HIGHLIGHTS

  • In 1967, he founded Business Day, Southeast Asia’s first daily newspaper devoted to business, addressing the need to make complex economic information comprehensible to the public.
  • He sharpened his staff, mostly bright young graduates, in free-wheeling office discussions and formed them into research teams to undertake exhaustive investigations.
  • Locsin led in rebuilding the Philippine Press Institute after the ravages of martial law and has devoted himself to strengthening the country’s hundreds of community newspapers.
  • The RMAF Board of Trustees recognizes “his enlightened commitment to the principle that, above all, a newspaper is a public trust.”

 CITATION

The free press of the Philippines is a national glory. Yet it is often troubled. The dictator Marcos suppressed it for years. And, every day, a variety of insidious pressures undermines its integrity. Newspaper owners bend the news to serve private interests. Reporters sell their pens. Editors succumb to market forces that favor sensational stories over sober facts, all the more so the sorts of sober economic facts Raul L. Locsin specializes in. In his career of four decades, Locsin has withstood these pressures. In doing so, he has nurtured business reporting in the Philippines from infancy to robust maturity.

Raul Locsin received his early schooling at his mother’s knee in wartime Negros Occidental, where his father published a Spanish-language newspaper. In a youthful venture with his brother, Locsin also published a local newspaper. Then, for eleven years, he became a salesman. He hated it, he says. Taking a huge cut in pay, he joined the Manila Chronicle and gravitated to the business section.

It was the early 1960s. Economic development was the watchword of the era; GNP measured a country’s success or failure. Locsin knew that few people understood what “GNP” meant, not to mention other terms favored by the region’s rising technocrats: current account, deficit spending, aggregate demand. Discerning the need to make complex economic information comprehensible to the public, in 1967 he founded Business Day, Southeast Asia’s first daily newspaper devoted to business.

Credibility was the key to his success. Locsin made a pact with his readers that Business Day would be fair and accurate, that it would strive for balance, that it would report the truth. He recruited bright, young graduates and molded them into insightful economic reporters and analysts. He sharpened them in free-wheeling office discussions and formed them into research teams to undertake exhaustive investigations. He forbade them to keep the bribes routinely offered by Manila’s influence seekers. Locsin also warned advertisers that only advertising space was for sale at Business Day, not “editorial space.” And he instructed his editors, on a sign at the office door, to “remove your biases and leave them here.”

Under martial law, Business Day survived as the capital’s sole independent newspaper. In a climate of disinformation, it became the gold standard for accuracy. Locsin tested the limits of press freedom and, in 1983, denounced the assassination of Benigno Aquino, Jr., in an impassioned editorial. Afterwards, Business Day contributed importantly to the rising chorus of dissent leading to the People Power Revolution of 1986. Locsin then led in reestablishing press freedom. Characteristically, he opposed the seizure of Marcos-friendly newspapers by the new government and reminded his readers that gross national inequalities still remained, along with “corrupt patronage politics thriving on the arrogant exercise of power and public plunder.”

Following a labor dispute in 1987, Locsin closed Business Day and contemplated a self-indulgent retirement. But when former employees pressed him to start up again, he did so, with one crucial change. The employees now became owners. Enhanced by computerized technology, Business World flourished from the start. Circulating today to fifty-four thousand subscribers and also “on line,” it remains a benchmark of quality.

Locsin led in rebuilding the Philippine Press Institute after the ravages of martial law and also the press council. He has devoted himself to strengthening the country’s hundreds of community newspapers. It matters to do so, he believes. Although a free press is only one component of democracy, it is a basic one. “All the freedoms in our Bill of Rights,” he says, “are of no use without the right to speak freely.”

In electing Raul L. Locsin to receive the 1999 Ramon Magsaysay Award for Journalism, Literature, and Creative Communication Arts, the board of trustees recognizes his enlightened commitment to the principle that, above all, a newspaper is a public trust.

 RESPONSE

Your Excellency, President Joseph Ejercito Estrada, First Lady, Dr. Luisa Ejercito Estrada, Members of the Magsaysay family, distinguished guests, trustees, fellow awardees, ladies and gentlemen:

It is for me an honor to be here tonight and be among those acknowledged as one of those who have contributed a share to the endeavors of the community; albeit, in some small measure when put side by side with those who have made really deep changes in the milieu they live in. It is also with humility that I accept this award, not only for myself, but also, in behalf of the countless men and women of who have left footprints across time and space to hurriedly tell the story of mankind as the events took place in his sweep across history. As long as man exists, there will always be someone called the journalist to tell his story, his challenges and his dreams; even his shame and failures.

In today’s world it is now a largely respectable profession of chronicle events, it was not so in the past when it was almost fatal to be the bearer of bad news though it still is sometimes lethal especially in societies where an enlightened environment in the exercise of free thought and free expression has not yet come into its own.

Freedom of the press and expression in the Philippines is guaranteed by the Bill of Rights in her Constitution by a provision not unlike that in the First Amendment of the American Charter from where the Philippine organic law drew a lot of its substance during the establishment of what was then the Philippine Commonwealth.

Unlike in the other countries in the rest of Asia, our newspapers, took their roots from the practices of American journalism oftentimes with mimicry far surpassing that of the original model.

Subsequent amendments to our organic law may have altered our political structures but have kept intact the intent of the provision on press freedom which makes the press in this country the only organized business accorded constitutional protection.

The rationale behind this particular provision is that all other freedoms in the citizen’s bill of rights become defenseless if freedom of expression is abridged. It is not therefore strange that those that who would be dictators or who would seek to impose authoritarian rule first assault the press to eventually silence the citizen.

In a sense therefore journalism becomes a commitment for those who exercise it. I am proud to be part of it. Thank you.

 BIOGRAPHY

The Philippines is reputed to have the freest mass media system in Asia. It has not always been so. At various points in its long history-one that dates back to the appearance of the news sheet called Del Superior Govierno in 1811-Philippine journalism had to struggle with state repression and censorship. The authoritarian rule of Ferdinand Marcos (1972-1986) was a recent example.

Even in more democratic times, Philippine media is not wholly free. Where media is embedded in a society marked by deep structural inequalities, there are constraints arising from facts of ownership, distribution, and access. There are always instruments, outside direct censorship, to influence, intimidate, or silence those that carry and distribute the news. There are problems in media itself as a profession, problems occasioned by lack of support, inadequate training, weak ethical standards, and market pressures. Even in the best of times, there is no such thing as an unmanipulated media since what makes for news has to be recognized, selected, processed, and formatted.

Media work, given these realities, is a minefield. This is particularly so in economically depressed politically volatile Third World environments such as the Philippines. To successfully navigate the dangers in this field and claim for media a respected place both as profession and social institution is no mean achievement. It is an achievement that honors the Filipino journalist Raul L. Locsin.

(For the complete biography, please email biographies@rmaf.org.ph)