Archive for October, 2011

A wise entry point: Forging alternative consciousness through alternative press in the social media


Today is the age of the new media. This is a prognosis that even the most ordinary citizens will find agreeable, thanks to the thriving of the internet whose wide offerings have enticed the Filipinos, especially the youth. The internet age has popularized social networking sites such as Facebook and Friendster and video-sharing sites such as Youtube which in essence have expanded the not only the means but also the breadth of communication and interaction among individuals. Gone are the glory days of the print media and while television and radio are still more handily picked by majority for their greater accessibility, the multi-media present in the internet is swiftly gaining ground in terms of media forms people use and rely the most.

With the multi-faceted media form present in the internet, it is hardly surprising that this has become the current trend. In the inclusion and fusion of all media forms such as print and audio in the dominantly visual arena that is the new media, it is hardly surprising that this is becoming the current trend. Nicholas Mirzoeff speaks of the “visual construction of the social field” (Schirato and Webb), which only amplifies the idea of how large our society’s reliance on visual culture in making sense of our world. There are many ways by which the highly visual new media influences and shapes this process of sense-making. In the internet, we are exposed to a wide variety of posts, tweets and videos uploaded in popular websites, ranging from mere personal expressions, artistic performances, gags and comic acts, informal news, or overtly political materials. And in relation to the scope that the new media covers in the daily experiences of many Filipinos, it is logical to conclude that the manner of thinking and behaving, the tastes and preferences, the attitudes and perspectives of majority of Filipinos are unconsciously largely shaped by our exposures in the internet.

In the data of Internet World Stats released early last year, about 29.7 million Filipinos are regular internet users. At the end of 2009, the Philippines has an estimated number of nearly 8.5 million Facebook users and in just a span of one year, this number has ballooned to 18.12 million. Of this number, 44% are from the 18-24 age bracket, a clear proof that most of the internet users are from the youth.

At this point, it is important to note that in the issue of internet access and usage in the country, socio-economic status still factors in. Evidently, internet access remains a privilege nowadays and most of those who have access in it, aside from those from the upper classes, are those who are from the urban places and those from the younger age bracket, particularly students.

Baguio City, touted as the educational hub in the North, thanks to being the location of some of the biggest tertiary schools in the region with a minimum school population of 7,000, the biggest of which is the Saint Louis University which has about 27,000 students, has a bulk of its daily population composed of students. Aside from the big universities are several other small schools also located in the city.  In the year 2003-04, the city registered close to 66,000 enrollees in the college level. Following the logic implied above, Baguio City has a high exposure on the new media. Almost all media publications, daily or weekly, has a website. In the side of campus publications, although a strong presence online is still being worked on, there are rudimentary efforts which are made in recognition of the new media’s increasing impact, reach and influence. Most student publications in Baguio, like the UP Baguio Outcrop, UC Alternative, SLU White and Blue among others either have their own website of a page in Facebook. The efforts being put up to strengthen the presence of campus publications online is a welcome development as it exceeds some of the crucial limitations posed by the traditional printed campus paper. For instance, printed campus papers have financial limitations. The number of copies and pages and frequency of publication are dependent on the student fund collected during enrollment. This limitation is absent online. Also, restrictions on the technical aspect– censorship either from the adviser or the administration which are usual scenarios in college publications are exceeded in the campus paper’s online version.

However, despite the recognition of these potentialities and the early efforts to venture into the field of online journalism or social media, the campus publications are still limited in terms of their program at this field. Most of the content of the campus publication’s online presence is confined on campus issues and these alone, leaving very scarce room for discussions on larger, social issues, and hence, leaving less chance for mobilizing them regarding these issues. To begin with, the online presence of these campus publications and the ensuing tackling of campus and students’ issues do not guarantee mobilization of fellow-students regarding the issues.

This can be attributed to the general internet behavior of Baguio students. The social media is utilized much more for personal expressions and purposes and seldom for active social participation or commentary. Seen as a two-way process, this general apathy or disinterest among the Baguio students is related to the extent by which the campus publications are able to maximize social media in opening up discussions among students about issues beyond the campus.  Whether the campus publication should be held directly responsible in engaging the rest of the studentry with social issues and eventually mobilizing them is arguable but we maintain that they should be.

