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Vitug to CMC grads: use technology to improve people’s lives

Photos courtesy of Mr. Alex Tamayo (CMC).

(May 8)—“Technology is at your fingertips.  You can use it to improve lives.” 

This was the call award-winning journalist Marites Danguilan Vitug made to the graduates of the UPD College of Mass Communication (UPD-CMC) at the Recognition Rites held April 27 at the UP Film Institute.

Vitug is an author and editor-in-chief of Newsbreak, an online news and current affairs magazine in the Philippines. According to the Society of Publishers in Asia (SOPA), Newsbreak has won major awards in investigative reporting in the Philippines and the Developing Asia Journalism Awards of the World Bank Institute. In 2006, the leading global risk consultancy firm Eurasia Group ranked Vitug 45 among 50 global leaders for her work in Newsbreak.

Speaking before the 173 graduates, 16 of whom received their post-baccalaureate degrees, Vitug urged the future media practitioners to seize the opportunity of easy access to technology to report on issues that matter, especially on the appalling inequity in the country.  By doing so, future journalists “will be able to illuminate and hopefully enrich the national conversation,” she said

“The gap between the rich and the poor in the country is always visible especially to foreign eyes.  Forbes Park and Baseco are the contrasts that catch attention of our guests.  It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that the mega wealthy of our country are 1 percent.  That leaves many of us struggling to remain in the middle class while the rest are stuck at the bottom…I hope that you would have the empathy for this pressing problem and help reduce it,” she said.

Vitug has also written a number of highly-prized books. Power from the Forest: the Politics of Logging won the National Book Award in 1994; Jalan-Jalan: A Journey through EAGA, co-authoredwith Criselda Yabes in 1998, was chosen by Asiaweek as one of the best books on Asia for 1999; and Under the Crescent Moon: Rebellion in Mindanao with Glenda M. Gloria in 2000 won the National Book Award in 2001.

Vitug pointed out the class’ enviable opportunity of having communication tools and gadgets at arms reach.  In the Philippines, about 70 percent of Filipinos have access to the ubiquitous mobile or cellphone. 

“It has connected us to the rest of the country and the world.  It has shrunk distances and collapsed time,” she said. 

In a report filed by Inquirer Technology, a study by market research firm Ipsos MediaCT revealed that more Filipinos are becoming more mobile, using their cellphones (mobile) for a variety of purposes other than calling or texting.  Using an annual sample of 8,000 people with ages ranging from 15 to 64 cutting across the social classes A,B,C,D, and E, Ipsos found that 21 percent use their mobile phones more often for its multi-functionality, 25 percent use these as cameras, 23 percent as MP3s or audio players, and 22 percent to play games on. 

In answer to inequity, Vitug pointed the virtues of equity. 

“Equity casts a wide net and covers vast issues such as access to health, education, jobs, business opportunities and political participation.  Equity applies to big, medium and small businesses by providing a level playing field for all.  Equity means opening up the political field to non-dynastic but meritorious name,” she said.

Even as Vitug emphasized the huge role of information technology to today’s society, she still stressed the importance of loving the job one is in. 

“Of course the jobs that you are looking for need not revolve around technology alone.  But here’s what matters.  When looking for work, how much you make is important.  But more important is will you make a difference?  Whatever you choose to do, it should be something that you love, that you are passionate about.  Making a difference will follow whether as a reporter, writer, producer, filmmaker, entrepreneur, researcher, teacher, manager.  If it pays well, then that’s a bonus… be patient as these things take time.  You will know it as you see changes in the communities you helped, in the people whose lives you have touched.  By that time you will know that you have found your place under the sun,” she said.

Despite the perils she faces, from libel suits to death threats, Vitug said she chooses controversy any time over timid and opaque reporting.

“Journalism is not about being nice to people, it is not about seeking to be on the good side of the powerful,” Vitug said.

Vitug has been a journalist for more than 30 years. SOPA writes that she received the Courage in Journalism Award from the US-based International Women’s Media Foundation for her reportage on the plunder of Palawan’s forests, the Jaime V. Ongpin Investigative Journalism award (as finalist), and the Ten Outstanding Young Filipinos award (in the field of journalism).  She obtained a Bachelor of Arts degree in Broadcast Communication from the University of the Philippines, was a Nieman Fellow at Harvard University from 1986 to 1987 and took postgraduate studies in international relations at the London School of Economics and Political Science where she graduated with Merit.―Mariamme D. Jadloc