The history of Philippine media

This was written as part of my literature review for my PhD

The Philippines is one of the most dangerous countries to be a journalist. Data from the Committee to Protect Journalists (2019) show that there have been 156 journalists killed in the country from 1992-2019, while the National Union of Journalists in the Philippines (2019) counts murdered journalists to 185 since 1986. The deadliest killings happened in 2009, where 33 journalists were gunned down and buried in a mass grave for covering a gubernatorial candidate registering to run for the upcoming elections in Maguindanao. According to the International Federation of Journalists (2018), the Ampatuan massacre, as the incident was called, is the single deadliest recorded attack on media anywhere. In an interview with the IFJ (2018), Luis Teodoro of the Centre for Media Freedom says that 90% of killed journalists reported on corruption and criminal syndicates. Commission on Human Rights lawyer Jacqueline de Guia asserts that most killings are politically motivated, where the journalists killed speak against politicians. 

Under the Duterte presidency, 12 journalists have been murdered. According to IFJ (2019), 11 of the 12 killings happened before Duterte marked his second year as president, the highest number of journalists to be killed in the first two years of any president in the Philippines. It does not help that in one of his speeches, Duterte said, “Just because you’re a journalist you’re exempted from assasination, you son of a bitch.” Duterte has threatened and harassed media organisations such as Rappler and ABS-CBN. Rappler and their CEO, Maria Ressa, has been constantly harassed by different cases such as tax evasion and cyber libel. Ressa has been arrested twice already. Duterte has also threatened to block the license renewal of the ABS-CBN franchise, which expires in 2020. Reporters Without Borders (2019) notes that the harassment faced by journalists and alternative news sites include online harassment campaigns by Duterte’s troll armies. 

[File: Aaron Favila/AP Photo]

NUJP (2019) reports that there have been 128 cases of assault on media workers under Duterte from June 2016-April 2019, with threats from the police by “red tagging” or tagging journalists and communists and naming them as destabilisers of the government. Perhaps the biggest win for journalists during Duterte’s administration is the guilty verdict handed down to the Ampatuan brothers last December 2019, who were convicted of murder and were given a sentence of reclusion perpetua without parole. The Ampatuans were the masterminds behind the mass killings in Maguindanao.

The close relationship between media and politics is not new in the Philippines. According to Coronel (2001, p.5), Philippine media are “products of a turbulent history” and that the “tradition that defines Philippine journalism is polemical and political,” whereby the rise of media has been closely knit with political upheavals. Sussman (1990, p.36) argues that “it would be ahistorical and myopic” to look at Philippine politics and press outside its history of colonisation and tutelage of the United States that ultimately led to the ousting of dictator Ferdinand Marcos.

During the Spanish colonisation, heroes Jose Rizal, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, and Graciano Lopez Jaena, to name a few, used journalism to wage a campaign on independence which triggered the Philippine revolution. Similarly during the Marcos dictatorship, journalists helped in the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution who continuously wrote about the Marcos family despite risking their freedom and their lives. However, in the coming decades after, mass media chose to become primarily a chronicler of events, government watchdogs, and/or entertainment media (Rosario-Braid and Tuazon, 1999).

A. Pre-Spanish and Spanish colonisation

Prior to colonisation, indigenous Filipinos had their own ways of communication, writing on trees, leaves, and bamboo tubes using saps of trees as ink (Agoncillo and Guerrero, 1978). A town crier called the Umalohokan served as the announcer of important news such as new laws or policies enacted by the town’s chieftain (Philippine Cultural Education, 2015).

Colonisation changed the social, political, and cultural structure of the Philippines. In 1521, Ferdinand Magellan came to Philippine shores, the start of a 300-year colonisation by the Spaniards. The first newspaper, Del Superior Govierno, was established in 1811 by the Spanish Governor General whose aim was to bring news about Spain to local Spaniards (Rosario-Braid and Tuazon, 1999). The first daily newspaper La Esperanza, was established in 1846 and also catered to the Spanish elite; the first regional newspaper El Ilocano and the first publication for and by women, El Hogar, were published in 1893 (Rosario-Braid, and Tuazon, 1999). These publications dealt with history, science, and religion to avoid being censored.

According to Rosario-Braid and Tuazon (1999), Philippine free press has its roots in nationalistic newspapers aimed to raise consciousness about the oppression experienced by Filipinos at the hands of the Spaniards. These publications, such as the La Solidaridad, were elitist, started by the Ilustrados (Filipino educated class) who lived in Europe,like propagandists Graciano Lopez Jaena, Marcelo H. Del Pilar, and Jose Rizal who were facing censorship in the Philippines (Teodoro, 1999). 

