The furor over the 70-11 vote by the House committee on legislative franchises on July 10 to deny the franchise renewal of ABS-CBN broadcast network mirrors a recent survey result showing a majority of Filipinos giving importance to independent journalism and keeping politicians in check.
The 2020 Digital News Report (DNR), an annual project of Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, showed that 65 percent of Filipinos value independent media and 63 percent want politicians who lie to or mislead the public to be called out by reporting their inaccurate and dubious statements.
University of the Philippines (UP) professor Yvonne Chua presented the survey findings in a two-part webinar organized by the Philippine Press Institute (PPI) and the Philippines Communication Society (PCS) on July 3 and 10. Close to 100 journalists, journalism educators and students participated in the webinar, the second of which was timed as congressmen voted to deny ABS-CBN’s application for a new 25-year franchise to operate.
The survey was conducted online by international research and data analytics company YouGov from mid-January to later part of February, before the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic. The project began in 2012 and this was the first time the Philippines was included. The survey covered 40 media markets in Europe, Americas, Asia Pacific, and Africa, The Philippines placed 35th in overall trust in the news with a low rating of 27 percent.
A significant 44 percent of the Filipino respondents identified politicians as the leading source of misinformation.
The survey had 2,019 respondents from the Philippines. Chua said they represented only “those who are online, which is 72 percent of the population, according to Internet World Stats.”
Globally, more than half of the surveyed respondents (56 percent) are concerned over false or misleading information disseminated by politicians, or one percent lower than the perceived sentiments of the Filipinos.
In voting against granting the ABS-CBN franchise, several lawmakers allied with President Rodrigo Duterte complained of having been treated unfairly in the TV network’s news stories, disregarding statements from the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), the Bureau of Internal Revenue (BIR), the Department of Justice (DOJ), and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) that the media giant has no violations of the laws and regulations.
According to Chua, associate professor at the journalism department of the College of Mass Communication in UP Diliman, the chilling effect of closing down ABS-CBN is unimaginable.
“If they can do it to the biggest media conglomerate in the country, what more (can they do to) the smaller ones,” Chua said in closing the webinar minutes after the House vote was announced.
ABS-CBN was the most used media brand accessed by Filipino respondents with 61 percent offline and 54 percent online. The network enjoys 61 percent trust rating, according to the 2020 DNR.
In the webinar, Chua also acknowledged the importance of media pluralism. “The more voices there are, the better it is for us,” she said.
“As we all know, the closure of ABS-CBN comes at a very bad time because they have the resources compared to (other) local media (companies) that are struggling. Even other big media (entities) are struggling or struggling to keep their operations going (because of the pandemic), ABS-CBN still manages to do that,” Chua said in the July 3 webinar.
Government-run People’s Television (PTV) News tied with ABS-CBN with 61 percent trust rating while online news Rappler has 49 percent. GMA remained as the top most media brand with 73 percent, the survey showed
With ABS-CBN shutting down, Chua raised concern on the reliability and credibility of the news Filipinos would have, saying it would bring “fierce implication” on journalism in the Philippines.
While this was happening to ABS-CBN, Rappler, an online publication critical to the Duterte administration, has been facing a string of court cases. While a Manila court has cleared Rappler, the publication’s chief executive officer Maria Ressa and former writer-researcher Reynaldo Santos Jr. were convicted of cyber libel. (Read Maria Ressa’s conviction here.)
How much will Filipinos miss local media?
While the same survey showed that interest in news is high and many Filipinos prefer news sources to be independent, almost half or 42 percent said they want to get news sources that share their point of view. The Filipino respondents were different compared to other media markets who prefer news with “no” point of view.
Also, users of Philippine newspapers and television would not miss local news sources as much as those in other countries will, the 2020 DNR showed.
The survey found that only 20 percent of newspaper users in the Philippines answered they will miss their local news source “a lot,” which is much lower compared to the other countries such as Germany with 54 percent, Norway with 49 percent, USA with 39 percent and UK with 25 percent of newspaper readers.
Only 25 percent of TV users in the Philippines answered they will miss their local TV “a lot” if it goes out of business. Again, this is incomparable to those in Germany, Norway, USA and UK with 56 percent, 45 percent, 48 percent and 33 percent, respectively.
The survey also showed that only 24 percent of local radio listeners and 20 percent of local news website visitors from the Philippines will miss such businesses if they stop operation.
The survey presented four possible answers to the question: would not miss it all, would not miss it very much, would miss it somewhat and would miss it a lot.
According to Chua, only the percentage of the respondents who answered that they get their news from local news sources are the basis of these percentages, and not the percentage of all the Filipino respondents which is 2,019.
“The answers on the following questions are based on the proportion of respondents who consume local news,” Chua said.
In her presentation in the first part of the webinar, on July 3, Chua said it will “tend to underrepresent traditional media habits,” and only “reflect urban, richer and more connected users.”
With few Filipinos missing their local news source, Ariel Sebellino, executive director and trustee of the PPI, attributed this to efforts discrediting Philippine media and curtailing press freedom.
“It is unfortunate (that) we are losing one of (our) media outlets as we speak of pluralism and I think that statement should be across all platforms,” Sebellino said.
For PCS president Kriztine Viray, the closure of ABS-CBN, which she described as a “historical tragedy,” will echo for a long time.
“The state has to remember that silencing impacts the entire profession. It should be more painful as the country is currently faced with an unprecedented crisis. The magnitude will be felt and reverberate for generations,” Viray said.
VERA Files is put out by veteran journalists taking a deeper look at current issues. Vera is Latin for “true.”