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Albay ‘newsmen’ lose extra source of income

By Manuel T. Ugalde LEGAZPI CITY --- Many local newsmen here, dubbed as “instant journalists” for whatever the tag means, are now desperately looking for other jobs after the former Albay governor left the provincial capitol when he ran and won as congressman after his last executive position expired last year. During the past 9 years that then Gov. Joey Salceda held the reins at the Capitol, these instant journalists were recipients of the so-called media assistance fund that was established under the watch of the ‘media-friendly’ former governor. That mediamen’s privilege vanished into thin air with the assumption of Al Francis Bichara as the province’s new governor who put the break on such ‘mediamen’s bounty’ or “grease money” (as some more discriminating legit newsmen would deride it) when a resolution was passed disallowing release of such fund effective June 30, 2017. The Bicol Reporters Association (Brass) disclosed that Albay which is the regional administrative center for Bicol with most of the regional offices as sources of news based in Legazpi City used to have only 30 active members in both the broadcast and print industry in the early 80s but these rose to 100 in 2007, as more radio stations multiplied and eventually there was the centeris the home of the Bicol Regional Center based in Legazpi City have barely around 30 active and part time media practitioners in broadcast and print during the early 80’s that rose close to 100 in 2007, especially among broadcasters when radio stations multiplied to then 35 now and they have the media assistance find from the provincial capitol to look forward to. But while radio stations flourished, the local weeklies barely survived the onslaught of high printing cost. Bicolwide, only a dozen weeklies continue to survive, albeit on irregular basis, from the original 30 weeklies, according to veteran journalist-writer Prof. Salvador Flor, 74, president of the Bicol Reporters Association. How the fund came to be During the incumbency of then Gov. Joey Sarte Salceda since his assumption of the top post in the provincial capitol in 2007, he thought of extending monthly assistance by way of a provincial board resolution that appropriated funds for local journalists who will help in promoting the province’s frontline programs. The media fund assistance handled airtime of every block-time broadcaster whose remuneration was paid through the radio station that aired the program while reporters collected their honorarium through the governor’s private ‘finance officer.’ According to Flor, economic constraint forced many local AM-FM radio stations in Legazpi to lay off their regular announcers and reporters that many of them opted to go a block-timers in order to have access to fund assistance being dangled by the provincial capitol. A question is asked: If a broadcaster receives ‘manna’ from the provincial capitol, would he speak ill of those who are its occupants – from the provincial board members that appropriated the fund up to the provincial governor that approved and releases the fund? It is said that there is no way that the fund will be revived as the new governor, Al Francis Bichara, is very much against the ‘bribe money’ scheme. A published report said that radio stations in Albay have grown to more than 35, most of these are community FM radio stations that are heavily identified with politicians. Bichara himself has his FM Fox Radio Station that has been in operation for more than 8 years now with his Capitol spokesman Danny Garcia as station manager. Garcia said FOX FM is plain public service, news and music and was never intended as a political tool of the governor. Former capitol public affairs chief Ex Rieza said media support fund from Salceda actually began during his 3-term as 3rd district congressman that ended in 2007 where Salceda would use his personal funds. Rieza said the former governor was so concerned about media workers who live on tiny income. About 90 percent of the broadcast and print media workers in Albay had availed of the capitol support fund without condition, he said. Salceda’s critics said the fund – out of taxpayers’ money – was Salceda’s scheme to win the media’s strong support lest they would not be receiving any of the ‘hot money.’ Concerned sectors lamented that the proliferation of block-time broadcasters and community radio stations in the time of Salceda also multiplied the number of extremely incompetent and broadcasters, who are more likened to ‘hitmen’ or avid propagandists that dish out outright lies and untruthful reports. ‘No news at Capitol’ Flor lamented that during the visit of Miss World Catriona Ragas Gray on Oct. 14 whose mother is from Oas, Albay, not one from the media had covered her Capitol visit on Gov. Bichara except Garcia of Fox FM Radio. Miss World Gray, however, was mobbed by close to 30 media workers and a huge crowd when she of every student aim to have at least one college graduate for every family, his grand tourism program that links four provinces. He said the media support fund was cleared by the Commission on Audit. proceeded to nearby Ninongs Hotel to meet with Rep. Salceda. Flor admitted that Albay was put in the international map not only because of Mayon Volcano but because of Salceda’s mega projects citing his strong advocacy on climate change, effective disaster and risk management aimed for a zero casualty in times of disaster, and tourism programs that increased tourists’ arrivals in the province. Flor said Salceda also surprised Albayanos when the province became a host durin the 2013 Asean Pacific Economic Cooperation ministerial meeting. Added to this is the P4B Bicol International Airport which President Duterte pledged to become operational before 2019. All these developments in Albay were in the news, Flor said. Asked why Salceda continue to draw crowds and media attention even outside Albay compared to other local officials, Flor said he has yet to interview Salceda but I think it’s not the funds that attracts the media which Salceda’s critics had been saying but Salceda’s treatment of the media, critical or otherwise, and his propensity to deliver news. Seven months after Salceda’s departure from the capitol, law graduate broadcaster Wally Magdato said, laughing: “It’s always no news day at the capitol, not even a cup of coffee.”

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