On World Press Freedom Day on May 3, Cebu media will hold a forum on “How Cebu City’s Freedom of Information (FOI) Ordinance Works.” K.
I’m sure it’s important but it’s like talking about the cleanliness of rooms in a burning house. I think we’ll be lucky to have a handful of FOI requests from local media in a year. Who will file the FOI request? The one of two reporters in severely understaffed newsrooms who could hardly keep up with handling multiple coverages traversing multiple beats? But hopefully, citizens and cause-oriented groups could tap this in exposing corruption.
And just Cebu City? Sometimes you’d wonder if CCPC, which stands for Cebu Citizens Press Council (CCPC), actually stands for Cebu City Press Council.
Of all the issues that the group and local media could have shone the light on during such an important day, they chose Cebu City’s FOI?
What about the asymmetry between understaffed local media with its meager resources and the fully-staffed government information offices and how we can work around this? How about the declining local news coverage and how we could address this? Or how about the churnalism that’s driving content and making it more likely for people to see the asses of influencers on news media socmed accounts than newsworthy nuggets of information?
Or how about the looming acceleration of disinformation with the availability of AI tools? Or better yet, how about the existential threat of artificial intelligence or AI on one side and the promise of it being able to help exhausted journalists and gutted newsrooms on the other?
Several weeks back, somebody from CCPC messaged me to say that they got funding and asked what would be a good forum or conference subject to spend it on. I replied, why not AI and community journalism?
AI isn’t a fad. It will disrupt our lives and our industries, especially journalism. There have been many discussions on AI and journalism but none in the context of Philippine community journalism. Our company, InnoPub Media, did one as part of a heading to the cloud bootcamp with Amazon Web Services (AWS) and other partners but this was before the generative AI products started going public. The discussion also just made cursory mentions about the use of computer vision for searchable photo archives and Polly text-to-speech services.
I told the CCPC officer that I had a good resource person in mind who is a thought leader on AI and data ethics and with grounding in journalism. We could fly him in, I thought, I am pretty sure that he will lead an insightful discussion on AI and journalism from which reporters, editors, and masscom students and teachers could learn so much.
A few weeks later, however, I was told that CCPC had decided to focus on another subject.
The other day, I saw the poster for the event (embedded in this blog post) and was dismayed at the choice of topic. For one, this has been reported on. There are certain details that need to be clarified but these can be done in a Facebook post or news article. Second, this is based on an outlook grounded on the gatekeeping of information. Why not push open data initiatives instead? Why not introduce students and journalists to data scraping or accessing information via APIs and public datasets?
This is deja vu, as they say, all over and over and over again. Many in traditional media – represented by the CCPC because it walls itself off from newer and independent media entrants – have always been late to media tech. From the web, mobile web, blogging, ebooks, apps, many have been late to adapt.
We’re seeing that again with AI, a technology that is potentially more disruptive than even the web. By refusing to tackle this technology now, traditional media will be taking a Parker pen to a gunfight.
As is typical with local media events, it’s another “by invitation only” forum. Of course there are limitations to the venue or budget for meals, but couldn’t you spare a few public signups for the event? You keep inviting the same sets of people to these journalism events and you end up with an echo chamber. (Disclosure: I was invited to this event.)
The topic is one issue, the guests are another. Under the ordinance, the “PIO is designated as the focal person and is tasked to oversee the implementation of the law,” according to a Sun.Star Cebu report.
But why isn’t PIO Head Jinky Rosit invited as resource person? Did she decline? Instead, Cerwin Eviota, the Mayor’s communications staff, is listed as speaker.
I have no personal issues with Cerwin; I’ve covered several of his clients and accommodated his requests when I was still with the Sun.Star Cebu newsroom. But I think he shares part of the blame for an ongoing data breach – the transformation of the old official Cebu City PIO page into a private news account. He should have fought more to demand the previous admin to turn it over. I suspect he also wanted to build on one that’s fully under his control. He also wanted to build his own news operation – no problem with that – only it’s outside the official government portal and in a private domain.
And four men? You can’t find a woman to join the conversation? Why don’t you just buy beer and livestream your discussion.
Sometimes you’d wonder whether the final C in CCPC stands for club and not council.
(Note: I’ve been talking to some people about holding a forum on AI, data, and community journalism in a few months. There is no funding, so let’s bootstrap this thing. If you’re interested in helping make this possible, send me an email at [email protected].)