The War on Drugs, Media and Democracy: The Philippines Case

It has been widely acclaimed by academics and media watchdogs that the Philippines has the freest media system in Southeast Asia (Beltran, 2017; Brooten, 2011; Rosenberg, 1974; Smith, 1996). Journalists have traditionally enjoyed freedom of expression by actively critiquing government decisions (Siebert et al., 1956). And in the age of information technology, the Philippines’ prolific rise in internet users should theoretically enable all individuals to participate in a public sphere (Habermas, 1992; Beltran, 2017). But is total media freedom always a good, realistic practice in all contexts? (Huntington and Nelson, 1976). In actuality, is it threatened by repressive powers taking advantage of platforms, thus monopolising the representation of voices (Morozov, 2012)? Taking the case of the Philippines, what does this mean for its media development and the co-existence of media and democracy?

Does Media Freedom Still Exist?

In 1972 former president Ferdinand Marcos declared Martial Law over all newspaper, radio and television stations within the country (Rosenberg, 1974). Journalists criticising the Marcos administration were silenced and killed, and public civil liberties were taken away, which Marcos argued was the “necessary price Filipinos must pay for social order and economic progress” (ibid: 472). By this virtue, the media were no longer able to perform their watchdog function, which is where journalists could hold the government accountable for their actions – a concept which Siebert et al. (1956) associated with the social responsibility of the media. According to Rosenberg (1974), media freedom no longer existed.

Despite the ban being officially lifted in 1981, which Smith (1996) defines as the transition from “liberalisation” towards “democratic consolidation”, the extent to which this has had an overall success for media democracy and development is questionable. Perhaps this reflects political scientists Huntington and Nelson’s (1976) theory on how press freedom may not always be attainable, particularly for fragile states in transitional processes. With President Duterte’s current ‘War on Drugs’ campaign, is the state of media in the Philippines now entering a new stage of authoritarianism?

Violence and the Culture of Impunity

Al Jazeera cctv footage.png
Image 1 Al Jazeera covers CCTV capturing killing in lack of reporting

Duterte’s ‘War on Drugs’ is his government’s initiative to crackdown on the number of drug users in the Philippines. A story covered recently by Al Jazeera reveals CCTV footage capturing the killing of a seventeen-year-old boy by the police (Image 1). The violence itself is common with the thousands of killings in the fifteen-month campaign thus far, but the way audiences find out about it is unusual. This lack of reporting is not by mere lack of media interest or journalism training but lack of capacity. Individuals critiquing Duterte’s tactics are being silenced through contemporary strategies such as false news fabrication, as this Channel 4 report explores. The report also exposes Duterte’s influence on alternative media. For example, Margaux Uson previously used her blog “Mocha Uson Blog” as a platform to discuss sexual topics: she now “talks about Duterte” as a “self-confessed volunteer for the present administration” (Beltran, 2017: 71). This highlights an interesting parallel between the ways in which Marcos and Duterte have denied alternative, critical voices into the public sphere, and embodies Morozov’s critique of press freedom whereby repressive powers can use the media as a power-enhancing tool, reproducing further inequalities by refusing alternative opinions freedom of expression, which is arguably vital for democratic progression (Habermas, 1992).

Radyo Cagayano
Image 2: Studio Radyo Cagayano in ruins after attack, Kodao Productions

Violence towards journalists has also been relatively common in Philippine media history (Brooten, 2011). In her comparison between the militarisation of Burmese and Philippino media, Brooten (2011) illustrates the burning down of ‘Radyo Cagayano’ in 2006, a community radio station whose group of attackers remained unpunished (Image 2). “Now it’s not in operation”, which “is really instructive on the lack of democracy in the Philippines” (ibid: 232). However, she also draws upon this idea of ‘structural violence’ which considers how layers of political and economic inequality accounts for this culture of impunity. Arguably, media reformers have too often been concerned with journalist safety and training and press freedom, as we have mostly discussed, where the focus should really be on the larger, structural factors behind why violence against the media and democracy exists at all.

