THE PRIMARY challenge to the alternative press and media has always been to provide the information and analysis that the people need so they may, by understanding the state of Philippine society, proceed on their own power to change it.
For over a hundred years, the alternative press has met that challenge despite censorship and repression– whether during the latter part of the Spanish colonial regime, formal US occupation from 1900 to 1942, the Japanese invasion during the Second World War, the country’s post-1946 transformation into a US neo-colony, and the martial law period.
Since 1986 the challenge has been to lay bare the reality behind the façade of democratic rule that the EDSA mutiny restored, and to thus continue to contribute, through information and analysis, to the Filipino people’s struggle for authentic independence, democracy, and a just society. That challenge has been exceedingly difficult to meet in the post-EDSA period because of the elite- and dominant media- fostered illusion of popular rule and independence, but the alternative press and media have managed to break through the barriers of disinformation and falsehood erected by the neo-colonial State, its instrumentalities, and the corporate media, to disseminate the truth to an information-hungry people through print, online, video, film and radio.
The challenge in 2016 remains the same as it has always been from the revolutionary and propaganda period onwards: it is to report the truth and interpret it. But this year has certain particularities that the alternative press and media must address. In addition to attention to such issues as human rights, environmental destruction and the struggle for authentic democracy and independence, the elections this year pose a special challenge to the alternative press and media.
Philippine elections have always been a problematic illusion. While basically a contest among factions of the elite and a means of validating the continuing rule of political dynasties, they are also opportunities for educating the vast majority of the electorate on their futility as instruments of social transformation. And while far from being exercises in democratic choice, they have also provided progressives the opportunity to challenge both elite rule as well as the policies that since 1946 have kept the country poor and the domain of imperial interests. Despite these realities, the people continue to look to elections as their last hope for achieving the changes that they have hoped for decades.
The fundamental journalistic responsibility of truth-telling should guide the alternative press and media in coping with the challenge posed by this year’s elections. Specifically, however, they should challenge the candidates for national as well as local offices to make their programs known. Some dominant media organizations and practitioners do raise the same demand, the difference as far as the alternative press and media are concerned is that they must subject these programs (assuming the candidate has any) to a rigorous critique based on the people’s national democratic agenda of national industrialization, true land reform, and independence.
But the backgrounds of these candidates need to be made known as well, in terms of their record if they have been in public office prior to these elections, and whether they belong to the political dynasties that have impoverished the people and made the country a doormat of foreign powers. If the candidate has been a member of Congress, for example, information on how he or she voted, or what his or her stand was, on such crucial people’s issues as the freedom of information act, the cybercrime law, proposals for reforming the tax structure, the Visiting Forces Agreement, the Enhanced Defense Cooperation Agreement, etc. would be important guides to the electorate.
Because few, if any, are likely to pass this test, it would be one more proof of how futile the elections are as a means of transforming Philippine society. Throughout the campaign period, the reportage and analysis of the alternative press and media would thus be a crucial service not only to the public need for both information and interpretation, but also as a means of disabusing the many of the value of elite-dominated elections as solutions to the country’s problems.
At the same time, however, the alternative press and media must provide the information on progressive party list groups that the dominant media are unable or unwilling to provide. Although the party list law has been perverted by the trapos to continue their dominance in Congress, there are still party list groups committed to assuring the people of some representation in the House of Representatives. The dominant media rarely, if ever, report on what these groups stand for; it has become the alternative press and media’s responsibility to fill this information gap, and to thus provide the electorate a sense of which groups to send to Congress.
Overall, the challenge to the alternative press and media is to continue to meet the journalistic mandate of truth-telling. That duty is only haphazardly, and often incompletely, being met by the dominant media, among other reasons because of the narrow political and economic interests and corresponding biases behind them. The alternative media– committed as they are to the broadest political imperatives of democratization– have no such barriers to their discharging that most fundamental of all media responsibilities.