The 888 Forum may be the only media forum of its genre that has survived in Cebu. Notable forums in the past included:

— “Meet the Press” of Cebu Press Club and, later, Association of Cebu Journalists (during lunch and on TV);

— Lunch with Sun.Star, though limited to Sun.Star journalists;

— “Kapihan sa Sugbo” of Sukna, an association of mostly broadcast commentators.

Many reporters prefer to work separately, not with the herd. But a media forum, or similarly a press-con, can provide the clue or lead to a big story. If a media forum fails to provide even that, reporters stay away, as they shun an empty well.

Funding

Other than the time and energy needed to organize a media forum, there’s the sensitive issue of funding and its complications.

An inevitable suspicion is that some people might be making money from it or using the forum to gain or peddle influence.

When the volunteers whom colleagues trust to handle the activity disappear or give up out of sheer exhaustion, the media forum collapses and folds its tent.

Also, if the media group behind it goes defunct. Or its clients, the reporters, think they can get bigger stories elsewhere, especially if the guest is a barren source. Or organizers quarrel over “spoils” and other matters. Those too can kill a media forum.

888 News Forum has so far survived that.


“888 Forum doesn’t ask for money or favor from its guests. Just staple for news.”

ELIAS O. BAQUERO
A senior reporter for SunStar Cebu, is president of the Cebu Federation of Beat Journalists, chairman of the Cebu Newscoop, and a director of the Cebu City Cooperative Development Authority, as well as Cebu Credit Surety Fund of the Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas.

[1] Tell us how the 888 News Forum differs from the usual Kapihan or press interview program that some sectors of media undertake: on choice of guests, range of topics, and access of the public to it.
A panel picks and schedules the guests for each week. The topics depend upon the expertise of the resource persons. The hot issue of the week and how the guests can enlighten the public through media influence the choice.

Most of the media outlets in Cebu attend the press-con and report on what they find newsworthy. It’s also recorded on video by MyTV and aired at 8 p.m. every Tuesday, Thursday and Saturday.
Not much different from other press-cons organized by media. The venue, breakfast and snacks though are provided free by Marco Polo Plaza.

[2] Doesn’t 888 News Forum aim to serve primarily as a link between news sources and news reporters? If its original purpose was to promote tourism business, how is its expansion (to governance and politics and almost any other topic) affecting the reason for its being?
Organized in 2006 by former consul general Bobby Lim Joseph and some media personalities, it was a counterpart of his 777 News Forum in Manila. That’s right: to attract more domestic and international tourists to Cebu. In 2009, however, noting the guest cancellations and other inadequacies of the forum, Joseph, regular host Ricky Rama Poca and other forum trustees asked me to help.

It was then that I proposed that it expand the range of topics: from just tourism and business to current or “trending” issues.

Initially, rotated yearly among the local hotels–Parklane International Hotel, Marco Polo Plaza and Waterfront Casino Hotel in Lahug as the first hosts–the venue was fixed upon Marco Polo’s requests. It has been the regular site since then.

[3] Who are responsible for these at 888 Forum: organization, funding and producing and handling guests?
Ricky Rama Poca is the regular moderator while I serve as coordinator. Atty. Clarence Paul Oaminal and Art Barrit pinchhit if Ricky and I are engaged in other activities elsewhere.

Joseph provides the funding for expenses not covered by Marco Polo’s hosting.

[4] Since 888 Forum at times tackles contentious issues, how do you achieve fairness and balance? A common complaint against some media forums is that they show their partiality over an issue by the way they pick guests and the frequency they are invited.
Credibility, fairness and balance in choice of guests and topics, we try to achieve. There are some, however, who find fault when the choice doesn’t coincide with theirs.

[5] Are tough questions ever asked at the 888 News Forum? Does its format allow probing into an important but sensitive issue? With multiple guests, a discussion may just touch an issue superficially.
Most questions come from representatives of media outlets who know the issue discussed. We don’t allow however the Q&A session to descend into a shouting match or a shaming hour. We don’t want to embarrass our guests while we are the host. We remind media to treat our guests with respect.

After the Newsforum, reporters and broadcasters are free, on their own and on their time, if the guest agrees, to pursue their line of questioning. That will enable them to get more data for their story, which they didn’t get at the forum.

[6] Through the years, the 888 News Forum must have drawn praise as well as criticism. Name some praises. And, in gist, what do the critics say?
With the new format, the forum has become more lively and a richer source of news for media and a genuine venue of free expression.

It has received awards from private and government entities, notably the Cebu City Government. The criticism we receive is that the program is short and the reporters need more time with the forum guests.

[7] How do you explain the forum’s endurance?
The free venue and free breakfast and snacks. The choice of guests. The hosts and coordinators working as unpaid volunteers. The format that respects guests as news source and provides media with staple for their stories and features. And we do not ask, nor receive, anything from our guests, money or in kind, or any form of favor.

[Interviewed by PACHICO A. SEARES]

(CJJ12 was published in hardcopy in September 2017.)