Arguably, media reformers have too often been concerned with journalist safety and training and press freedom, where the focus should really be on the larger, structural factors behind why violence against the media and democracy exists entirely.

What does this mean for media development?

Where the Philippines was supposedly meant to have the freest press in its region, it has instead highlighted the challenges of pursuing press freedom in an environment experiencing unstable political transitions (Huntington and Nelson, 1976). Evidently, it also exposes dangers for democracy, particularly when powerful elites take advantage of the platform, influencing contemporary media, such as bloggers, to support them. (Morozov, 2012). Therefore, I am inclined to agree with Brooten (2011) that it is increasingly vital to be considering long term, structural problems initially, before addressing shorter term issues if we want to protect the co-existence of media and democracy.



Beltran, J. (2017). The Emergence of the Philippine “Anti-Media”: The Duterte Factor. Jurnal ILMU KOMUNIKASI, 14(1), pp.61-74.

Brooten, L. (2011). Media, Militarization, and Human Rights: Comparing Media Reform in the Philippines and Burma. Communication, Culture & Critique, 4(3), pp.229-249.

Habermas, J. (1992). The Structural Transformation of the Public Sphere: An Inquiry Into A Category Of Bourgeois Society. Cambridge: Polity Press

Huntington, S.  and Nelson, J. (1976). No Easy Choice. [S.l.]: Harvard University Press.

Morozov, E. (2012). The New Delusion. New York: Public Affairs, pp.ix-xvii.

Rosenberg, D. (1974). Civil Liberties and the Mass Media under Martial Law in the Philippines. Pacific Affairs, 47(4), pp.472-484.

Siebert, F. S., Peterson, T., and Schramm, W. (1956), Four Theories of the Press, Urbana, University of Illinois Press.

Smith, D. (1996). Democracy and the media in developing countries – The case of the Philippines. University of Leeds.




“Not enough people are talking about the floods in South Asia”

Time after time editors are given the horrible task of prioritising a story they consider to be most important. Questions they might check off the list could include: how many have died, or have been injured? We want numbers – BIG numbers. Where in the world has the crisis taken place? Is it somewhere in the West? The Global South? And how many more are likely to be affected? In other words, editors want to write the story that will sell the most. And this has certainly played out true throughout the ordeal of Hurricane Irma (and Harvey and Jose) occurring simultaneously with the floods in South Asia. But which humanitarian crisis has received more coverage, or need I ask? For a brief answer to this question, watch the short video below:

A week or more ago I came across Jonathan Freedland’s opinion piece in the Guardian, which verbalised exactly my thoughts on the media coverage of both crises. Indeed, he set out the scene of quizzing the reader to think about what the biggest humanitarian crises in the world currently is. Naturally, one might answer Texas. A short while later, one might hopefully think about the floods in South Asia” affecting people in India, Bangladesh, Nepal.

Several interesting things arise here. Firstly, if the death toll in South Asia is far greater than that of Texas, Florida and the Caribbean combined, why is it still receiving far less media coverage? In that case, we refer back to our editor’s checklist and cross out ‘numbers’ and tick ‘location’ because a crisis in the West is clearly far more news-worthy than one even further away from us, right? Location and regionality play an awfully large part in the presentation and delivery of our news.

Secondly, why am I inclined to say ‘Naturally, one might answer Texas.’? Seems to me like I’m also feeding into this media hierarchy as it has been so engrained within our media culture. With newspapers including the Metro and The I posting all over their front pages about Irma, not to mention online formats too, I was somewhat pleased to have read an extended piece about the people affected by the floods in South Asia in the New York Times.


Hurricane Irma front page on The I.



Story about South Asia flood survivors in the NYT, 9 September


The third most interesting part comes next. Freedland’s piece also goes on to highlight a third more prominent crisis: Yemen. And this is what further peaked my interest. Personally I had not even considered Yemen as the world’s biggest humanitarian crisis, considering the newest ones which had come to light, which again demonstrates my ignorance too.

