Who owns media?

The Philippines is described as the country with the freest press in Asia.

Do we truly have freedom of the press? Can reporters write irregularities in an industry without bothering whether the owners of the media they are working for would not be displeased because they have business interests in that industry?

Considering that advertisements are the lifeblood of media – be it TV, radio or newspapers – can a reporter truthfully write reports adverse to the advertisers?

Those questions are just some of the considerations that affect the kind of stories that the media give to the public. Because the reality is media is a business and who owns media has a lot to do with the information that the public gets.

The public therefore should know who owns media outfits.

This is the rationale of the Media Ownership Monitoring (MOM) project of Reporters Without Borders (RSF), an international non-profit, non-governmental organization that promotes and defends freedom of information and freedom of the press.

In its brief, the Paris-based RSF said, “Media pluralism is a key aspect of democratic societies as diverse, independent and free media proposedly reflect divergent opinions and viewpoints of a society. A concentration in the media market therefore has a negative impact on pluralism and gives media owners a dominant influence on public opinion. “

RSF further states that ”considering the importance of media as a facilitator of societal debates, watchdog of governments and essential mediator of democratic processes, the significance of lacking transparency of media ownership becomes clear.

How can people evaluate the reliability of information, if they don´t know who provides it? How can journalists work properly, if they don´t know who controls the company they work for? And how can media authorities address excessive media concentration, if they don´t know who is behind the media’s steering wheel? As studies show mass media is not only used to form public opinion, but – in growing numbers – also as weapon of its owners to impose their interests.”

RSF started last year its first MOM in Colombia and Cambodia. This year, they launched MOM in Tunisia, Turkey, Mongolia, Peru, and Ukraine.

In the Philippines, RSF partnered with VERA Files, (disclosure: I’m a trustee and writer of VERA Files) a group formed by veteran reporters that work for excellence in journalism, for its MOM project.

Last August, RSF and VERA Files embarked on a research on the structures of media ownership for TV, Radio, Print, as well as Online Media in the Philippines.

The findings are interesting and may disabuse some of our impression of Philippine media.

Next week, Thursday, VERA Files and Reporters Without Borders, will present the result of their three-month study in a press conference to be held at Hotel Sequoia Hotel in Quezon City starting at 9 a.m.

In the afternoon, Atty. Romel Bagares, a former journalist, will present a paper on media pluralism based on his legal assessment of media ownership in the Philippines. He will be joined in the forum by Manila Times Columnist Rigoberto Tiglao,
author of the book, “Colossal Deception” about how a foreign tycoon is able to gain control of telecommunications as well as some media outfits in the Philippines; Ging Reyes, head of Integrated News and Current Affairs, ABS-CBN; UP Professor Clarissa David, who is also with Philippine Competition Commission; and John Nery, editor in chief, Inquirer.net and associate editor, opinion columnist of the Philippine Daily Inquirer.

The event is open to the public concerned about being informed.

Key words: press freedom, MOM, RSF

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