The Katipunan, a Filipino nationalist organisation, was founded in 1892 and aimed to separate the Philippines from Spain. To strengthen and widen the organisation, their official newspaper, Kalayaan (freedom), was published in 1898 with Emilio Jacinto as editor (National Historic Commission of the Philippines, 2012).  Although only one issue was published, historians agree that the Katipunan’s growth from 300 to 30,000 was the publication which published revolutionary Andres Bonifacio’s two famous poems: “Pag-ibig sa Tinubuang Lupa” (Love of Country) and “Ang Dapat Mabatid ng mga Tagalog” (What the Tagalogs Should Know) (Rosario-Braid and Tuazon, 1999; National Historic Commission of the Philippines, 2012). Other newspapers widely read during the revolution were La Independencia, La Libertad, and El Heraldo de Iloilo.

B. American colonisation

During the American period English became the de facto medium of instruction (Lorente, 2013) and became the language of new newspapers in the Philippines like The Manila Times (1898), Manila Daily Bulletin (1900), and Philippine Free Press (1908) — most of which were published by Americans and pro-American (Rosario-Braid and Tuazon, 1999). Nationalist newspapers such as El Renacimiento and El Nuevo Dia were threatened with suspension after publishing about abuses of the American government, while another newspaper called Sakdal, published in the regional language of Tagalog, became a hit with the masses for attacking American imposed taxes and abusive capitalists and landlords (Rosario-Braid and Tuzaon, 1999).

Sakdal was founded in 1930 by Benigno Ramos (left) and became a platform for the oppressed “and later helped establish an underground movement that soon primed itself as a revolutionary group against the American occupation” (Deyro, 2019). Sakdal became the official organ of the Sakdal Movement that demanded immediate independence of the Philippines from the United States (Deyro, 2019).

According to Deyro (2019), “Readers were encouraged to share their copies with others. In the provinces, it was said that one copy was read by more or less 10 individuals. In communities with illiterate citizens, groups of 10 to 20 people would listen to the pages read aloud. An estimate of around 200,000 to 400,000 readers was recorded.”

Sakdal eventually became a political party called Sakdalista Party and won national and local seats in the 1934 elections (Rosario-Braid and Tuazon, 1999).

C. Japanese Occupation and Postwar Era

During World War II, all publications except those used by the Japanese — Manila Tribune, Taliba, and La Vanguardia — were closed, and all publications were censored by the Japanese Imperial Army (Rosario-Braid and Tuazon, 1999). 

After the war, Philippine press was regarded as the “freest in Asia” and was said to be the “golden age of Philippine journalism. Most newspapers were wholly or partly owned by businesses, as it is today. These newspapers also owned radio stations and television channels. For example, The Manila Chronicle, owned by the Lopezes, also owned thirty radio stations and television channels (Rosario-Braid and Tuazon, 1999).

Salvador Lopez (1984), former president of the University of the Philippines, describes this time in Philippine journalism, “with media owned, organised, and operated by rich families or powerful corporate bodies, it followed that they were instinctively committed to the defense of their own clan’s interest.” 

In the 1950’s farm programmes, features, documentaries and government programmes were broadcast on the radio and television was introduced in 1953 catered to the elite, with televisions costing $600 at the time. In 1960, local brands were made available, making television accessible to more people. In the 60’s, most shows were canned programmes from the United States, which were cheaper than television stations producing their own shows (Rosario-Braid and Tuazon, 1999). According to Rosario-Braid and Tuazon (1999, p. 301), this era saw Philippine media as “real watchdog of the government.”

D. The Marcos Years

In the 1960’s to the early 70’s, the government began building its own information structures to compete with private media and under Ferdinand Marcos, built the National Media Production Centre, Malacanang Press Office, and Public Information Offices (Lent, 1974). Marcos also acquired control of some private media including, for example, the Manila Bulletin, which was acquired by his top military aide Hans Menzi; the Philippine Daily Express, which reported on the good image of the president, was founded in 1972 and was edited by Enrique Romualdez, the cousin of Marcos’ wife (Lent, 1974). Before the declaration of Martial Law, most press and media were owned by political-business clans (Sussman, 1990).

Marcos declared Martial Law in September 1972. Marcos ordered the press secretary and national defense to take over all forms of media and accused the media of disseminating “false, vile, foul, scurrilous statements, utterances, and pictures” as well that it was used by “lawless elements” (Dresang, 1985).

