campus journalism

Cebu Press Freedom Week: Campus journalists say coverage ‘paralyzed’ by pandemic

John Sitchon
Cebu Press Freedom Week: Campus journalists say coverage ‘paralyzed’ by pandemic

COMPLAINTS. Campus journalists file a complaint at CHED, CHR on Friday, July 24 against campus press freedom violations. CEGP said these violations prevent student writers from becoming critical. It tames, paralyzes, and even shuts down militant student organizations.

Photo from PUP The Catalyst

Many campus publications have been striving to increase their presence beyond campus walls

Similar to the limitations the novel coronavirus forced on traditional news media, campus publications are also facing their own difficulties trying to report on their campuses and communities.

Brynch Bonachita, College Editors Guild of the Philippines (CEGP) Cebu Chapter coordinator, said that the pandemic had “paralyzed” student publications in doing legwork for their stories.

The Commission on Higher Education (CHED) and the Department of Education (DepEd) have postponed most student and university-led activities. The increasing scarcity of university-related content had only made things more challenging for student publications that have to cope with the shift to online classes.

“The increased need for resources such as internet access and basic amenities amid an economic crisis pushed several of our staff to inactivity. Most of us who remained on duty had to double or triple the efforts to keep our coverage alive,” said Mel Castro, editor in chief of the University of the Philippines Cebu’s Tug-ani.

Castro noted that it is very difficult to verify data when reporting from home than from the field.

The University of San Carlos’ Today’s Carolinian, a progressive student publication of the University of San Carlos, said they did their best to deal with the limitations of the pandemic and maneuver through the forced shift to digital and remote reporting.

Today’s Carolinian lost our funding from the university administration in July 2019 and since then we’ve been working on furthering our digital pivot cultivating our digital presence,” said Today’s Carolinia editor in chief Berns Mitra.

“Any issue or hurdles that other publications may have faced with the forced digital shift, we’d already dealt with and adapted to last year,” Mitra added.

In addition to the challenges of reporting in spite of limitations on restricted movement, compounded with the shift to online learning, campus journalists also have to deal with their own censorship and repression by their campus administrations and the state.

In late July, CEGP had cited almost 1,000 violations against campus press freedom since 2010. CEGP deputy secretary-general Regina Tolentino warned that the distance-learning setup would pave the way for more violations and attacks against press freedom.

Tug-ani was openly red-tagged as a “communist front” by the National Task Force to End Local Communist Armed Conflict in July. Today’s Carolinian had also been lambasted by supporters of Cebu Governor Gwen Garcia after the publication ran an article criticizing her advocacy of tuob or steam inhalation as a COVID-19 cure. (FALSE: Tuob is a cure for COVID-19)

Despite these risks, many campus publications have been striving to increase their presence beyond campus walls.

While coverage remains even a national issue under the pandemic, Mitra said that student journalists have a crucial role as members of alternative media to tackle issues that mainstream media do not usually report on.

“As we, the youth, are more privy to digital and online workings, we have undeniably leveraged this digital pivot for our progressive agenda,” the campus journalist said.

“At the end of the day, student journalists join their campus publications to hone their relevant skills, and the pandemic and quarantine that comes with it shouldn’t put a halt to that,” Mitra added. –