In one of my modules this year, Humanitarian Communication, we touched upon the nature of reporting natural (or unnatural) disasters, so to speak. A key reading was a chapter from the book ‘Global Crisis Reporting: Journalism in the Global Age’ entitled ‘(Un)natural disasters: The calculus of death and the ritualization of catastrophe’ (Cottle, 2009), which focuses upon the social relations and power structures behind the way in which natural disasters are reported, including news agendas, which was referred to at the start of this piece. The chapter references Hurricane Katrina and Stanley as having “caused the fewest deaths and yet received far more media coverage than any other disaster.” Ring any bells?

“Of the six humanitarian disasters analysed, Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Stanley caused the fewest deaths and yet received far more media coverage than any other disaster.” (Cottle, 2009)

Geopolitics within the media coverage of natural disasters is a tender and dangerous aspect within the web of power struggles and social relations of human suffering, as Cottle and Freedland have both clearly articulated. Perhaps we need to be less ignorant and read more thoroughly about the world around, I know that’s certainly my goal.


Recommended reading:

Cottle, S. 2009. (Un)natural disasters: The calculus of death and the ritualization of catastrophe. Global Crisis Reporting: Journalism in the Global Age. Open University Press.

To street fundraise or not to street fundraise?

To street fundraise or not to street fundraise?

With September just around the corner and summer’s warm, comforting gaze slowly slipping away, I want to talk briefly about my short and sweet experience of trying my hands at street fundraising.

A pair of street-fundraisers, or ‘chuggers’? | BBC

As an individual who is interested in working in International Development, and possibly within the charity sector I felt that these factors combined could fuel my interest in trying street fundraising, a profession which, in hindsight, has more difficulties than meets the eye.

While standing in the middle of the grey, paved streets of rainy Southampton (and it was a particularly rainy day, too), which contrasted with the beautifully cobbled high street of Canterbury, one particular message kept looping in my mind. The voice of William Askell in the TedTalk he delivered, with the title: Want to make a difference? Don’t Work for a Charity seemed to overcome me.

Street fundraising in all weathers | Chronicle Live

In his talk, William delivers the message about how individuals who strive to make a difference in the world, be that through ending poverty and inequality, do not necessarily have to be working for a charity to make that difference. The skills, which each individual develops should be understood and respected appropriately, and if your skills don’t match with that of a particular charity’s aims and objectives, then perhaps your skills could be utilised elsewhere. For example, having a scientific or technological way of thinking may not necessarily benefit development directly, but Askell’s example of how Bill Gates, who dominates the technological and IT industry and generates exceedingly large amounts of income, has contributed greatly to development through funding research projects and development journalism (and much, much more) captures how one does not have to follow the most obvious path in order to make a difference. To put it simply, by channelling the skills that you have specialised in can provide an amalgamation of possibilities to change the world albeit little bits at a time, in ways you may not even imagine. You can watch the full talk here:

Upon my own self-reflection, I soon began to realise that street fundraising was one of those avenues of life that may not work for me, or at least at not this point in my life. Stopping people who were “too busy” to talk, or “couldn’t afford it” (despite having a Chanel bag swung audaciously around their wrist) or those who simply were “not interested” did not seem particularly natural for me. For one thing, the lack of interest in helping others less fortunate than yourself is concerning to me. And the reasons are generally pitiful, but this antipathy is not uncommon.

The most unnatural of all was asking for their bank details on the street. Indeed, if roles were reversed, I would not feel comfortable with providing private information with someone I had only just met a moment ago, which was probably what made it even more difficult for me. To be clear, this is not to do charities a disservice of the way in which they source their funding, but simply a self-reflection of when I applied myself within this field.

street fundraising 1.jpg
Example of a ‘great’ street fundraiser | Oxfam

There’s a certain sense of gutsiness and the ability to not care what people think when they are rejecting you which only touches the foundations of being a ‘good’ street fundraiser, and plenty of people in this field are doing an amazing job. So figuring out early on that there are certain ways about me that I would need to change in order to be even a ‘good’ street fundraiser has not deterred me from working in International Development. If anything, it has shown me to specialise in my strengths – be that through writing and other media-related endeavours, namely podcasting and video-making, in order to raise awareness of global issues. In this way, if there’s anything I’ve taken away from it, it’s to ensure that the work should be right for you, as you are right for the work.

