The Filipino media is taking its 'watchdog' role seriously. Recently, the local media in Davao City formed a body to monitor reportage on violence against women cases and take an active role in the public information campaign to help popularise the UN Convention for Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Composed of representatives from print, broadcast, news services and advertising, the 'Monitoring Board on Violence in Media' also aims to clarify and define the media's role in mainstreaming gender in the media and in the city's policies and programmes.
"This will definitely lead to more gender-fair reportage on women," says Amalia Bandiola-Cabusao, Convenor of the board and Editor-in-Chief of Mindanao Times.
The Board has been created in accordance with Davao City Women's Development Code, which was passed on October 14, 1997. The Code, based on CEDAW, has been hailed as a landmark in local legislation. It provides for the creation of an Integrated Gender and Development Division (IGDD) at the central level and Councils for Women at the local level, which form the consultative assembly for IGDD. This is the first time that the media has joined the consultative assembly and presented proposals, including the one on formation of a Media Monitoring Board.
The functions of the Board are to "classify, censure, prohibit or regulate the exhibition of materials degrading women. Media outlets include video, cable, television, cyberspace, books and other forms of audio-visual channels or instruments/reading materials."
But Cabusao also says that the board seeks to review and propose amendments on this provision to ensure 'consistency' with the constitutional rights to free speech and expression. While the intent, she explains, is an overriding concern on women issues, "we have to exercise caution in undertaking any censorship role".
The Board's functions may also be revised to include not only monitoring media performance but also to spotlight local media's best reportage practices and encourage a more responsible practice of journalism. Cabusao says that they are also exploring the Board - which comprises members from a number of media organisations - as a forum for readers and viewers to suggest ways to improve media reporting on women issues.
Recently, the Board through the IGDD called the attention of a broadcast news network that wantonly showed pictures of women in prostitution on primetime news, which is a violation of RA9262 (Violence Against Women and Children Act, 2004). Rule XI of this Act prescribes that a newspaper editor, publisher, reporter or columnist, television announcers or producers and film directors must desist from naming or identifying a victim-survivor or complainant without her express consent.
The network is yet to reply, but the Board believes that this is a positive step towards reshaping the landscape of the local media scene.
Over the next few months, the Board will undertake capacity-building sessions for media practitioners. There are also plans to co-produce a weekly radio programme solely devoted to a discussion on women's issues to be aired in the popular UMBN-owned Radyo Ukay.
These efforts to push for "gender equality issues in the news agenda", as Cabusao puts it, are encouraging signs of reforms towards a gender-fair media. Mindanao Times recently repackaged its Saturday issue by focusing its articles on women, and including columns written by women, an innovation introduced by Cabusao.
Over the years, under Cabusao's leadership, coverage on women's issues in the Times also increased. An enlarged print of the 'media checklist' on ethical and gender-fair reporting is also posted near the entrance to the newsroom, which serves as a reminder to the editorial staff. Last December, Cabusao also helped organise a get-together attended by women in the local media.
Davao City, which prides itself for significant breakthroughs in gender mainstreaming, has highly visible and articulate women media practitioners who occupy management positions.
The editors-in-chief of the top three dailies are women: Times's Cabusao; Mindanao Daily Mirror's Marietta Siongco and SunStar Davao's Stella Estremera. Times's publisher is Josie San Pedro, and veteran journalist Carolyn Arguillas is head of Mindanews, a news agency based in Davao City. GMA News Network's station manager in Davao is Mariles Puentevilla, while Ma. Fe Alino is at the helm of the government-run DXRP's Radyo Ng Bayan.
Already, their presence is making a difference in terms of changing the way women are portrayed in the news and pushing for women's rights in news stories. "Women comprise half of the population," says Cabusao, "and having their voices will make our news better."
Cabusao hopes that with the Board's media activism, "we can pressure policy makers to do something for women".