Media and Civil Society in May 2010

Written on February 23, 2010 – 8:50 am | by mediaandelections |

There is no better time than an election year to engage the public in discussing and addressing issues that affect their lives.

The Philippines is a democratic society. The people enjoy a number of freedoms. Elections as the first procedural requirement of democracy have been held regularly. But so far, the electoral process has failed to produce a leadership that works for the public interest, and is transparent and accountable. Philippine campaigns and elections have been more of the same—hotly contested and fueled by money.

The role of civil society, the media, and other stakeholders in disseminating information and influencing electoral outcomes is crucial given that a recent study confirms voters do not choose leaders based on performance, platform, or issues. (“Our voters do not vote for good governance”) When bad people are elected to positions of power, expect to get a bad government.

Thus, the challenge is to prepare Filipinos to make the coming elections not only fair and free but meaningful as well. And there may still be hope for the much needed political change—more than a year ago, civil society organizations (CSOs) committed themselves to the task of ensuring that a good government results from the 2010 polls.

Their activities include citizen engagement, ranging from voter registration and education to general mass mobilization for electoral participation (poll watching to issue-based activities that will engage candidates in the discussion of policies).

It was a positive thing that all these actions started early. It is therefore

important for the rest of the society to understand that these must be encouraged and supported. Public awareness and appreciation of civil society efforts helps everyone to safeguard their rights during the campaign as well as on election day.

The roles of media and CSOs in 2010

To prime media attention on the important course of these activities and to mainstream the coverage of the efforts of the CSOs in the news, the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) organized the “Roundtable Discussion with the Media: Civil Society Engagement in the 2010 Campaign and Elections” with support from the National Endowment for Democracy last Jan. 15.

In one of the sessions, National Institute for Policy Studies President Mario Taguiwalo explained the rationale behind the CSOs’ engagement in the political arena and the responsibilities of the media in the 2010 elections.

Taguiwalo said stable political governance is indispensable to the welfare and development of the country. He added that regular elections provide a foundation for political stability—and a competent political leadership operating within accepted rules makes this possible.

The media, whose role is to inform, and civil society, which wants to bring attention to their causes, can both help the electorate decide on contentious issues, influence electoral outcomes, and initiate political reforms. Taguiwalo emphasized that better coordination between the two groups, while looking for more ways to make people participate, will make it possible for the electoral process to yield better leadership.

A huge task ahead

Philippine elections have grown more complex over the years. Taguiwalo noted the growing number of voters (approaching 100 million), the multifaceted informational environment, and the diverse interests of stakeholders.

Add to these the undeveloped state of contending political players and the weak mandate of the Commission on Elections, and elections become even more complicated. There are many areas of concern in 2010, not the least of which is the possibility of a failure of elections or a no elections scenario. The automation of the vote also requires a different level of attention.

Because we cannot rely solely on the main players to get the optimal social outcome from the elections, it is left to the media, civil society, and the rest of the public to deliver on the promise of the ballot as an instrument for change.

CMFR executive director Melinda Quintos de Jesus said: “The freer the press, the more engaged civil society, the better and stronger democracy is. And in the course of time, if people connect more dots, work together, they can actually promote better governance.”

The pledge

The roundtable discussion involved around 30 participants from national and community press organizations as well as from members of civil society involved in electoral activities.

The press group included print, broadcast, and new media reporters from Luzon, Visayas, and Mindanao. The following media outlets were represented: Davao Today, dyGB, GMA-7, Mabuhay, MindaNews, Mindanao Daily Mirror, Newsbreak, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Philippine Daily Inquirer, Pinoy Weekly Online, Punto Central Luzon, Sun.Star Cebu, and The Philippine Star.

The civil society groups which shared their perspective and activities for the coming elections were: Change Politics Movement, Movement for Good Governance, National Citizens’ Movement for Free Elections or NAMFREL, Legal Network for Truthful Elections Inc. or LENTE, Youth Vote Philippines, First Time Voters Project, Elections 2010, and Rock Ed Philippines. RVote, a district initiative which advocates for voter education and responsible citizenship, also participated in the discussion.

The participants also brought up safety concerns during the elections in the context of the killing of people including 31 media practitioners/journalists last Nov. 23.

Everyone agreed that the level of awareness on the issues of citizen engagement, poll automation, failure of elections-no elections scenario, etc. should be raised. The number of untold stories should encourage the media to refocus and stay clear of the news conventions that limit their comprehensive discussion of issues. The CSOs pledged to coordinate activities and maintain communication with the press to push their causes forward.

PDF Files of the presentations by CMFR and the civil society organizations:

MDJ – Background and Context of CSO Engagement-Media in Elections

MDJ – CMFR Media and Elections

Civil Society and Media in the 2010 Elections – Mario Taguiwalo

CSO – Change Politics Movement – Dinky Soliman

CSO – Movement for Good Governance – Ernesto Ordoñez

CSO – LENTE – Rona Ann Caritos

CSO – NAMFREL – Eric Jude Alvia

CSO – Youth Vote Philippines – Justine Castillo

CSO – First Time Voters Project – Paula Bianca Lapuz

CSO – Blogwatch.PH – Noemi L. Dado

MDJ – CMFR Monitor News Coverage of 2007 Elections

MDJ – CMFR Monitor News Coverage of 2010 Elections

CMFR Monitor of the News Media Coverage of 2013 Elections

Given the special nature of the 2013 campaign and elections, the media’s role as credible and critical sources of information and analysis during the election season bears watching. The Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) is monitoring the news media coverage of the 2013 campaign and elections in the context of both the special circumstances in which they were taking place, and the opportunity for improved and meaningful reporting and analysis the exercise offered to the Philippine media. 

CMFR has been monitoring media coverage of Philippine elections since 1992, and in every instance has made recommendations towards the improvement of media coverage. These efforts have not been unrewarded. Changes in media coverage incorporating some of the recommendations of the CMFR monitor in 2004 were evident, for example, in the media coverage of the 2007 elections.

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