press freedom

[OPINION] Thoughts on press freedom, from an ABS-CBN employee

Nick Villavecer
[OPINION] Thoughts on press freedom, from an ABS-CBN employee
'It saddens me that some media institutions treat media workers less than what they deserve.'

Earlier this year, we found ourselves fighting for press freedom amid the government’s threat to shut down ABS-CBN. Every Friday, from January to February, we donned black or white shirts to protest. We lit candles outside the network’s compound. We held prayer vigils. Journalists, artists, celebrities, progressive groups, and media advocates rallied to send a message to the government: stop gagging the press. It was a tough time for the network, more so for employees like us who were uncertain about our future.

Today, the network’s franchise is supposed to expire, yet bills for its renewal are still pending in Congress. While House Speaker Alan Peter Cayetano assured ABS-CBN that it can broadcast beyond May 4 as per his instruction to the National Telecommunications Commission, the fact remains that it’s just a band-aid solution to a problem that is, in the end, a personal attack by butthurt politicians. And so as long as they delay the tackling of the bills, the agony and uncertainty for both management and employees like us remain, and the fight for press freedom continues. (READ: Calida warns NTC against granting provisional authority to ABS-CBN)

Yesterday was World Press Freedom Day, but is the press really free when media institutions across the globe are being stifled by despots, and media workers are faced with job insecurity in a disease-stricken world? (READ: [ANALYSIS] Duterte crushes free expression amid pandemic)

Here in the Philippines, a journalist criticizing the government is perceived as “biased.” Any attempt to fact-check information released by government agencies is seen as an attack on the government. This is exactly why ABS-CBN and Rappler, among other media outlets, have been in trouble and have faced threats of closure, because fearless journalism is the last thing an insecure administration wants. 

In the provinces, community journalists have it worse. Aside from the smaller pay, the labor conditions are dismal. Some of them have no health insurance and benefits, no bonuses, no transportation allowance, and no promises of regularization. Sometimes when they get too critical, they face harassment or they take a bullet to the head. This has always been the system. This is why the Philippines is the fifth deadliest country in the world for journalists, according to a 2019 report from the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ).

But media workers from esteemed institutions are not exempt, either. Just the other night, I was talking to a colleague from another media outlet whose “no work, no pay” scheme worries him and other employees, since the enhanced community quarantine is still in effect in Metro Manila. Since movement is limited during the pandemic, they can’t report to the office as much as they could in the pre-COVID-19 era. This means a huge and painful cut in their paycheck, even if they produce stories at home. 

While it amazes me that they can still produce quality output despite the challenges of the new normal, it also saddens me that some media institutions treat media workers less than what they deserve. Media workers are the lifeblood of any network or media institution, and without them, crucial information wouldn’t be accessible to the public. A just and proper compensation even during the pandemic is paramount. (READ: NUJP slams Calida’s threat vs ABS-CBN during pandemic)

I’m lucky that ABS-CBN treats us employees like family, and a simple reassurance that they have our backs when things get worse boosts our morale in these trying times. 

Even when the network’s franchise expires, our fight for press freedom continues. This is not only for ABS-CBN, but for all media institutions in the country, because this is a collective fight. Amid the pandemic, we will press on. – Rappler.com

Nicole Villavecer is a writer/producer for ABS-CBN Current Affairs.