A year-long effort to enrich election coverage

In the highly politicized Philippines, elections are major events.

In the May 2010 elections, candidates, promises, foibles and scandals fell under media scrutiny. But the media were themselves subject to examination.

As part of its mandate to improve the journalism craft, the Cebu Citizens-Press Council (CCPC) held a series of consultations from June 2009 to March 2010 to improve local media’s coverage of the 2010 elections.

SERIES OF CONSULTATIONS. To prepare for the May 2010 elections, the Cebu Citizens-Press Council conducted a series of consultations from June 2009 to March 2010 with election stakeholders to see how local media could improve coverage of the elections.

Dialogues with the Commission on Elections (Comelec), Smartmatic-TIM Corp., the police, citizens’ watchdog groups, candidates, politicians, public relations practitioners, political strategists, and the academe and business sectors determined what was wanting in media’s coverage of previous elections and what facets could be improved.

JOINT PRESS BRIEFING at the Election Media Center by (from left) C-Cimpel executive director Marilu Chiongbian, Chief Insp. Romeo Santander and Commission on Elections Regional Director Dennis Ausan.

Media center

Among the results of the consultations was the creation of the Election Media Center within the Police Regional Office (PRO) 7 compound that served as the venue for regular joint press briefings by the Philippine National Police, Comelec and the Cebu-Citizens’ Involvement and Maturation in People’s Empowerment and Liberation (C-Cimpel) watchdog group during the busiest part of the election season.

The PRO 7 outfitted the center with TV sets and a fax machine to aid reporters in monitoring and reporting on the election. The Philippine Long Distance Telephone Co., Smart Communications and Visayan Electric Co. provided the telephone lines, Internet connectivity and snacks for the center.

Monitor

The CCPC then worked with the Manila-based Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) to monitor the Cebu print media’s election coverage. This allowed the CMFR, which had monitored the coverage of Metro Manila media in previous elections, to expand the scope of its monitoring this year to include Cebu.

Thirteen students from the University of the Philippines Visayas Cebu College (UPVCC) and St. Theresa’s College (STC), and their team leaders—Ian Manticajon, local coordinator of the United Nations University-Regional Center of Expertise on Education for Sustainable Development; Belinda Espiritu, UPVCC professor; Mia Mateo, coordinator of STC’s mass communications program; and CCPC members Mayette Tabada, a masscom instructor, and Fr. Aloysius Cartagenas, a professor at the Seminario Mayor de San Carlos—comprised the monitoring team.

TEAM LEADERS (from left) Mayette Tabada, Belinda Espiritu, Ian Manticajon, Mia Embalzado-Mateo and Fr. Aloysius Cartagenas.

They analyzed the election coverage of the three English and two Bisaya daily newspapers in Cebu—Sun.Star Cebu, The Freeman, Cebu Daily News, Sun.Star SuperBalita [Cebu] and Banat News—from Feb. 10 to May 10, 2010, giving regular feedback on their findings to the newspapers within the three-month period.

Neutral coverage

In June, Manticajon reported that the three English daily newspapers in Cebu were generally objective and fair in covering the 2010 elections, having an overall neutrality rate of 89 percent. The team looked at adjectival bias and the provision of context in the reporting to determine whether the reports were biased or neutral.

The top five themes covered by the English dailies were the campaign; the personality/character/record of the candidates; other Comelec-related issues; he-said, she-said fights; and development/policy issues.

For the Bisaya dailies, the top themes were also the campaign and personality of the candidates. But these were followed by development/policy issues, complaints/reports of irregularities, and election-related violence/peace and order.

For the English dailies, the bulk of the election coverage or 1,281 reports had to do with the local elections, followed by 990 reports on the elections in general, and 661 reports for the presidential race. The senatorial, vice presidential and party-list races were minimally covered with 189, 160 and 152 stories, respectively.

Earlier effort

In 2007, the CCPC also monitored the print media’s coverage of the elections, forming a team led by Manticajon, Mateo and Tabada. But this year, the CMFR lent its monitoring method to the council. CMFR’s deputy director Luis Teodoro and senior staff writer Hector Bryant Macale trained the Cebu team in January.

Smart Communications and the five Cebu dailies supported the CCPC and CMFR in this year’s monitoring project.

The CCPC is a foundation that helps to protect press freedom, enhance the sense of accountability of journalists, and shape public opinion on media issues.