‘The Disruptors’

What does Silicon Valley and Gender and Development have in common? The clue is in the title. That’s right, they both want to be seen as ‘disruptors‘. But the way that these actors in these very different fields approach this sense of disruption is worlds apart – just like them.

Jamie Bartlett in his two-part documentary ‘The Secrets of Silicon Valley’ BBC1

Let’s first take Silicon Valley. Home to some of the world’s largest tech and start-up companies, including HP, Apple and Google, and even Uber and AirBnB, these innovative companies are gradually revolutionising the way in which we behave in the world around us. As a species, humans have evolved in such a short space of time, from the agricultural revolution, the industrial revolution, to what many in this field are now calling the “technological revolution”. VR, wearable technology? We’re wholly and irrevocably immersed in it. It’s truly amazing how we put can be putting our potential into fruition. But to what cost? And more importantly, whose?

If you watched Jamie Bartlett’s two-part documentary ‘The Secrets of Silicon Valley’, perhaps you would be thinking twice about how much we are all investing not only our money into such technology, but our time, too. In the first part, also titled ‘The Disruptors’, Bartlett meets with CEOs from some of the largest companies mentioned, most of which have the mindset that the work they do is simply to find solutions to problems – not be part of the problem itself. For example, Uber, which was only created in 2009, was to solve the issue of having more convenient transportation for people to get from A to B. And along the way, this concept has evolved into reducing costs and carbon footprints. Now, operating in 633 cities across the world, this company has globalised. Watch Uber’s Co-Founder, Travis Kalanick give a Ted Talk on ‘Uber’s plans to get more people into fewer cars’:

However, as Bartlett found out, drivers who have signed on to Uber in countries such as India are having an excruciating time trying to manage their costs of owning such a mode of transport in such an economically-restricted country. Uber claims to set up schemes whereby individuals can be paying back the cost of the car in instalments, similar to that of microfinance or microlending, but this is just falling through, leading to gargantuan amounts of debt for such individuals.

This is much the same for individuals across the world wanting to sign on to AirBnB, where scandalous landlords are increasing the rent of homes at the expense of residents. Thus, places will only become cheaper for tourists to stay, but more expensive to actually live.

And then there is what is possibly the most common injustice. For tech companies requiring materials such as cobalt for their products, such as Apple, not only are there poor working conditions for factory workers, but young children in countries such as Congo are cobalt mining for the smartphones we generally take for granted.

So yes, you are “disruptors”, but your idea of creating a better world through the use of technology and innovative thinking is costly in so many more ways.

Sustainable Development Goal No. 5, dedicated to Gender Equality | Source: UNDP

On the flip side, let’s explore another group of disruptors: women in development. Over the past couple of weeks, I have been doing an online course on FutureLearn called ‘Gender and Development’ which, even if you don’t study development (or don’t study at all) is an extremely eye-opening short course to broaden your mind about issues regarding gender equality and women’s rights, and this is where I realised that women could also be considered ‘disruptors’.

When a woman is empowered, she can not only change her world but the world around her. She can attend school and receive a good education, which will enable her to find a good job. She’ll be conscious of family planning, and if she does decide to have children (and she will have the power to make such a decision), she will be able to raise them healthily and happily. This is what is explored in Sheryl WuDunn’s Ted Talk, which you can also watch down below.

The FutureLearn course also includes some wonderful resources and in one session, we focus on the World Bank and how their 2012 Development Report was dedicated entirely to Gender Equality and Development. And this is because gender equality matters in its own right.

Women all over the world are now taking on jobs that were once only considered for men. They are now participating in armed conflicts on the front line, for there cannot be sustainable peace from conflict without both genders participating and explaining the support they want and need. Likewise in Microfinance programmes in countries such as Bangladesh in South Asia, often it is the woman who will receive such loans, and should she invest this effectively, can enjoy the rewards of her work.

