media in 2019. The women however use the platform, not for politics, but to connect with family and friends.

Women’s expression, participation and decision-making roles in media have increased. “Women actively participate in or use media to share information and opinions as bloggers, vloggers, and as viewers, readers and listeners. There are many women at the helm of media organizations and as prominent columnists, documentarists and TV talk show hosts. Women directors in theater and film are growing in number.” The downside is that “female bloggers, especially those who curry favor with the current leadership, have been appointed to high government positions and cover international events, and have, unfortunately, blurred the line between propaganda and news.”

The Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) has produced short films and videos on violence against women, a radio campaign on catcalling, and a revised Gender Fair Media Guidebook.

But the PCW’s continued silence on the President’s ”misogynistic bent” has disappointed women and women’s groups, says the report.

NGO initiatives are noteworthy.

The Foundation for Media Alternatives (FMA) has mapped cases of Gender-Based Violence (GBV), raised awareness of women’s issues through talks and discussions, and conducted digital security workshops for women rights defenders in the Philippines, Cambodia and Malaysia. It also released statements on media freedom.

Other women-headed media organizations like the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Phil. Center for Investigative Journalism, and Vera Files are doing their part in truth telling.

“Clad in anonymity, social media users have also normalized cruel and hateful online behavior, which parents and educators must face squarely in their daily struggle to inculcate positive values in children,” says the AR.

AR’s recommendations call for the training of the young to recognize, verify and report fake news; resisting normalization of hate speech and sexism; media literacy training for marginalized women so they can use the media as a vehicle to express their views, needs and desires; media monitoring to create a critical audience and give feedback on what they see or don’t want their children to see in media; gender sensitivity training for teachers, advertising and media practitioners including scriptwriters to be more conscious of women’s rights; decriminalizing libel and studying the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012 to maximize its use against cyber crimes and not to intimidate online media, and crafting “a real Freedom of Information law to show transparency in governance.”

Women and the media need to work more toward “equality, development and peace” – the theme of the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing 25 years ago. “Moving forward, the recommended last words are: TRUTH, COURAGE, HOPE.”

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Email: dominitorrevillas@gmail.com

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