Wednesday, 18 July 2007

On Why Voice-Manila Cannot Be A Student-funded Publication

Third and last part

Throughout the years, the publication had endured the campus administration’s methods – be it censorship, withholding of information or unscrupulous power play, among others. All of this the Voice went through while tagged as “the school and student publication of TIP.” As such, the idea of the Voice becoming student-funded has been around for a long time. However, there are factors that prevent the aforementioned from happening, and they all involve the publication staff.
As mentioned in the first part of this series, the staff receives scholarships every semester on the basis of their performance and academic standing. As such, the promise of a scholarship is what drives some students to join the publication. In exchange for his service to the publication, a staff alleviates his/ his parent’s burden of having to pay for tuition every semester.

Upon being admitted in the publication as a trainee, I was told by a senior staff not to be critical in my writings, for it is foolish to “bite the hands that feed you,” referring to the scholarship that I would eventually receive from the administration (oh my, look at what I’m doing right now).
Thus, this is the situation: as long as the staff receives and hankers for the scholarship that TIP gives away, there would always be students who would join the publication yearning for the same thing, and may not even try to be critical writers to ensure that they continue to receive scholarships.

Fear is another factor that restricts the staff from pursuing independence. A campaign pushing for the Voice’ autonomy from the administration – which obviously would have to be lead by the publication (and maybe the student council, though I doubt that) – may be branded by the administration as “activism,” something the school’s higher-ups is not fond of, as evidenced by the recent harassments done to Voice-QC. As far as I know, the editorial board line-up there got shuffled, all thanks to the actions of ranking school officials and the lure of a scholarship. It happened because Voice-QC was publishing critical articles, among others. But that’s another story.

Such is the retaliation of the school administration. I don’t know if such actions have reached the school president. But if it has, I wonder why she even allowed it.

In my three-year stay in the publication, suffice it to say that I have met people who were afraid of being at the receiving end of the administration’s wrath, or at the very least, be placed on hot waters. Instead of wanting to write critical articles (even those bordering on national issues), they would rather choose to focus on “safe” topics.

That circumstance exists within the publication because even the members themselves are not consolidated.

This could be attributed to the fact that there is no clear line concerning the Voice and its members – especially the trainees – with regards to the publication’s nature. It is stuck being a school and student paper. Thus its members are left in a void as to which of the two (school/ administration and student) is more important. Anyone could join: provided that he passes the competitive examination and interview. Unlike truly progressive publications, where everyone is united under a similar set of ideologies, the Voice is a melting pot of conflicting beliefs.

Let me give you an example: a senior staff once asked me to explain myself to him, and convince him in the process, about my beliefs and actions inside and outside the publication office being the “right” thing to do. He told me even before I started talking that he believes the Voice should remain under the administration’s leash. Guess there wasn’t any point in my explanation from the get-go. It is ironic to think that the Voice’ chances at becoming a student-funded publication is held back by its own staff of students.

Because of this setup, the Voice is divided. A staff cannot expect full support from his colleagues when he comes under fire from the administration, as some of them need the scholarship, are afraid of retaliation and who harbor greatly different points of view.

Until the desire for change and progress comes from within the staff and students themselves, then the Voice will still be stuck in the void it made itself for the past two decades.

This is the last of a three-part article regarding Voice-Manila, the official school and student publication of the Technological Institute of the Philippines-Manila. I stand by the belief that for the Voice to be truly independent from the administration, it should start within itself.

First step: the staff should be under one goal, one solid ideology. You cannot expect the publication to function as it should if its members are of conflicting schools of thought. A clear policy should be made as to what the Voice stands for, and the staff should adhere to it.

Next, it should lead the campaign for its autonomy, educating the student population about their situation and clarifying that paying an additional student publication fee would be best for them. Of course, the collection of fees would have to be made clear and its process done effectively and efficiently during enrollment periods.

They should also stop accepting scholarships from the administration as soon as they get the campaign started, as it is a clear sign of compromise. Perhaps the publication could give honorarium to its staff, taken from the collected student publication fee. It might be much less than a scholarship, but that is one of the trade-offs, one of the prices for freedom.

A student publication is one that is independently managed and published by the studentry. One joins it because he wants to serve the studentry. The rest are just icing on the cake.

Now if only the student council could step up to the challenge, then maybe things could really start rolling.

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