And while there is still a lack of women working in the sciences and technology, campaigns are underway to change this, or rather disrupt the status quo, such as the L’oreal-UNESCO for Women in Science campaign; the World Bank as already mentioned as well as Project Girl Code, a non-profit organisation which is “teaching digital literacy skills and providing IT training to girls and young women who are vulnerable to trafficking, slavery or forced marriage. We aim to prevent poverty and fight exploitation through education and technology.”

I think that before we start hyping over driver-less trains and trucks and even flying cars, surely we need to ensure that all women enjoy the same rights and status as men to drive these vehicles on land in the first place *cough* Saudi Arabia *cough*.

So with this in mind, which type of disruption are you more likely to support? I know which one I’m more likely to.


Profits over People

Profits over People

This headline could easily be used in a wide array of industries and sectors, but the one I want to pay close attention to is the Food Industry, in the notorious ‘Global Food Scandal’.

Every day of our lives, somehow we are wasting vast amounts of food, be it the rotting apple we don’t want to eat, to the end slices of a loaf of bread, which simply do not seem appealing enough to eat. But how and, more importantly, why have we become so fussy, and more to the point, so ignorant to the amount of food we have been wasting? This is in issue which has urked so many people for so many years, and it just so happens that the start of this year sparked an innate interest in myself to want to know more about food waste.

So, in keeping with a post I wrote at the start of this summer, where I pledged to be reading such weird and wonderful things throughout the holidays, one book I have been engrossed in is Tristam Stuart’s ‘WASTE: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’.

Tristam Stuart’s ‘WASTE: Uncovering the Global Food Scandal’

Not even half way into the book, Tristam touches base with such interesting and thought-provoking ideas, regarding supermarkets and food product manufacturers, all of which are contributing to the global food waste scandal in gargantuan amounts. In fact, one business strategy shared by some supermarkets and restaurants in order to tap into the customer psyche, which I think is barbarically stupid, is that customers want to be seeing full shelves – empty shelves will mean that they will ultimately be buying products that other customers do not want (in other words, are not good enough for consumption). Customers want to feel that the products they want are forever available and will never run out. Well, I’m sorry to warn you, but the more food being produced, the less there will be to source. It’s simply not viable, and it’s certainly not sustainable. What’s worse, supermarket stock managers will often predict how much food will need to be ordered for a particular day, often getting this drastically WRONG and OVER-predicting, and so all the energy having gone into producing the food in manufacturing factories, let alone the FOOD itself, will inevitably and painfully be wasted. This is purely about profits over people.

“Profits over People”

My qualm lies with government laws and policies against allowing supermarkets and restaurants from being allowed to donate and redistribute all of their unsold food, something which Tristam has spent years researching and investigating in order to publish his findings all into this very fine book.

I would seriously invite you to pick up this book and read it if you want to understand and make even the smallest difference in order to reduce your waste. And in the mean time, to get an insight into some of Tristam’s work and what led him to uncovering the ‘Global Good Scandal’, watch this Ted Talk first, which led me to him:

Student Media: A ‘race’ to the bottom

Student Media: A ‘race’ to the bottom

Reading an article in the Metro today about diversity in the BBC, following their published list of their highest earners, it reminded me of this post I wrote earlier on in the year about diversity in student media. Clearly there are still inequalities, be it in student media or in the big old industry!

See Metro article: Metro article:


We are almost two decades into the 21st century and still we find that minority groups continue to be marginalised within mainstream media, often being misrepresented or unrepresented altogether. Which is worse?  Surely what is covered within the media is worth discussing (usually), but what about the stories of the voices which are left unexposed? Should they not bear an equal weight of importance, too? Why chose not to cover the struggles faced by black women and girls within Sub-Saharan Africa, but have expansive airtime of an anti-immigration, anti-global aid assistance and misogynistic (for good measure) president? These are complex questions which require much thought and discussion into the ways in which this normative ignorance within media reportage can possibly be improved.

