Stet forum: challenges and lessons for the community press (1)

BAR NONE - Atty. Ian Vincent Manticajon - The Freeman

Following last week's Cebu Press Freedom Week celebration, I'd like to spotlight the key insights shared by Rappler's executive editor, Glenda Gloria, at a forum organized by Stet (Women in Cebu Media) on September 22 at Seda Hotel Ayala Center Cebu.

First off, let me congratulate Stet and their sponsors for bringing to Cebu three distinguished resource speakers: Khin Thandar Htay, director for Southeast Asia, World Association of News Publishers (WAN-Ifra)-Women in News (WIN); Glenda Gloria, Rappler co-founder and executive editor; and Laure Beaufils, British Ambassador to the Philippines.

Stet is an organization of women journalists in Cebu, comprised of both active and retired members of the media industry. Editors of legacy media will recognize that 'Stet' is a classic Latin editing symbol which means “Let it stand.” I can mention three of its members with whom I had the privilege to work in newsrooms – my mentors during my internship and reporter days in the 1990s: Eileen Mangubat, Nini Cabaero, and Michelle So. They belong to a group of competent, brave, and serious women journalists who were shaped by the challenges of the mid-1980s to the 1990s. This was a volatile era that witnessed the overthrow of the Marcos dictatorship by a peaceful, pro-democracy revolt in EDSA and the unstable beginnings of the Corazon Aquino presidency.

Today, community journalists, and legacy media in general, face entirely new challenges. In her speech, Gloria touched on several critical points on the challenges faced by the journalism community in the Philippines. She started by highlighting the recent legal challenges Rappler faced, which were seen by many as an attempt to intimidate and silence a critical press.

A Pasig court recently acquitted Maria Ressa and Rappler corporation of their fifth tax evasion case, following the Court of Appeals' dismissal of four other cases. “That the legal victories of Rappler or any journalist for that matter would be an account of government generosity, I would beg to disagree. Which brings me to the first challenge that we journalists continue to face,” Gloria said.

Governments and those in power often use the law and bureaucracy as tools against a critical press, particularly when their financial activities are under examination. The freedom of the press wasn't handed to us; we've battled ardently for it daily in our newsrooms and against powerful interests. Therefore, no authority or leader should take credit for the triumphs we've achieved through our struggles, Gloria said.

The second challenge Gloria spoke about was the rapid changes in the world of journalism, especially with the rise of the internet, which has diluted legacy media's impact. She mentioned how tech giants like Facebook, YouTube, and TikTok have drastically changed the media's business model, affecting advertising revenues and the very nature of news consumption. There's a concern about these platforms feeding audiences what they want rather than what they might need for a well-rounded understanding of current events, Gloria said.

It has not been easy, nor would it get any easier, said Gloria. The fight for press freedom is harder now. The internet gives too many choices, and true journalism gets lost. We miss the old times when news was trusted. Today, said Gloria, running a newsroom is like fixing a car while driving fast, “busting your tires, finding yourself in a situation where you have to fix the tire while driving to your destination.”

More insights from Gloria and the other resource speakers in my Saturday column.

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