By ALYSSA MAE CLARIN
MANILA — Seven years ago, more than 30 independent and alternative news outfits gathered at the University of the Philippines -Diliman. This would later be known as the founding assembly of AlterMidya – People’s Alternative Media Network, a network of alternative news media fighting disinformation, and highlighting grassroots stories and struggles.
“While many were operating at that time, alternative media outfits were small and scattered all over the country,” Altermidya’s National Coordinator Rhea Padilla told Bulatlat in an online interview.
AlterMidya has since been providing a platform for the marginalized in its reporting, and has been consistent in defending press freedom.
In the past two years, however, AlterMidya, along with its member-news outfits, has been the subject of repeated cyberattacks. The latest of which was traced to no less than a government infrastructure, with an IP address assigned to the Philippine Army.
But AlterMidya and the rest of its members seem unfazed and continue to demand accountability despite seeming government attempts to cover their tracks.
Then and Now
Following its founding, the network members brainstormed on how they can put a spotlight on the stories and struggles of the marginalized sectors, such as farmers, urban poor communities, and human rights defenders.
“They saw how important it was to foster cooperation and support among these independent outfits,” Padilla said.
In a small media office, within a dental clinic and separated by a thin wall, Altermidya began to produce newscasts that were different from its peers at the time. The team DIY-ed their way to producing these, such as small green screens and reporters having to memorize lines. And since they were practically in a room inside a dental clinic, shootings had to be paused sometimes because of the sound of a dental drill.
“My favorite is this running banter among Altermidya members competing to see who the “poorer” media outfit is,” said Padilla, adding that their team is “always amused by how our outfits get by with our meager budgets and equipment.”
Despite these, the quality of their newscasts never suffered – with news reports that are critical, truthful, and yet engaging as they inject a bit of humor here and there. Today, AlterMidya now has a humble studio where they are able to produce and gather more reports from the regions regularly. Still, AlterMidya attributes this to the perseverance and dedication of their staff, volunteers, and network members as they work hard to give the people the stories they need and deserve to know.
AlterMidya has also been consistent in fighting for press freedom, especially under President Duterte who has made very public attacks against the media, including the shutdown of television giant ABS-CBN, and the charges against Rappler.
During its founding, alternative news outfits traced their roots to the revolutionary tradition of the Philippine press. It included the Katipunan’s Kalayaan, the Propaganda Movement’s La Solidaridad, and the brave mosquito press of the Marcos dictatorship.
“We’ve seen how the independent press flourished during the Marcos dictatorship: The more our right to information is threatened, the more it is going to be asserted by the people,” said Padilla.
Today, news outfits belonging to the alternative media tradition continue to provide a platform for stories that are not included in the regular news cycle of the dominant press – stories directly taken from the ground and from the people. And like their predecessors, AlterMidya and their member-news outfits continue to be under attack. In fact, just a week or two after its founding, they were red-tagged.
Women journalists like Davao Today’s Margarita Valle, Paghimutad’s Anne Krueger, and Eastern Vista’s Frenchie Mae Cumpio were arrested for their reporting, with the latter is still behind bars.
“We continue to demand accountability from those behind the cyberattacks on our websites,” said Padilla, adding that the network also filed charges at the Ombudsman and other bodies against state agents involved in red-tagging its members.
Padilla said that the network gathers its strength- despite the multiple ongoing attacks, not just from the alternative media community, but also from the support and solidarity given to them by the people they have vowed to serve.