The children all gathered together and sung a medley. Their parents and relatives were applauding and cheering for them. The head segment producer of Rated K was instructing his camera crew to zoom in and capture the kids’ facial expressions. After the shoot, I overheard a mother telling her child that she is so proud of him to be singing there and that she is extremely excited to see him and the rest of the choir to be featured in Korina Sanchez’s show the following week.

“Siguro dadami na yung mga tourista dito sa isla.” One fisherman exclaimed.

I was invited by the Antique tourism to join them as they show the researchers of Rated K around the province. We went to Malalison Island after a quick survey on Seco Island. The island of Malalison is located 4km west of Culasi, Antique which can be reached via an outrigger boat for approximately 20 minutes. More than 600 people live there in the island and their primary means of living is fishing. According to a study made by Agbayani in 2000, 75% of the population is below the poverty line.

That day of shooting, I became witness to the impact of one small event to the village. The 55-hectare island with its unspoiled beauty has a promising potential to become the next tourist attraction in a few years. While I was sitting under the Talisay tree, I was pondering on the significance of media, communication, and culture all playing complementary roles with one another. Aside from the snorkeling gear and extra clothing in my bag, I was also carrying my Development Communication notes. It was perfect timing to be able to learn, observe, and see its application in one setting.

It only took me a few minutes to piece everything together. Realizations on how certain concepts are interrelated and how communication and media result to positive social change. I was in awe with the realness of topics, its relationship to my way of thinking, and how it feels different when it is actually practiced. With a background in Nursing and less familiarity with sociology, culture, and media, I was clearly lost with the lessons in the subject. But being exposed to a live representation of the theories in action, I was relieved.

Empowerment, as I have witnessed in them, is their zest to receive tourists. Their eagerness to make their island clean and well-kept. They became ambassadors of their beautiful home. When they began verbalizing how excited they were to tour people around the place, assist them in hiking the hills, or accompanying them in snorkeling areas, to me, they were empowered. All because of media and communication, these people in the village were empowered. Inspired to make small changes, inspired to earn, and inspired to become independent individuals.

In order for people to be empowered, it is essential for them to acquire knowledge and information which could aid them in making good decisions. Good decisions are mainly supported by sound judgments, valid reasons, and individual consciousness which is shaped by one’s values, beliefs, and culture. Media then becomes a person’s primary source of information. The people in the island are consumers of media ranging from television, radio broadcasting, and sometimes the internet. But these sources of information came from top-down approaches which are seldom viewed as impositions, spoon-feeding, and are mass distributed. Clearly not intended to specific social groups.

There is great emphasis on “bi-directional” communication in lieu with social change and transformation of a community. Communication becomes the key to get people involved in order to have that two-way exchange of thoughts and ideas, allowing people to be heard, to contribute, to be able to share their voice. Thus, the bottom-up approach where information flows freely, targeting specific topics of concern, and in turn, link to larger components.

For these people to feel empowered, running within the line of horizontal and participative communication, there must have been a change within them, specifically, behavioral change. Communication plays a significant role in the interplay of ideas within a group of people utilizing a dialogical process to further understand what problems they are facing, and what could be done in order to solve that problem. Hence, they are below the poverty line. A problem so common in the country wherein these villagers feel the need to overcome.

In order for communication and media to be consumed and understood by the people it is but essential to make the distribution process more individualized. Having concrete ideas about various frameworks and philosophies could help explain how meaning is perceived and how people use the information they have. Another aspect of empowerment involves the possession of knowledge as a form of power. It is an element that categorizes people with knowledge as equipped with the information needed to go about their daily living. Without relevant, timely and understandable data dissemination, it is impossible for people, especially the poor, to take effective action.

Media empower people and there are theories and schools of thoughts regarding its effect to society, most especially in a global scale. Different perspectives emerge from various intellectuals, philosophers, and social scientists, explaining their views regarding specific facets of mass media.

During the time of Raymond Williams, mass media is seen, in the democratic view, as helping to secure rights of people by disseminating information and a pluralism of views. He believed that public opinions influence the government, enabling the people to voice out their opinions through forums and local discussions. To him, their voices matter.

Marxist and Neo-Marxist approaches focused on the independence of mass media in capitalist and liberal democracies. Following it was the birth of studies and researches of political economy of the media. Golding and Murdoch argues that public service broadcasters operate in capitalism, finding ways to compete for their audiences. Emphasis was placed on media imperialism, conglomeration, and ownership. Antonio Gramsci’s ‘Prison Writings’ had a strong influence on media research. To him, social groups exercise dominance by obtaining the consent of the majority. Media then had a central role in developing public compliance.

The Frankfurt School writers stressed the interaction between base and superstructure. They contested the Marxist view and argued that the modern mass media has blocked the proletariat’s ability to create social and political consciousness amongst men. Adorno and Horkheimer believed that the mass reproduction of media has changed the role of films, posters and records. Instead of having autonomy, they distract their audience, mainly earning profits by mere distraction. Mass production reduces distinctiveness and critical edge. They both saw an interconnected ‘culture industry’.

Stuart Hall’s take on encoding and decoding placed emphasis on audience reception. The difference of message decoding from the media to the audiences. He stressed that the meaning does not always lie in the text or message but rather to the end user or receiver. He claims that people are not ‘blank sheets’ due to the mere fact that they all bring their personalities and identities when they engage with media.

Post structuralism gave way to the concept of deconstruction, as expounded by Jacques Derrida. He aims to dissolve ‘binary oppositions’ wherein everything are just believed to be true because they were constructed by language. One element could not exist without reference to the other. He explained that all meaning could never be final, there is no structure, no center, and no univocal meaning. Derrida’s quest to question the legitimacy of ideas has opened more doors to entertain all sorts of ideas. Post modernity and Feminism both operate as branches of post structuralism, challenging what are believed to be norms, making huge leaps toward concepts on relativism, cultural specificity, and feminism.

An in-depth understanding of the theories of media could help immensely in creating ripples of change. People can be empowered through the proper utilization of media and communication taking into consideration their culture. Culture in the context of communication exists within the meaning-making of individuals and groups through formed relationships. Meanings are created by people when they engage in media or when information reaches them. These meanings or ‘imaginings’ are constructed by human consciousness which are shaped by their individuality (emotions, experiences, values, beliefs). Knowing how to reach targeted audiences could prevent misinterpretation of information because meaning systems in language serve as barriers to effective communication.

The villagers in Malalison island are now in the stage of transformation. Families living there have alternative means of earning, giving them the opportunity to become stewards of the island, making use of the resources to improve their way of living, motivating them to become part of a future tourist spot in Antique, holding them accountable for their actions and decisions. Through media (Rated K, Travel Writers, Online Advocates), the locals, through their collective effort, will contribute to their competence and satisfaction as an empowered social group.

With all the concepts and readings in the subject, I have seen and experienced the way it works both internally and externally. Governed by the learnings from various schools of thought, I was able to relate some existing concepts to the text, like Raymond Williams’ and Derrida’s view. Post modernism and Feminism both opened my eyes to the reality of things. How it merged flawlessly with communication and diversified cultures intrigued me to read more and to understand more the underlying gist of it. From this experience, open communication, in my view, guarantees fairness, equality, and becomes a path to progress. Slowly but surely, the villagers are getting there.

(Published: October 25, 2014)