Under this score, I am going to proceed on how campus journalists can maximize the social media as an adaptive measure with the end goal of initiating a more socially aware and participative community, but not just of students. The campus journalists must keep themselves at pace with the existing trend in their immediate surroundings, and they must turn the trends in their favor by utilizing it for their own agenda.

It is in under this idea that advocacy campaigns like Move.ph can lend a big help to alternative journalists, particularly college publication members. It is important to stress the alternative framework from which the campus journalists are supposedly coming from. In the traditional printed journalism, the campus publications uphold its alternativeness by offering a standpoint and analysis that is different from what the mainstream offers. Unlike its counterparts whose brand and practice of journalism is usually affected by commercial nature, student publications have no other interest to uphold but that of the students, commonly its sole publisher. This alternativeness, aside from the tools of analysis and perspectives, is also exemplified by the selection of issues tackled in the campus paper. Campus papers should strive to cover issues that they deem most relevant and useful to the students and not just issues that are all-over the mainstream.

In that sense, the campus papers are at a marginalized position compared to mainstream. In the aspects of technical devices, scope of coverage and wideness of readership, campus publications are evidently not at par with the mainstream. This makes their impact and influence look limited and whatever alternative issue of analysis they forward will most likely be confined to the immediate community. Remarkably, Baguio is situated in the larger area of the Cordillera where a lot of indigenous people reside and where the issue of the marginalization of everything indigenous is very resounding.

Here, the campus publications in Baguio which is part of the Cordilleras, seem to be facing an extra-harder task. While as campus journalists they are already marginalized in the sense that they are not key players in the field of journalism, and as such, their voices will be heard in a smaller territory and impact and influence will be limited, they are likewise expected to reecho the marginalized indigenous culture that is nourished in their immediate location – the Cordillera culture. This scenario should only add a sense of imperative among student publications. And in the continual formations and contradictions of discourses in the society, the campus publication in the Cordillera must work double-time to make their voices hears – first, the voice of students who have their own plights and have their own perspectives on issues beyond the campus, and second, the voice of the indigenous Cordillera who is facing a subtle institutionalized marginalization as manifested by the issues they are confronting such as large-scale mining, displacement, cultural robbery, bastardization and commodification.

Tapping the social media for this purpose is a wise option. Again, this is the flavor of the times. Next, while the most that campus publications can do in terms of printed journalism is a monthly issue (very few can comply to the strict demands of a weekly campus publication, one of them The Philippine Collegian), most of the mainstream publications are on a daily circulation. Aside from the present times being largely fascinated with the visual is its obsession with everything instant, quick, fast-paced. No wonder text messaging, instant foods, fast food chains, tweets among others are such hits. The same applies in journalism as well, we believe, and not just journalism, but the bigger and more complex activity of discursive formations and shaping (not to say, conditioning and controlling) mass opinion and behavior.

Campus journalism must maximize the emerging social media. They must be innovative and must strive to set trends in its playing within this trend in order to realize and continually extend its potentials not just in disseminating information but also offering alternative insights and perspectives to students and other audience alike. They must avail of the possibilities offered by social media and appropriate these in advancing their own issues and advocacies. For instance, in the nationally-coordinated strike held last Friday, the role social media played in informing, educating and eventually mobilizing cannot be discounted. For one, the College Editor’s Guild of the Philippines launched #strike lead in Facebook – a page solely dedicated to news releases, media advisories, news updates and other propaganda materials about the budget cut issue and the strike action. Also, a group named Kilos na Laban sa Budget Cuts was also created in the same social networking site where membership was open to all. In the group, similar updates, news releases, and press statements about the budget cut and the strike action were posted. Members were also encouraged to engage in discussions regarding the budget cut issue and education in general to make way for a more solidified and more united stand about the issue.

The recent Strike campaign against the budget cuts seems to foreshadow only the tip of the iceberg that is the potential of social media in inspiring a community to be more socially aware and politically involved. The campus publications now just need to figure out more ways to play around with this potential, devise more effective means for a more interactive and discursive feedback mechanism with members of the community and extend the audience that they can reach. Once the people started biting on this trend, campus journalists should begin focusing on entertaining their initial involvement and push that involvement further. The ultimate goal, again, is to make them more informed about issues beyond the walls of the university and to prod them to a more concrete action. We have the tools now readily available, it is time to utilize them and ignite the numbed sensibilities and socio-political awareness and consciousness not just of the Baguio students and youth but the entire Baguio City.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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No, statistics and rhetorics are not edible


 

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Again, we are ruled out by economics and numerals and figures composing a collection of jargon seemingly hard to question.

