There have always existed media organizations that set themselves apart from the mainstream, tackling angles and events often left untouched by more established outlets. In Philippine society today, there are pockets of resistance where the stories of those unheard and unknown are brought forth to be told. What can be covered by those in big news networks may be also told through an alternative lens—through alternative media.
These people are not part of large corporations or media outlets, but rather smaller chapters and groups who are oftentimes volunteers. Examples of these are Altermidya and Bulatlat.
According to Dr. Victor Torres, a full professor from the DLSU History Department whose academic work encompasses the history of journalism, alternative media helps report stories with a lens that is different from how mainstream media reports them.
To further understand this, The LaSallian discusses with Gino Lopez, a staffer of Paghimutad—Altermidya’s Negros Island chapter—the differences between mainstream and alternative media, and the overall importance of alternative media.
Small but vast
Paghimutad is a rather small publication with only two regular staffers at its helm. It was founded by Anne Kreuger as a chapter of Altermidya, a Manila-based media confederation. Its purpose was to document human rights abuses on the Negros Island, which has seen a history of violence due to having been a stronghold of the New People’s Army since even before the Marcos regime. The rest of its staff are volunteers, with only Lopez and a couple of friends gathering and reporting stories.
“It’s really kami-kami lang. [We] don’t have a source of funding. It’s all just initiative from citizens,” Lopez elaborates.
(It’s really just us.)
Despite their lack of manpower, Paghimutad is able to stay afloat. They get stories directly from firsthand accounts, and compile them into a digestible format. “Most of the news we get are just contributed from different source persons like human rights groups,” he shares. This allows them to receive reports from all over the region, such as when they published a piece on a series of killings that occurred all around Negros Island last July.
Through a different lens
Some find that tackling news from a different perspective stems from necessity. According to Torres, alternative media was a way to deviate from the censorship found in the past—to give a different take on what is known in the mainstream.
This fits perfectly into what Altermidya strives to be: a progressive media outlet. Lopez explains that the news group aims “[to give reports] that are pro-human rights, pro-urban poor, and pro-people.” Nonetheless, he also constantly reminds himself to be impartial and to hear both sides of the story.
This approach enables Lopez and his team to report a vast amount of topics with a slightly different perspective due to the underlying differences between the mainstream and the alternative. For one, traditional media tends to be anxious about covering certain stories, and sometimes even refuses to cover them at all.
The difference in style can also be attributed to the fact that alternative media does not have the same pressure mainstream media has, Lopez notes. “A lot of media companies have sponsors to think about. And also, they have rapport to maintain with authorities. [Alternative media] does not have that same responsibility to uphold,” he clarifies.
While they have the freedom to cover stories the mainstream will not touch and to examine events in a different light, Lopez says that Paghimutad also does not have the same sort of safety net afforded to larger, more mainstream publications.
The ongoing struggle
Because Paghimutad thrives on volunteer work, its workers have to supply their own transportation and resources. When asked to point out their biggest struggle, Lopez states that it is “the lack of regular correspondents,” given their small pool of staff.
The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted them significantly, he admits, “With the pandemic, it’s difficult to get to places. Fact-finding would be stopped by [the] military. There are still checkpoints for some reason around the province.” Lopez further remarks that they could not leave their homes before June 12 due to Paghimutad not being registered; they even had to wait for Altermidya to procure press IDs, which took a while.
Despite these hardships, they continue their work because at the end of the day, mainstream and alternative media outlets strive to spread the truth. Though alternative media may give a unique take, Lopez clarifies, “Alternative media isn’t meant to be a replacement for [mainstream] media. I’d say it’s a supplement.”