Right after the announcement of Martial Law, only one newspaper, one television station, and the government-owned radio station were allowed to continue business (Rosenberg, 1974). The Daily Express was the first allowed to re-open, followed by Manila Bulletin. With the shutdown of publications and broadcast media, Marcos allowed new pro-Marcos media to open such as the Times Journal, People’s Journal, People’s Tonight, owned and operated by Marcos’ brother-in-law (Dresang, 1985).

The press was highly controlled in this period, news reports were screened and censored by the newly formed Department of Public Information and the media that were allowed to operate became the ally of the government while journalists and editors who continued to write against Marcos and his government were arrested and incarcerated (Rosario-Braid and Tuazon, 1999). One of the first journalists to be arrested was Joaquin Roces, publisher of the Manila Times, who had been one of the harshest critics of Marcos. Other journalists detained include Teodoro Locsin, editor of Free Press; Napoleon Rama, writer of Free Press; Maximo Soliven, Manila Times columnist. Pro-Marcos journalists were “wined and dined” by Marcos and were appointed to top government posts (Lent, 1974).

According to the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (1984), there were five ways that Marcos controlled the media: 1.) legal restrictions on the free flow of information through presidential decrees; 2.) indiscriminate libel cases against journalists; 3.) coordination of government press agencies with editors; 4.) unwritten guidelines or taboo topics; 5.) military interference.

Alternative press began to emerge in the 1980’s to counter the government’s propaganda. Among these were Veritas, Pahayagang Malaya, Business Day, and Inquirer. “Xerox journalism” where censored news clippings from foreign press were also disseminated to the masses (Rosario-Braid and Tuazon, 1999). Campus publications like the University of the Philippines’ Philippine Collegian, Ateneo de Manila University’s Pandayan, and Pamantasan ng Lungsod ng Maynila’s Ang Hasik became a medium for voices opposing Marcos (Rosario-Braid and Tuazon, 1999). During this period, although a chilling effect has taken over journalists, the nationalist tradition of the press was slowly rekindled. According to Rosario-Braid and Tuazon (1999), Who Magazine and WE Forum were the boldest and most remarkable publications of the time, reporting about human rights victims, indigenous communities resisting development programmes, and public sentiments.

In 1982, another crackdown on government opposition recurred and  authorities shut down WE Forum after a series of articles questioning Marcos’ credentials as the “most decorated veteran” of World War II. By 1983, press freedom in the Philippines had been liberalised and started returning to their pre-martial law reporting of crime of society news, although criticisms of government in media were scant and most continued their coverage of activities by Marcos and his family (Dresang, 1985). After opposition leader Benigno Aquino Jr. was assassinated in August 1983, mainstream media’s coverage of the assasination and its aftermath became more balanced and opposition publications rose in number and popularity (Dresang, 1985).

Doeppers (1984), in an interview with Dresang (1985), notes a trend in the Philippines where media outlets have proliferated at crucial times in the country’s history — in the late 1800’s (revolution against Spain), in early American colonisation, and in 1945 (the end of Japanese occupation). In 1985, at the tailend of the Marcos regime, alternative media had gained more credibility than pro-Marcos media. According to Rosario-Braid and Tuazon (1999, p.316), “alternative media nurtured the democratic and freedom-loving spirit of the silent majority so much so that when the four-day revolution happened, the Filipinos were ready for the event.”

The rise of Corazon Aquino into power was aided by the media. Particularly, the Catholic Church’s radio station, Radio Veritas, was made available for Aquino’s campaign. Manila Archbishop Jaime Cardinal Sin also used the radio station to urge the people to form a barricade and rally on the streets to protect the rebels, which led to the People Power Revolution (Sussman, 1990).

According to former University of the Philippines president Francisco Nemenzo, as quoted by McCargo (2003, p.20), “Without Radio Veritas, it would have been difficult, if not impossible, to mobilize millions of people in a matter of hours.” Another crucial support for Aquino’s presidency was the United States’ press who reported favorably on Aquino’s campaign and which Aquino used to boost her credentials outside of controlled local press (Sussman, 1990).

E. Post-Marcos to present-day media

A new constitution was created after the dictatorship and the freedom of the press became protected under Article IV of the Bill of Rights. Philippine media returned to what it was in the 60’s, in the tradition of American colonial newspapers featuring commercial advertising (Sussman, 1990) and media ownership limited to the business elite (Coronel, 2001). After the fall of Marcos, there was a boom in the newspaper industry answering to people’s hunger for news. In the 1990’s, television and radio had the most audience reach; newspapers still set the agenda and both TV and radio got their cues from newspapers (Coronel, 2001).

The largest media, ABS-CBN, was reopened and was the leader in changing its news model similar to the United States’ infotainment format, where coverage is crime, sex, and occult.  

