Overview

The Philippine media landscape is full of contradictions. On one hand, it joins the global trend of technological disruptions ushering changes in the media economy, profession, and consumption. On the other hand, persistent socio-economic inequalities and the urban/rural gap limit the potential of these disruptions, thus maintaining the supremacy of traditional media (except newspapers) as source of information especially in the countryside.

According to the Media Ownership Monitor (2017), Philippines is "not a nation of newspaper readers" and print media (newspapers and magazines) is "losing its relevance" as a source of information as it lags behind television, radio, and even the Internet by rate of exposure. The national and major regional newspapers have already invested in online presence, as more and more Filipinos get their news and other content from digital media. However, community and regional press have seen growth in the past few decades and in many rural areas, community press banks on its reputation, the collective participatory interest of its audience and its perceived role in social cohesion.

Community press and radio continue to be preferred means of communication even for armed groups. Radio, in particular, is still seen as the most pervasive media, reaching even the remotest areas.

The country is labeled the "social media capital of the world" given the rate of social media usage (Pablo, 2018; Mateo, 2018) and belongs to the top 20 countries with highest Internet penetration rate (Internet World Stats, 2018). However, the telecommunications infrastructure of the Philippines remains underdeveloped in most areas, as the number of cell towers is far less than that of its neighboring countries. Internet speed is slower than in the other countries in Asia-Pacific and is even below the global average (Akamai Technologies, 2017) and mobile signal, even the older generation 2G connectivity, is unavailable in many rural areas.

The mobile phone and telecommunications market reflects some truths in Philippine demographics: The market is dominated by ultra-low-end smartphones which have a strong presence in the provinces. The "emerging affluent" are the heaviest users of mobile applications for an expanding array of services such as transportation and shopping (Visa, 2016).

The preference for much cheaper smartphones in the countryside could be an effect of poor (if not absent) 3G and 4G connectivity outside the cities – hence, mobile activity is limited to 2G-based activity, which does not require more expensive handsets – and heightened poverty levels. However, this assumed causality has yet to be tested by empirical research.

Duopolies are well entrenched in the television and telecommunications industry and the country has no strong measures to ensure fair competition (a law been enacted in 2015, but its implementation is an entirely different matter). The media market is private-sector led, and so is research and development, which suffers from poor state funding when compared with other countries in Asia. Although technology-enabled companies are the most active agents in the innovation landscape, the attempts to bridge the digital divide by introducing innovation to the grassroots level are still largely a government affair.

The wave of digitalisation definitely offered people, at least in the urban Philippines, new opportunities, but the Internet has also become a "weapon" for politically motivated groups and individuals. Studies have documented the rise of systematised misinformation campaigns, with various components including deployment of "troll armies" to sabotage online discourse and proliferation of fake news (Bradshaw and Howard, 2017; Ong and Cabañes, 2016). The architects and operators of these campaigns were found to work for political parties and politicians, one of which is in fact the political party of the incumbent president (Bradshaw and Howard, 2017). This has largely contributed to social media networks, particularly Facebook and Twitter, being venues for online harassment and hostile exchange.

Although the Philippine media system has been described as one of the "freest" and "most outspoken" in Asia (Johnson, 2018. Freedom for Media, Freedom for All Network) given the respective constitutional guarantees and laws that seek to protect the freedom of speech, and enjoys greater independence when compared to some of neighboring countries, it is far from a rosy picture. President Rodrigo Duterte has for several times warned or lambasted mainstream media for publishing critical reports (see for example Ranada, 2017), while many pro-administration online influencers have described the media as "biased" against the government and mere obstacles in national development. Social media is also teeming with posts trying to delegitimise mainstream media and alternative media as sources of information. Especially among the mainstream media, there are cases in which commercial interests take precedence as evidenced by reporting slant. Some state functionaries and pro-state online influencers were quick to use this as a justification for vilifying the media as source.

Although the Constitution and relevant laws emphasise freedom of speech, in reality the country’s media landscape has sometimes been dominated by a "culture of impunity", especially after the 2009 Ampatuan Massacre (single deadliest event involving journalists in the world). The majority of journalist killings remain unresolved and 12 journalists were killed in the first two years of the current administration (International Federation of Journalists, 2019).

With the multitude of sources and deluge of data, coupled with delegitimisation efforts discussed above, mainstream media in the Philippines are struggling for audience engagement. The political and commercial pressures created numerous instances of compromise, as in the case of some journalists reporting that in their respective newsrooms, there is a command to tone down articles critical of the administration (Estella, 2018).

In the face of commercial and political imperatives, many outlets continue to implement business schemes that in some cases include rationalisation of labour. For starting journalists (and community journalists), "low wages" tend to be the most important problem, but those in the higher positions tend to see lagging professionalism as the main dilemma (Tandoc and Skoric, 2010). Indeed, professionalism in Filipino journalism is also a function of working conditions and overall media economy, as wages and working conditions can also be predictors of unethical practice or media corruption.

The pathways to a journalism career are diverse. Many of the professionals are graduates in journalism, communication, liberal arts, or even remotely-related fields. There has been a massive growth in the number of institutions offering journalism or mass communication programmes since the 1970s. Journalism conferences and competitions are held from the district to the national level and a special program for journalism is now being offered as a specialisation strand in senior high school. However, there is no current empirical data evaluating the state of journalism education in the country, which operates largely in an industry-centered perspective: The learning emphasis is on reproducing the standards of the industry (ie educators train students according to the norms of the industry). This observation goes hand-in-hand with the fact that journalism studies or research are not robust fields of study in the Philippines. Although practitioners see nothing wrong with this learning emphasis, such a perspective can be hostile to innovation and even critical thinking and can prevent the academy from functioning as a critic of the industry.