M edia coverage of past elections in the Philippines has often been criticized for its superficiality. Reporters often focus on personalities rather than issues and platforms. Mass media has the responsibility to accurately report the political and technical aspect of elections, to play a vital role in educating voters, as well as to hold candidates, political parties, and election authorities accountable. The better the caliber of media coverage, the more credible the election results will be.
In the Yahoo! & Nielsen Release of the “First-Ever Internet Habits Study for the Philippines“, a study done between October and November 2008, more Filipinos, especially the youth, are favoring the internet more than television and print as news sources. There is an estimated 20 million internet users in the Philippines, and 42 percent of them read blogs. Thus, it cannot be denied that new media is gaining more and more influence in readership every day.
Voter demographics according to Nielsen:
- About 50 percent are below 35 years of age, about 70 percent below 45 years
- With little or no consciousness of EDSA I, or of Philippine Political History
- Mostly urban – about 48 percent live in cities and towns
- Mostly poor – 30 percent poverty incidence in the Philippines
- Mostly exposed to media and are cynical towards politics and politicians, according to public opinion polls
It was timely that in early 2009, three bloggers, namely, Noemi Lardizabal-Dado, Marck Ronald Rimorin and Pierre Tito Galla were invited by the Philippine Center for Investigative Journalism (PCIJ) for a training seminar on “Covering Elections in the Era of Internet and Automation,” which was supported by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID). In succeeding such seminars of the PCIJ, Blog Watch was able to get a total of nine bloggers trained.
The idea for a citizen media movement for the 2010 elections began brewing then. Bloggers could play an important role in the election coverage because they had an existing community that could virally disseminate information among their readers as well as to other internet users, especially on the social networks which comprised 51 percent of internet users in the Philippines. The urgency of voter education and training was clear as the elections neared.
Blog Watch became a reality when Vibal Foundation’s Philippine Online Chronicles hosted our articles on their site. We began to cover underplayed stories that traditional media could not, or would not, cover due to limited resources and time. But our role was not meant to remain in the shadows of voter education alone. We were able to snag our first interview with a presidential candidate, Manny Villar, who had a fairly good social media group. From there, we went on to interview other candidates for president, vice-president, senator and local candidates as well – using our tools of the trade in each of these interviews.
The rest is history.