Tandoc and Skoric (2010) identified the Philippine news market to be different from the West. David et al (2019, p.334) notes:

The country has a high poverty rate of 20% to 25% (living below US$1.50 a day) with low levels of high school completion. The population does not read newspapers regularly, in part because of their cost. Broadsheets are written mostly in English, which is widely understood, but English reading comprehension is concentrated among political and business elites and the small, albeit growing, middle class. The majority of news consumers rely on free net- work television, mostly through its primetime news programs. A survey of urban Filipinos found that 14% reported reading newspapers while 95% reported watching television (“8 in 10 Filipinos Consume Media Content Through Multiple Screens,” 2014). 

The division between the “elite” and “mass market” has also divided news content where broadsheets are mostly in English and contain news about politics and business while television and tabloid news are in Filipino and contain news about crime and entertainment (Elumbre and Carreon, 2007).

While the Philippines is said to be the “social media capital of the world” and the Internet has grown to be a media platform where Filipinos get information, telecommunication infrastructure remain underdeveloped in some areas, making television and radio the main source of information in the countryside (Estrella and Loffelholz, 2019).

Print Media

Print media in the Philippines is on a decline. In 2013, barely one in ten Filipinos read a newspaper everyday and only 28% read a newspaper once a week (Philippine Statistics Authority, 2013). 

The two formats of Philippine newspapers are broadsheets and tabloids, with tabloids outnumbering broadsheets in numbers and copies sold (Estrella and Loffeholz, 2019). There are 40 national dailies (both broadsheet and tabloid), 60 regional and community newspapers, and 14 newspapers in foreign languages like Chinese. According to a survey conducted by Nielsen in 2017, out of the top 10 most read newspapers seven are tabloids and three are broadsheets. Tabloids are cheaper, smaller, and mostly in people’s native language.

Estrella and Loffeholz (2019) note that print media consumption provide a glimpse of the demographics of Philippine news readers who prefer tabloids with sensationalised content, the bizarre and appalling (heinous crimes and show business).


Radio remains to be the second most used media in the Philippines with 41.4% of the population listening to radio once a week (PSA, 2013). It reaches the most remote areas. According to the Media Ownership Monitor of Reporters Without Borders (2017), radio is “the most pervasive media” in the Philippines. Filipinos mostly listen to FM stations for music. On the other hand, AM stations deliver news and public affairs (Reporters Without Borders, 2017).  Ninety percent of radio stations are privately owned and companies who also own television stations like ABS-CBN dominate the market. Television shows get their radio spin-offs and other television shows air simultaneously on the radio.


Photo: CNN Philippines

Television is the most used and most trusted media in the Philippines with 81% of the population watching television, 71.6% of which watch at least once a week (PSA, 2013). In a survey by Nielsen in 2016, 58% said television is their most trusted source of political information.

There are more than 400 television stations nationwide dominated by the two biggest conglomerates, ABS-CBN and GMA, who have an audience share of 81%. Both operate nationally and regionally.

Regular programming are similar across stations. It starts with early morning news programmes, followed by variety, lifestyle shows, or cartoons; entertainment shows for lunch; soap operas for the afternoon, followed by evening news; and another round of soap operas or reality TV for primetime (Estrella and Loffeholz, 2019).

All television franchises are approved by the government, particularly by Congress and regulated by the National Telecommunications Commission. Recently, ABS-CBN has been told to stop reporting criticisms about Duterte’s drug war or else their television franchise will not be renewed. In 2020, the Congress refused the renewal of ABS-CBN’s franchise and the broadcasting company has stopped airing its shows.

Digital Media
The Philippines ranks first in the world in terms of time spent on social media (Camus, 2017). According to We Are Social’s (2018) Global Digital Report, the Philippines tops the world in terms of social media usage, with 71 million users spending an average of 4 hours and 12 minutes a day mainly on Facebook.

Digital media plays an important role in Filipinos’ everyday lives and in socio-political situations. Filipinos’ active use of digital and social media varies from being the “Selfie Capital of the World” (Time, 2014) to using $200,000 worth of campaign funds employing social media trolls for political propaganda (Bradshaw and Howard, 2017). Even before the rise of the Internet, Filipinos have used technology to engage in socio-political activities. In 2001 former president Joseph Estrada was impeached, it was known to have been fuelled by a series of text messages used for mobilisations (Montiel and Estuar, 2006).

Philippine media continues to be diverse, with television and radio still being the most popular media platform for getting information. However, the rise of the Internet and social media has made a difference in information sharing where users can simultaneously be producers and consumers of information. Social media has been used to discredit traditional media and has been used to proliferate disinformation for political propaganda.