IT CAN be difficult to celebrate occasions during the coronavirus disease (Covid-19) pandemic as government limits gatherings and health experts insist on safety protocols.
Cebu media leaders decided, however, on a special celebration of Cebu Press Freedom Week 2020 despite the Covid-19 concerns. They stood firm on the holding of activities to highlight the important role of media in these trying times and to issue the call for the public to support a press that is free of pressure or censure.
The Cebu media industry celebrates press freedom week on the week where Sept. 21, the anniversary of the 1972 declaration of martial law, falls, as a reminder to protect the freedoms lost during that dark period in our history.
This year’s celebration is different as journalists abide by protocols against the transmission of the Sars-CoV-2 that causes Covid-19. No physical gatherings allowed. Forums, meetings, seminars and lunch dates will be held online. No meet-ups. None of the parties that media people look forward to every year. But Cebu Press Freedom Week will not skip a year because of Covid-19 or the financial difficulties faced by media companies.
Now is a good time to remind journalists of the important role they play in informing the public. In the rush to break Covid-related news, errors are committed and in-depth reporting relegated to the sidelines. The breaking-news mindset, complicated at times by government sources giving wrong and confusing information, opens journalists to cyber abuse and accusations of “fake news.” With social media increasingly being used as information source, people get their news fast and they react to the news faster than before.
News organizations rushed their digital transformation to reach a wider audience, be relevant and to continue to inform the public despite work-from-home arrangements which are not ideal for news gathering and newsroom collaboration.
Then there’s the matter of cutbacks and downsizing as news organizations go on survival mode in the face of drastically reduced advertising and circulation. Advertising revenue went down. The number of newspaper copies was cut when people stayed home. To cope with the slowdown but not stop operations, Cebu news companies implemented retrenchments, early retirement programs and newsroom downsizing. These measures left newsrooms diminished in size and capability. Questions on financial sustainability continue to hound the industry.
Some of the community newspapers in Visayas stopped print operations. The ABS-CBN shut down its Central Visayas offices, not as a casualty of the pandemic but after a House of Representatives committee rejected the network’s application for franchise renewal.
From these, one can easily find reasons not to celebrate Cebu Press Freedom Week 2020. But these reasons are ironically the same ones making Cebu media resolute to go ahead and mark press week.
It is easy to succumb to fear during this time of uncertainty, but there can be a ray of optimism. A wider reach online means different kinds of content that media can offer. A highly critical social media audience encourages participation and discussion, albeit not always with positive results. A lean-and-mean newsroom leads to better financial controls, flexibility and ease in adapting to change.
The determination to proceed with Cebu Press Freedom Week 2020 is the same resolve that is driving the Cebu media onward to a post-pandemic future.