Philippine media

Hostile officials, fake media dampen revival of community press in Rizal

Lance Arevada

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Hostile officials, fake media dampen revival of community press in Rizal

A NEW MEDIUM. Knots Alforte (right) captures an interview of a local traffic official along with other reporters invited to the Rizal Media Forum on February 22, 2024.

Lance Arevada/Rappler

But local journalists have some ideas to assert their relevance in the community and lessen their dependence on Facebook for distribution

Last of 2 parts

Part 1: Rizal’s community press embraces Facebook for good or ill

RIZAL, Philippines – During the pandemic, in 2020, then-community leader Tobit Cruz called on the media to cover the demolition of Taytay’s historic municipal hall for a provincial hospital.

Only the national media, like the Inquirer and Philstar, responded to his request. Local journalists covered the story too, but he suspected they were afraid to raise questions on the issue for fear of reprisal from powerful forces. 

“I highly think our local journalists, not just here in Taytay, but in the entire province [of Rizal], are actually very politicized. They don’t want to talk about the Ynareses,” said Cruz, who is now a municipal councilor, having been elected in 2022. 

The Ynares dynasty has ruled Rizal since 1992, and has avoided engaging with journalists for just as long, even if the elected officials from the family are credited with leading the rapid development in the province.

BRABO News founding editor Nep Castillo said officials didn’t appreciate community journalism. Until now, local reporters are not allowed to approach Governor Nina Ynares at events nor to visit her office.

Ynares, however, has been responsive to Knots Alforte, who manages five Facebook pages focused on local news and who serves as consultant to some local politicians.

We contacted the Rizal provincial government to comment on this story, but they have yet to reply as of posting time. This story will be updated once they respond.

Adult, Male, Man
POLITICAL TIES. Knots Alforte’s cover photo in his account shows a picture of him beside Cainta Mayor Elen Nieto. Knots has been a fixture in Cainta’s municipal hall, covering events and activities of the mayor. Photo from Knots Alforte

The provincial leaders’ disregard of local journalists has emboldened some mayors to seek to control what the journalists publish.

And that treatment of the local press has also trickled down to gatekeepers of information among local government units (LGUs). They normally deny journalists access to events, information, and officials. 

Preventing critical reports

When the issue of the Taytay old municipal building resurfaced in 2022, reporters from BRABO News attempted to interview Councilor Cruz at the municipal hall, but the public information office (PIO) denied them access, saying they didn’t have an appointment. 

When Cruz asked the PIO personnel why they barred the media from interviewing him, they supposedly told him that the local media might report critically on the mayor. 

At the provincial level, community press sources said, Rizal PIOs lack proper training and qualifications to facilitate the flow of information – which they are duty-bound to provide constituents – from the LGU to the journalists. 

Cruz said PIOs he know think that their job is to be the LGU’s mouthpiece, and in the course, deprive the public and media of information on issues that concern the community. 

Alforte said one would expect LGUs to appoint PIOs who have a background in media work, but it’s apparently not the case for most. “There’s one [PIO] whose background is that of vlogger from a barangay, and we can’t do anything about that,” he lamented.

There have been no initiatives on the part of the PIOs to engage with the media, local journalists we interviewed said. Their updates on the official Facebook pages of the LGUs or the information offices are often limited, lacking in important details on activities and announcements. Rappler found this to be true.

In the case of the Rizal provincial government, its official page only functions as a reposter of what Governor Ynares posts on her account – it doesn’t create original content.

People, Person, Adult
AN EXAMPLE of crossposting seen on the ‘Lalawigan ng Rizal’ Facebook page. It posts no original content and merely shares the posts of the official account of Rizal Governor Nina Ynares.

According to John Reczon Calay, TV5 creative content manager and local journalism instructor, PIOs are crucial sources for community journalists covering local governance. The less information and access the PIOs make available, the wider the information gap that local journalists need to fill so the residents are encouraged to get involved and be empowered. 

Hao siaos’ give journalism a bad name

While asserting their right to information with authorities and competing with vloggers for audience’s attention, local journalists said they also have to fend off the bad name that “hao shiaos” – a journalism term for fake practitioners – give the profession. 

Hao siaos, active in covering but without proper training, depend on bribes from politicians to make a living. That relationship prevents them from reporting objectively and with depth, our sources said. 

And because the bogus reporters tarnish the image of professionals, local officials, in turn, question the necessity of dealing with legitimate journalists. 

Moving forward

Still, local journalists – few that they are – are hopeful that community journalism in Rizal will not lose the momentum and thrive in time. 

Alforte, who started organizing forums between officials and journalists in February, is looking at mounting a summit where journalists can discuss with LGUs and police how they can collaborate to establish a more active press in Rizal.

He said this would hopefully allow the local media to assert their relevance and highlight the importance of their work in disseminating information to make constituents more engaged. 

As for the business operations, Castillo of BRABO News said local newsroom managers should know how to strike a balance between journalism and marketing to continue publishing. 

To lessen their dependence on Facebook for distribution, Castillo urged the government to release cheaper digital frequencies and ease the requirements for franchise application so local outlets can build sustainable platforms.

Additionally, Calay said news outfits could partner with local cable providers to form a digital news channel using available resources, all with the common goal of telling the story of the Rizaleño.

“To establish a meaningful community press, we already have the mental and intellectual capital. When those come together, the community press becomes very strong, focusing on empowering Rizaleños to make decisions for themselves,” Calay said. –

Lance Arevada is a campus journalist at the Ateneo de Manila University. He is the managing editor of Matanglawin Ateneo, and an Aries Rufo Journalism fellow of Rappler for 2023-2024.

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