VERA Files updates database on PH media ownership

VERA Files presented the updated Media Ownership Monitoring (MOM) Database on May 17 at a program hosted by the University of the Philippines – Diliman’s College of Mass Communication in Quezon City. In partnership with the Germany-based Global Media Registry (GMR) and with the financial support of the German Embassy in Manila, VERA Files examined the issue of media ownership, providing information that includes a brief history of 47 news organizations, identifying the owners, and naming the major stockholders and board members of news organizations in print, radio, television, and online media. 

It updated information presented in its media ownership study which VERA Files conducted in 2016 with Reporters Without Borders-Germany. According to Ellen Tordesillas, VERA Files president, “this is a much-needed update” as the Philippine media landscape has changed significantly, the most impactful of which was the shutdown of ABS-CBN in 2020.

Despite significant changes, the data collected during 2023 shows that many things have remained the same. “Philippine mass media remain predominantly owned and controlled by a handful of conglomerates and influential families with an interest favorable to their political and economic interests,” Tordesillas said in her project introduction.

One of the key findings is the use of corporate layering, which makes it more challenging to trace the ultimate owners. Identifying these person families requires more extensive research, using more time and resources. 

The project’s deputy director, Elma Sandoval, described the research as “rigorous.” “I call it sleuthing because of the things we unearthed each time during the research. Sometimes, it felt like it would never end.”

The study also found the strong influence of religious groups or sects in the Philippines that operate television or radio stations that gain top ranks in audience share. However, the ownership of these faith-based media organizations is not owned by one individual or family but by the religious organization. 

The study highlighted the pivot of the media giant ABS-CBN to transform itself into a multi-media content provider after it lost its franchise in 2020, reclaiming lost revenue by reaching out to audiences on various online media platforms. 

Alexander Schmidt, First Secretary for Political Affairs of the Embassy of the Federal Republic of Germany described the value of the study in his speech, saying, “a publicly available and constantly updated database of media owners” helps to “promote transparency and accountability in media ownership and also to advance media literacy among audiences. . .” 

Meanwhile, Dean Fernando Paragas of the College of Mass Communication also reflected on how understanding media ownership will help prepare students planning to enter the media industry. Broadcast journalist and assistant professor Kara Patria David-Cancio hosted the public launch.

Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility executive director Melinda Quintos de Jesus who gave the keynote address warned of the dangers of “media mogulry” citing US media scholar and academe, John Lent. She said, “unchecked media mogulry leads to the ironic situation of so much news that leaves a public ignorant of significant developments, of issues that affect their way of life from day to day, of being fed information about what is going on lacking in context, even factual accuracy.” She stressed the importance of keeping the citizenry informed on who owns the media outlets that provide their news because ownership reflects other interests that the public should know about. Unfortunately, journalists would not be able to report on their owners, for obvious reasons. 

This falls on others, civil society groups, media-oriented NGOs, as well as academics. 
VERA Files announced its planned update last October 11, 2023. VERA Files, with Vera which is Latin for ‘true,’ is a media nonprofit that probes Philippine issues and fact-checks false and misleading claims. The GMR, a non-profit social enterprise based in Germany, publishes the Media Ownership Monitor in more than 20 countries as one of its flagship programs.