Last October 01, the toll fee hikes begun to be implemented on major expressways going to and within Metro Manila. No one needs to hear again the mighty justifications for the increase, touted economists and politicians have spoken enough. We have to think about the aftermath now. The Toll Regulatory Board, the approving body of this toll hike, said that the increase will generate an additional annual income of 2 billion. Ideally, and this is where the policy-makers and approving bodies are always coming from, the added revenue will be for the betterment of the services in the toll ways, something that will, as they claim, benefit the ordinary people, commuters and drivers alike.

With the seeming straightforwardness and matter-of-factly manner of expressing this statement, the increase seems well-justified. But we should not refuse from wondering further. We are talking about public expressways here, not some elitist, private highway owned by specific group of people. The expressways where the toll hikes took effect are major ones, not the type where only few vehicles pass by. These are public highways. These are supposed to be subsidized by the government since they are part of the basic transportation services which the state must provide for its people.

So here we go again, the issue of state subsidy on basic social services resurfacing, scratching our heads, reminding us of itself. While the government is busily negotiating with various corporations for public-private partnerships, the people are left in a situation where they have to adapt to raising prices caused by the privatization of services that were once given to them at no big price. While the government shirks form its responsibility of providing basic services to its people and private corporations exploiting the situation for their own good, the people are left in shambles. This is an old tale, an old tale that constantly reinvents itself that now we can also see it in public expressways.

Courting the middle-class anger

An interesting remark amidst the string of events recently is Senator Ralph Recto’s warning about the possible explosion of a middle-class revolt, or something like that. On initial contemplation, Recto’s observation sounds very valid. Middle-class people are the primary users of the transportation system where the expressways are included. Upper middle-class people ply the expressways with their private cars while the lower middle-class avails of the public transport that is mainly situated within the metro.

Logically, the increase in toll fees will be burdensome to the vehicles that traverse along these roads. For public utility vehicles such as jeepneys and buses, the toll fee hike will surely take a brunt out of their scant daily earnings. This can only agitate them and demand fare hikes later on, something that the thousands of commuters have to shoulder, and most definitely aversely and not without clamors, shall these take effect. And what about provincially operating transport groups and other vehicles which also pass along the toll hike-affected expressways? What about provincial buses and fruits and vegetable dealers? It would not be surprising to see rising prices of fruits, vegetables and other perishable goods and provincial bus fares in the near future.

Prices will rise, that is an easy expectation. The vital issue now is whether the majority of the people, even the relatively well-off middle-class included, can still do with the economic pressure these hikes put on them. Will their old salary rates still suffice for them to have a decent living? Or they will sense the acuteness of the crises more strongly and who knows, be more active and participative in actions that condemn the government’s policies leading to the hikes and their eventual burden? There is a very high likelihood for the second possibility and if that happens, I can sense a burgeoning of the people’s collection action against the grave misconduct and selfish expediency of the government.

More importantly, what about the greater part of the populations leaving below poverty line? What will they do when all imaginable means to make ends meet and forge daily survival have seemed to be already exhausted? Perhaps we can silently nod to the forthcoming trend of more kidneys sold, more sexual innocence brought into flames, more cases of petty crimes and even more abstracted pinning of hopes on and pining for working abroad, by all means possible legal or not – all for the dream of greener pastures, all for the sake of even the barest survival.

Ultimately, let us not invoke jargon-filled economics and statistics here. Let us not turn to facts and figures and elitist-obscurantist discourses here, their accuracy and proximity to reality and what is valuable to majority is highly doubtable nonetheless. This is privatization yet again. This is the state coolly, mindlessly abandoning its people yet again. This is another practically evil scheme that bestows no bane, all peril and onus to the majority of the people – tougher daily existence, less food on the table, more temptation to resort to inhumane practices just to get through the day.  Let us do away with facts and figures, once and for all. And rhetorical justifications, too. The people cannot eat them.

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