BAYBAY CITY– AT 22, Troy Ortega almost had it all when it comes to facing hardship as a student journalist.

Publication staff of An Lantawan of Leyte Normal University in Tacloban City receive the “Campus Press of the Year” award during the Regional Tertiary Schools Press Conference at the Visayas State University in Baybay City on April 7, 2024. Some 400 campus journalists from 28 college and university publications across the Eastern Visayas region joined the event, which focused on battling against campus repression, artificial intelligence, and disinformation.
(Photo from An Lantawan)

“It was never easy,” said Ortega, shortly after An Lantawan publication bagged the “Campus Press of the Year” for main campuses of state universities and colleges in the Eastern Visayas region and the “Ben Domingo Jr. Award of Campus Press Freedom” on April 7, 2024.

Ortega recalled that prior to his appointment as publication editor-in-chief, An Lantawan faced attacks against press freedom through the filing of a cyber libel case by a university student leader against their former editor-in-chief Gio Costuna on July 17, 2023.

The publication also faced shutdown allegedly due to an alleged non-accreditation in October 2023.

“Winning these awards is not only for An Lantawan, but also for all of the student publications who up to this day, continue to fight against repression,” said Ortega, a fourth-year political science student.

Ortega, along with some 400 other campus journalists from 28 campus publications in the region, joined in this year’s return of the Eastern Visayas Regional Tertiary Schools Press Conference (RTSPC) at the Visayas State University (VSU) in Baybay City.

The event was the biggest regional gathering of campus writers, editors, journalism educators, communications experts, and national and international journalists who served as resource speakers.

“RTSPC has brought together student publications from State Universities and Colleges and Local Universities and Colleges to showcase their talents and dedication to journalism…You live here not just as competitors but as allies in the relentless pursuit of truth, justice, and excellence in journalism,” said Prose Ivy Yepes, VSU president.

Uldarico Alviola, head of the VSU Development Communication department and the interim president of Regional Tertiary Press Advisers Association, said that the “very role of campus journalists is vital in encouraging critical and creative thinking.”

A survey from Social Weather Stations in December 2021 alone showed that 51% or the majority of Filipinos had difficulty spotting fake news on social media, television, and radio.
Beyond laurels

International award-winning journalist Jeff Canoy, the ABS-CBN Integrated News chief of reporters, urged the young journalists to keep telling the stories of their communities.
“You don’t stop being a journalist. When something happens in front of you, you want to tell the story, and you want to tell it right,” said Canoy, who also encountered attacks against press freedom firsthand when their giant media network was shut down on May 5, 2020, during the watch of the firebrand then-president Rodrigo Duterte.

“We’re not sure where we’re going, but we have to boldly go, we have to keep on going,” added Canoy, who served as the keynote speaker during the event.

Another award-winning Filipino investigative journalist, Jamela Alindogan, called on campus writers to start looking at their journalistic crafts as “real, timely, and professional journalism.”

“You are not just students practicing one day to become journalists. You are already journalists,” said Alindogan, who covered stories for the Qatar-based Al Jazeera network.

Fight against AI

During the event, the campus writers were guided how to use Artificial Intelligence (AI) in the changing media landscape.

Veteran Filipino journalist Maria Ressa, the first Filipino Nobel Peace Prize awardee and CEO of online news site Rappler, said the strength of the Philippine democracy “depends on the quality of its journalists.”

“This is a time of creative destruction, and what you do today will determine the future of our country,” Ressa added, as she urged the young journalists to do their part for the betterment of the country.

“RTSPC was really a necessity for the campus journalists especially that we have witnessed what happened to An Lantawan publication, and in the midst of AI, and as majority of the people say that we can easily be replaced,” said Angelene Ave Crucillo of Palompon Institute of Technology’s Fulcrum publication.

“With this kind of event, our voices will be heard. Despite how little it is, if those ‘little voices’ collide, it can enforce strong power, and that was what happened during the said event,” Crucillo later told Leyte Samar Daily Express in an interview.

Zean Clifford Dellera of the Eastern Visayas State University (EVSU) publication, The Industrial Wheel, lauded the RTSPC event.

“In this age where fake news is rampant, the RTSPC is an avenue for campus journalists to learn ethical standards, and critical thinking skills from the best people to combat fake news,” she said.

In the 2023 Global Impunity Index, the Philippines still found itself on the list of worst countries for journalists, with the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) saying that for 16 consecutive years, perpetrators of journalist killings have gone unpunished in the country.