17273547_10210733646792495_1512973016_o Hazel Healey from New Internationalist talks about community share

On Saturday 4 March, the ‘War of Words: Progressive Media Conference’ took place at my very own university…

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Grenfell: United We Stand

Grenfell: United We Stand

On June 14th, the lives of hundreds of people, thousands even, changed overnight. A fire, which attacked and seized all within reach, grew higher, attacked higher, seized higher, for hours on end, with little respect for future consequences. Some have called it ‘social cleansing’, others a mere accident. But in light of this, in light of what this tragedy represents, it also demonstrates the human solidarity and unity which collects itself; you shrug off the smoke and the ashes, and get back up to help others. To keep moving. To keep people living. To keep the faith. This is a photo essay about the Grenfell Tower fire, and how ‘United We Stand’.

Photo 1: Grenfell Tower from afar, burnt to a crisp but still standing

This photo of Grenfell Tower weeks on from the fire, taken from afar, is a bold and striking reminder of a fatal incident. You can see the building from miles away, and which is only really within walking distance from Latymer Road Underground Station, West London. Location is a particularly significant part of this puzzle. This piece of wounded architecture standing tightly in the borough of Kensington and Chelsea seems to represent the inequality within the area between working-class people and those with power and authority; those who have the power to make decisions – which are clearly not always well-thought through. More so, just around the corner are wealthier, middle-income earning individuals and celebrities, which only has led to people theorising over the concept of ‘social cleansing’, which, while I believe this to be a horrible use of language, can only be deemed as a possible explanation given the contemporary climate. Within a developed country in the world, who would have thought that this would be possible?

Photo 2: Photos of missing peoples stuck onto a door of the Nottinghill Methodist Church

These are the faces of the individuals, whose whereabouts are still unknown. Families are being separated, with both young and older people still missing. Police are keeping the death toll at around 80, but people are not stupid. There are so many questions to ask, and so few people willing to answer them.

Photo 3: Among flowers, notes and candles is a child’s toy

All around the neighbouring area are candles, notes and flowers scattered to mark the loss of a loved one, or from those hoping that more are still alive. But in the centre of this photo is a children’s toy, ‘Eeyore’, a well-known character, taken from a well-loved children’s story, ‘Winnie-the-Pooh’. I loved Winnie-the-Pooh when I was younger, so to have this symbolise a child’s life either sacrificed or still missing, only honed in the harsh reality of this fateful incident even more so. Very, very young children have lost their lives to this, with the world missing out on what they could have seen, been and done.

Photo 4: A Liverpool scarf is hung onto the gates by Nottinghill Methodist Church

This fourth photo I thought was very interesting. It both resembles this sense of unity and support from the local, national and international community, but it also reminds me of the Hillsborough disaster in 1989. In an article I read in the New York Times a week before taking these photographs, I found that there are some harrowing similarities between this historical disaster and Grenfell. Both young and working-class people were victims of poor decision-making on behalf of authoritative powers (do I hear social-cleansing again?). And these so-called authorities seemed to blame the incident, which was a semi-final match taking place at Hillsborough Stadium in Liverpool, on those aforementioned ‘rowdy’ young and working class. Let’s just hope that it doesn’t take almost another 30 years for a thorough inquiry to be published, let alone a genuine apology.

Photo 5: Signs are displayed to voice the injustice faced by Grenfell Tower victims

People want their voices heard. There is so much loss, uncertainty, anger…

Photo 6: A star hangs on a gate, with the slogan ‘United We Stand’

… and hope. This last photo I thought I would save for the end of this photo essay to reiterate just how strongly people come together in times of despair, whether its an incident like Manchester, Finsbury Park, London Bridge or Grenfell. The peace, the love, the harmony – it’s all wrapped up within this one symbol, which serves as a sign that while Grenfell tower still stands, albeit for some time, so will we.


I am currently working on a video I filmed about these tributes to Grenfell Tower victims, including shots of people that are still missing. A friend will also be composing original music for this short video. We hope to edit and publish this as soon as.