By Diana Mendoza

A flurry of hate speech, sexist remarks, and rape jokes. This is what the world has become for women in media in the Philippines. The pervasiveness of this behavior, fueled by wrong and distorted information that has affected the decision-making of vulnerable and gullible groups, is unprecedented.

This is the finding of the Beijing+25 Alternative Report written by women journalists and communicators about the work environment of women in media today – a world that “has forever changed the nation’s perception of reality and has redefined the role of media as fact checkers, while preserving its turf as truth tellers.”

The Beijing+25 Alternative Report cited Women Writing Women Philippines as among those doing its part in truth telling.

This year marks another schedule for the Philippine government to submit its report on the situation of women in the country to the United Nations Commission on Women. The report submission every five years has been calendared since the Fourth World Conference on Women that was held in Beijing in 1995 spelled out a game-changing Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA) for equality for women worldwide.

Apart from the BPfA, the Philippines is signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) that promotes women’s equality in all spheres. The Magna Carta of Women, the Philippine version of CEDAW, is the basis against which the writers of the AR examined the communication environment for women. The government is also working on 17 Sustainable Development Goals or the 2030 Agenda with Goal 5 for gender equality and Goal 10 for reduced inequalities.

For the report covering 2015-2020 that tracks 12 areas of concern, Section J deals with “Women and the Media,” specifically Section J.1, that seeks to increase the participation and access of women to expression and decision-making in and through the media and new technologies of communication, and Section J.2, to promote a balanced and non-stereotyped portrayal of women in the media.

New words have sprung in the world’s vocabulary: hate speech, fake news, alternative facts, trolls, click-bait headlines and common words with negative meanings. 

The report submitted to the UN Commission on Women in New York includes the non-government Beijing +25 Alternative Report that examined the gains and challenges under the BPfA. It is written by Olive Tripon, freelance writer and former executive director of Women’s Feature Service Philippines, Lisa Garcia, executive director of the Foundation for Media Alternatives, Pennie Azarcon-de la Cruz, senior news desk editor of the Philippine Daily Inquirer and Diana Mendoza, freelance journalist, associate producer of One News Cignal TV and co-founding editor and managing partner of Women Writing Women Philippines.

Diana Mendoza (in purple, third from left), WWW Philippines’ co-founding editor, participates in Internews’ Regional Roundtable for Women, Media and Peace Process in Yangon (January 2020)

Twenty-five years ago when women converged in Beijing, the strong words were on women’s rights as human rights. Today, the new words have sprung in the world’s vocabulary: hate speech, fake news, alternative facts, trolls, click-bait headlines and common words with negative meanings – cancel, call out …all these in a “post-truth” world. Such words have radically changed the landscape of language and the environment in which media, the purveyors of truth, and the public, communicate.

Access to media and portrayal of women

Do women have access to media and new technologies of communication like the internet? The Report said 76 million Filipinos use the internet for an average of 10 hours daily. In 2019, more Filipino women were active in social media than men, but they use social media not for politics but to connect with family and friends.

There are two kinds of media – mainstream media, which includes print and broadcast (radio and TV), and social media that includes Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, YouTube, and other online platforms. Most mainstream media organizations are also going online to expand their reach while others have fully shifted their operations to mainly online outlets. More women head media organizations, including prominent columnists, documentarists, TV talk show hosts, and directors in theater and film.

The Report said participation and expression are evidenced by women media practitioners and women media users – the bloggers, vloggers, viewers, readers and listeners, but cited that “bloggers, especially those who curry favor with the current leadership, have been appointed to high government positions, cover press conferences and foreign trips, blurring propaganda and news.”

Does media coverage address balance and promote gender-fair portrayal of women? Do women use the media as vehicle for women’s issues? The Report said there is token coverage on women’s month (March), and businesses ride on it, which may be good exposure. But “there is need for more stories and voices of urban poor and peasant women, indigenous peoples, women in science in mainstream media. Teleseryes still show stereotyped roles of women.”

Ensuring that women’s stories are heard in all platforms

An environment of danger and threats

The Report said the government has limited women’s political participation and decision-making functions by targeting independent-minded officials, most of them women. It mentioned the Vice President denied of her Cabinet functions; the Chief Justice ousted by legal maneuverings and opposition Senator Leila de Lima jailed for drug cases with convicts as witnesses.

“Such vindictive actions and crude frame-ups were meant to communicate a strong message: if the government can target and persecute these high-profile women leaders, could ordinary working journalists expect better?”

The Report’s analysis of the pattern of disinformation and misinformation in spreading “fake news” showed that it targets anyone who criticizes President Duterte or his government, saying those who silence women for being critical of the President have used social media through fake news, photo shopped images, edited videos, and misquoted or out-of-context remarks, or “patriotic trolling,” which an article in The Guardian described as when “journalists and activists (are) deliberately targeted with violent, misogynistic and hateful messages online at the behest, or with the endorsement or implicit approval, of the state. Armed with memes and hashtags, and deploying abusive language and bots, malware and doxing, patriotic trolls seek to muzzle, discredit and abuse those who criticize or advocate against the status quo.”

Diosa Labiste, WWW Philippines’ co-founding editor and journalism professor, participates in the University of the Philippines’ First Conference on Democracy and Disinformation (April 2019)

Violent rhetoric, rape jokes and actions by the President captured on national media that make women vulnerable to rape and sexual harassment is also part of this environment. The sexist remarks even encourage other officials to freely indulge in vulgar and crude language.

The Report said the President’s supporters refer to the Safe Spaces Act that he signed in April 2019 as proof of his support for women. “That law lays down penalties for sexual harassment, including wolf-whistling, cat-calling and making sexual jokes or remarks against women in public spaces, all of which he has violated,” the Report stated.

It also mentioned the President targeting both media individuals and media firms such as TV network ABS-CBN, online news site Rappler and broadsheet Philippine Daily Inquirer, using intimidating strategies as denying access to government media briefings and “red baiting” the media.

The Report cited the disappointment by women’s organizations for the Philippine Commission on Women’s silence on the President’s misogyny. But it lauded the women-headed media organizations Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility, Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism, Vera Files and Women Writing Women Philippines for doing their part in truth telling.

Chi Laigo Vallido, WWW Philippines’ Managing Partner and Director of Advocacy of the Forum for Family Planning and Development, moderates the launching of the book, The RH Bill Story. Photo: Mau Victa

Resist, call out, challenge

The Report warned of cyber crimes against women and children committed not only by trafficking syndicates but by the children’s own parents. Women experience abuse and harassment online like sharing photos and videos without consent. “Social media has normalized cruel and hateful online behavior – a challenge for Filipino families to reflect on basic moral standards of being human.”

It enjoined the public to resist the normalization of hate speech and sexism and to call out fake news and revisionism. It called for media literacy for marginalized women so they can use the media as a vehicle to express their views, needs and desires for balanced content, and media monitoring to create a critical audience to give feedback on what they see or don’t want their children to see in media.

Women Writing Women provides training to veteran journalists and new writers and multi-media artists on creative nonfiction.

It also recommended gender sensitivity training for teachers and media practitioners including scriptwriters to be conscious of women’s rights; digital skills and security training for human rights defenders including journalists; training on fact-checking technology and protecting online data; decriminalizing libel and studying the Cybercrime Prevention Act of 2012, and crafting a real Freedom of Information law to show transparency in governance. WWW

Cover photo: Sky Luna Eda Serafica