TV host Christian Esguerra of ABS-CBN News Channel (ANC) and editor-in-chief Camille Diola of Philstar.com received this year’s top journalism awards at the conclusion of the Jaime V. Ongpin Journalism Seminar conducted by the Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility (CMFR) on Friday, Oct. 9.
Esguerra, also a recipient of CMFR’s Award of Distinction in 2019, was named as the 24th Marshall McLuhan Fellow while Diola bagged the 2020 Award of Distinction that went with a P30,000 cash prize. (See Rappler’s Patricia Evangelista and ABS-CBN’s Christian Esguerra win top JVO Journalism awards)
The Jaime V. Ongpin Journalism Seminar is an annual event organized by the CMFR to recognize journalists who have shown excellence in journalism. CMFR bestows two awards at the event — the Award of Distinction and the Marshall McLuhan fellowship.
The McLuhan Fellowship, named after the Canadian communication guru and administered by the Canadian embassy in the Philippines, supports the chosen fellow’s study tour of Canadian media and academic institutions.
Canadian Ambassador Peter MacArthur, however, said the fellowship program has to be changed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We are planning for the Marshall McLuhan fellow to undertake a later speaking tour to Canada in March  in hopes that travel will be more possible in the future,” he said.
The awardees said they shared the recognition with fellow journalists who have shown outstanding work and professional ethics in performing their tasks amid the challenges facing the industry.
“I would also like to share this with my fellow panelists whose works I truly admire — their individual work — because I’ve been seeing their work(s) across platforms as well,” Esguerra said. “And I also like to personally recognize…the efforts of many journalists out there who continue to keep fighting despite the odds of the industry and the profession are facing today. I think they should be recognized as well.”
For her part, Diola said: “I’m very fortunate to be working with a team…I think this is testament to the work that the whole team has done. And I’m inspired every day to check in, to go to work, because of their passion and their dedication and their concern for our audience. Thank you so much. This is a great honor for us.”
Diola and Esguerra were in the panel of six journalists who were selected by CMFR’s Board of Trustees for their exemplary work in the previous year. The four others were Lian Buan of Rappler.com, Raffy Tima of GMA Network, Mike Navallo and Chiara Zambrano of ABS-CBN. All of the panelists were given certificates and P20,000 cash gifts.
This was the first time in 24 years that CMFR conducted the JVO seminar and awards online in view of the coronavirus diseases (COVID-19) pandemic.
The panelists shared in a discussion their opinions and experiences on various issues before a virtual audience. The topics discussed centered on pressing issues such as COVID-19 and its impact on the work of the media, the territorial dispute over the West Philippine Sea, the 2019 landmark decision on the 2009 Maguindanao massacre, and the current state of the Philippine media.
Esguerra, who teaches journalism at the University of Santo Tomas (UST), said during the discussion that the COVID-19 pandemic has allowed “those in power” to control the flow of information.
“Now we have to rely on Zoom, we have to rely on Facebook Live, especially during press conferences in Malacañang. Remember they talk about the pandemic response. We know that a lot of us have a lot of questions, but the opportunities are limited because of technology, because of the distance, because of the pandemic. So, I guess this is the perfect time for those who would like to take advantage of the situation to really do that,” Esguerra explained.
When asked about the state of press freedom, Esguerra said there are still “freedoms” in the country but these are “eroding” faster under the Duterte administration. Citing the shutdown in July of ABS-CBN, he said the lack of pushback in the media industry, as well as from his own network, is a matter of concern to him.
Diola, who concurrently serves as editor of Interaksyon.com, shared Esguerra’s concern on “eroding freedoms” in the country and the “real effect” of attacks on the media, such as ABS-CBN and Rappler.com, on how the newsrooms will function. She added that the chilling effect of these attacks, particularly from the politicians, need to be discussed and documented.
“The attitudes of politicians who are vindictive and onion-skinned…that they take criticisms as if all of them are plots to destabilize or an attack on government…that they cannot even hear real feedback from a very legitimate sector –the health sector, doctors and experts in this particular crisis,” Diola said. “So, if they don’t even listen to the sectors and they take the criticisms as an attack on them, what more can we do? What more is the effect on the media? That chilling effect is something that we have to talk about and document.”
Early in the discussion, Esguerra said he fears of “meekness, self-regulation and cowardice” in the media industry and the journalists “in the face of such immense challenge” today. He said journalists who don’t have the courage or are afraid to do their job should not be in journalism.
“I always quote this: ‘Self-censorship is the most insidious form of censorship. Once that happens those in power have already succeeded.’ Wala na talaga…This is happening now for a lot of us, and it’s very despicable. And I don’t feel sorry for that but (inaudible) I despise that idea,” he said.