“What kind of journalism can we expect from media organizations that treat news as a commodity, their workers as disposable currency and their audience as unthinking consumers?”
By RONALYN V. OLEA
MANILA – The week as usual had been tiring for Marlon Marquez, video editor at GMA-7 Cebu. He was looking forward to an easy weekend with his family when he received the bad news that Friday.
On April 24, the management called for a meeting with some GMA-7 employees. They were told that they are being laid off.
“I could not do anything. I just cried,” Marquez told Bulatlat.com in a phone interview. He went home and told his wife. “We cried together. My five-year-old son just embraced me and told me, ‘Papa, you no longer have work?’”
Marquez is one of the 200 media workers in several GMA-7 regional stations who have been recently retrenched. In a report, GMA-7 chairman Felipe Gozon said the “strategic streamlining is geared towards increasing ratings and revenues of all of its regional stations from more efficient operations.” Media organizations called the move “callous and heartless.”
Marquez, 30, worked for the company for seven years. He was a talent for three and a half years before he became a regular employee. Talent is the term used by the company to refer to employees whose tenure depends on contracts they signed. Back then, Marquez worked for as long as 15 hours per day, receiving no overtime pay and other benefits.
“Why me?” Marquez said. Now, he does not know how to continue providing for his family. The severance pay he received could not send his two sons to school.
Marquez said the management reasoned out the layoffs is due to redundancy and financial losses. “How could that be when they just bought new equipment?” he said.
Like Marquez, GMA-7 Cebu reporter Greggy Magdadaro, 28, said he was shocked when he was fired. He said they were not given any notice. The management told them they could work until May 30 but the severance pay they would receive already includes their salary for the month of May.
Magdadaro, 28, had worked for GMA-7 for six years. He was also a talent for three years before he became regular. A father of a seven-year-old daughter, Magdadaro told Bulatlat.com in a phone interview that he is still weighing his options.
Is it legal?
When sought for comment, veteran labor leader Remigio Saladero Jr. of Pro-Labor Assistance Center (Place), said there might be labor violations.
Saladero said advanced payment of one-month salary could not substitute for the 30-day mandatory notice of termination that should be given to both the employees and the Department of Labor and Employment (Dole). If this was not fulfilled, Saladero said the employees’ right to due process has been violated.
Saladero said any company declaring redundancy must at least present a study to prove that certain positions are no longer necessary and relevant to the company. He added there should be standards as to who would be dismissed and who would be retained. This, he said, is to ensure that the layoffs would not be despotic or arbitrary.
Some of the GMA-7 regional stations are reportedly closing down, such as in Cagayan de Oro. Saladero said the company should present its financial statement to prove bankruptcy.
The network is not bleeding. In 2014, the company gained over a billion-peso (US $64 million) net income.
Media groups expressed their support to the affected GMA-7 employees.
Rupert Mangilit, secretary general of the National Union of Journalists of the Philippines (NUJP), said, “Clearly, hundreds of jobs and lives have been put in the altar of sacrifice for more profits for its owners and investors at the expense of loyal and dedicated employees and talents.”
In a unified statement, the NUJP, Philippine Daily Inquirer Employees’ Union, Philippine Daily Inquirer Correspondents’ Guild, ABC Employees’ Union, Talents Association of GMA and ABS-CBN-Internal Job Market deplored how “job security in the media industry has not fared any better in the last five years.”
The groups called on journalists “ to defend our jobs, security and welfare.”
Altermidya, a national network of alternative media outfits and practitioners, also expressed solidarity with their colleagues at GMA-7.
Benjie Oliveros, spokesperson of Altermidya, said, “Not only the lives and livelihood of journalists and media workers are at stake here but also press freedom. What kind of journalism can we expect from media organizations that treat news as a commodity, their workers as disposable currency and their audience as unthinking consumers? So long as the present situation prevails, trivia will continue to prevail over information the public needs so they can understand what is happening towards making the decisions on public issues that a sovereign people is called upon to make.”