Unholy News during the Holy Week: Who’s Covering if Print, TV takes a Break?

Screengrab from ABS-CBN 2.


NEWS NEVER sleeps; but there are times when much of the news is expected to take a breather.

Holy Week is one such time in the Philippines. Custom has dictated the country to observe the Easter Triduum as a national holiday, providing a four-day break from work. It is a time for re-charging, individuals freely choosing rest, recreation, religion and prayer, family time or solo periods.

Government closes its offices, and only those in critical services, police and law enforcement, highway, transport and hospitals stay on duty. Most malls are shut during Holy Thursday and Good Friday. But it is high season for hotels and resorts; along with airports, bus stations, ferries and cruise ships at sea.

But for some time now, most daily newspapers have chosen to suspend printing for two whole days, leaving the continuous coverage to their online news sites.  Among the three national broadsheets, the Philippine Daily Inquirer and The Philippine Star did not have print editions on Good Friday and Black Saturday. Only the Manila Bulletin was true to the noble tradition of a daily newspaper. The top three free TV networks as well as cable news channels cancelled all regular programming including news programs and news bulletins as early as Holy Thursday.

CMFR received a tweet, calling attention to the absence of news on Thursday (see image below) on Thursday.



While the news beats slowed down, there were a lot of things going on during the break: accidents on the road, openings of new tourist attractions and activities which constitute new innovative business opportunities, travel, road safety issues, highway patrol services, and weather.

The rest of the world kept news wires whirring. On the international front, tension between the US and North Korea rose after the latter threatened a “merciless response” to any provocation by the former on Friday, April 14.This came after US President Donald Trump reportedly sent aircraft carriers to waters near the Korean Peninsula earlier in the week.

Closer to home, ten people were killed in a firefight in Inabanga, Bohol, in what the military claimed was a foiled attempt by the Abu Sayyaf Group (ASG) to kidnap foreign tourists. Media reported the clash earlier in the week. This was the ASG’s furthest known foray in the Visayas. Among those reported killed in the clash were an elderly couple who were first identified as ASG members. As Bohol is a major tourist destination, the presence of ASG was also of significant public interest. Online reports on Good Friday (April 14) followed up as relatives of Constantina and Constancio Petalco cried foul when the two were identified as suspected members of the Abu Sayyaf. The military however refused to take back their statement, and said they were still investigating the couple.

In another remarkable break from presidential tradition, Rodrigo Duterte worked through the entire week, departing for the Middle East on Monday, April 10, obviously taking advantage of the opportunity to meet with leaders of these Muslim countries. Having declared himself as believing in God, Duterte however has been openly non-observant in any faith. So he was making news through the entire period – but most of the mainstream media organizations in the country did not report what transpired until he returned to Manila.

But on the eve of Easter Sunday, the president, without the slightest consideration for the observance of holy days back home, unleashed what should rate among his most distasteful and offensive attacks on a political opponent. During his meeting with the Filipino community in Qatar on April 15, he said that Senator Antonio Trillanes IV has an abnormality, which he described as a rare medical condition (“isa lang ang bayag” [has only one testicle]), and then claiming that he himself had three. Trillanes has long earned Duterte’s ire for his opposition to the president. Obviously, the president was playing to his favorite and loyal gallery of OFWs who whooped and laughed at all the jokes, including those directed at Trillanes, demonstrating their own lack of decency.

Who’s Covering?

Online news sites were up and running, but online news is not as yet accessible to many Filipinos.  Perhaps, it is a small minority who feel they need to keep up with the news, whatever the time or season. Such close connection to news is the justification for the news business, after all.

We Are Social’s Digital in 2017: Southeast Asia Regional Overview indicates that internet penetration in Philippines is at 58%, ranking 5th among South East Asian countries. The internet penetration is the number of internet users compared to the total national population. The remaining 42% is still a significant number that should be served by traditional formats – albeit in limited editions or shorter time programs on special days of the year.