Before 2003, youth-oriented shows in the Philippines consisted of dramas about the love lives of what TV producers thought were "typical Filipino teens," portrayed by celebrities, educational shows that mimic the classroom setting, and cartoons.
Before 2003, the media portrayed the youth as restless and helpless, with little or no care about social, economic, and political issues.Before 2003, only kids from Metro Manila were given a chance to be exposed to mainstream media.
Before 2003, young people in a conservative country like the Philippines did not have a venue in mainstream media to formally express themselves. Adults did not trust the capabilities of these young people to enter and practice in the world of journalism…. and then there was the Kabataan News Network.
Lights… It was late 2003 when I was invited to be a reporter and producer for a television show Kabataan News Network (KNN), a joint project of the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF) and Probe Media Production Inc. (PMFI). I was 14 then. Crazy, right? Not entirely because that's the whole point of the show – young people were calling all the shots and doing all the production work – from choosing which stories to report on, researching and booking interviews, and doing the legwork during production, such as handling the camera and interviewing people, to scriptwriting and other post-production labor. It was then Chief Communication Officer UNICEF Dale Rustein who conceptualized the project. He worked on a similar project in the Balkans and thought he should bring the same proposal to Philippine soil.
UNICEF paired up with Probe Media Foundation Inc. (PMFI) in 2003. With UNICEF's funding for the TV production equipment, PMFI conducted basic journalism, video production, and child rights advocacy workshops for select young volunteers interested in working for the show. There were two batches of one-week intensive training sessions, and I attended the second one.
I noticed that my young co-reporters did not just come from different backgrounds but also from other places all over the Philippine archipelago. The cities where my fellow young, aspiring journalists came from were called "bureaus." At the onset of the project, there were nine bureaus comprising of Manila 1 and 2, Mountain Province, Cebu, Capiz, Davao, Camarines Norte, Zamboanga del Sur, North Cotabato.
After the training, my co-reporters went back to their hometowns. They started producing stories with their own set of production equipment and with various adult volunteers from Non-Government Organizations, schools, and Local Government Units as facilitators. My colleagues who weren't from Manila would send their work to the main office of PMFI. Their stories would be edited according to the scripts they made, packaged, and arranged to be broadcasted on national TV.
In September 2003, KNN first aired on the National Broadcasting Network (NBN-4) and ABSCBN News Channel as a thirty-minute show in magazine format. For a year, it aired only once a month on these channels. Nonetheless, it was the very first show on Philippine television with genuine youth participation. It also prides itself on being the first in Philippine broadcast TV to have active bureaus all over the country, with members representing cultural minorities and marginalized groups.
Our early stories included children working as pedicab drivers and the rehabilitation of children in conflict with the law made by fellow reporters from Cebu. Other stories were about a youth leader from Capiz, horse fighting in Davao, the effect of tribal wars on children from the Mountain Province, and Child NGOs in Zamboanga del Sur. In our Manila bureau, we worked on children of overseas Filipino workers, dangers on the road, and working students.
Camera… KNN was on a roll. In 2004, KNN began to air weekly on ABC5. Three more bureaus were added to the roster – Baguio, Negros Oriental, and Saranggani. In 2006, Mindoro had a bureau as well. Nickelodeon started to show segments from the show as interstitials and called it "KNN on Nick.
"When KNN was first created, its original goals were to: change the perception of young people in society; to give them a chance and a venue to demonstrate their capacities; to create a powerful youth-to-youth communication platform to talk about topics relevant to them; and to link marginalized youth populations (remote, indigenous, Muslim) with mainstream media. As the network grew and became more popular because of the increasing audience, we, the young reporters, felt that it was our duty not merely to report but to change something.
Also, we considered it an advantage that we were not pressured by any advertisers to come up with stories. This allowed us more freedom, which attests to the project's promise of genuine youth participation.
My fellow young journalists and I worked very hard on our stories. There was a time when our bureau reported on the 2007 congress elections. We interviewed the Kabataan Partylist, who was vying for seats and first-time voters. We also made a public service announcement about the youth and its role during elections. We had to shoot every day and finish the story as fast as possible because we targeted the story to air just before the elections.
A friend and co-reporter from North Cotabato, Pamz Amantiad, told me about one of the stories they made about a movie house that showed R-18 flicks, with minors working at the movie theater. They had to consult Probe's legal advisers regarding the story's production and airing.
Another friend and reporter, Tin Apin, told me how exhaustive her investigative story was on children working for mining sites in Camarines Norte.
"The issue is sensitive. Sensitive in the sense that people wouldn't like to talk about it, so while making the story, we didn't tell them that it's about child labor. We told them the most objective point of view of the story, which is about the process and how mining in the area works. As the story goes, I became subjective because of the kids I saw there – very young, under the heat, working with adults and even skipping school just so they can have a bit of gold and money," Tin explained.
She further explained how hard it was for her to write the script because she felt so many people were relying on her. She was afraid that she wouldn't give justice to the story.
Fortunately, all our efforts are not in vain. Our work did get noticed and recognized. In 2005, Manila Bureau's "Anak ng OFW" story was a finalist in the Child Rights award sponsored by the Asia-Pacific Broadcasting Union. In 2006, the program was awarded the Anak TV seal. The same year, Apple Fale's story, "Juvenile Justice," was the only work done by the youth to get a special mention at the Lasallian Scholarum awards. In 2007, Salibatbat, a story about corporal punishment in the province of Pampanga, became a finalist in the New York Film Festivals. In 2008, Baguio reporter Kirk Belmonte's short film, Breath of Freedom, about child labor, was a finalist at the Stranger Festival held in Germany.
"I would gladly say that the youth became more empowered. We have a say since we were given the chance to participate [in the festival]," said Danz Maderazo, the reporter for Salibatbat.
Besides the recognition, I remember Apple telling me that the viewers really do respond to our stories and that we don't just have young viewers but adult viewers, too! She said someone saw her feature on a child shining shoes in public utility vehicles and decided to sponsor that child's education.
In 2007, Kabataan News Network changed its name to "Kabataan X-Press," as it aired on ABS-CBN 2 from February to May. However, the bureaus were still called the Kabataan News Network. It then aired on UniversiTV and Knowledge Channel.
Since KNN lost its TV time, it evolved into an online media collective.(Note: KNN episodes can be viewed on the Kabataan News Network YouTube Channel, the KNN Facebook Page, and the Mulat Pinoy website.)
In June 2008, KNN held its first tri-media national youth conference. About 50 participants from different provinces attended, where they planned to produce stories on violence against children. This was the first official step of KNN in expanding into a media collective, which now includes print and radio. (Note: In 2013, KNN merged with PMFI's other youth program, Mulat Pinoy, to become Mulat Pinoy-Kabataan News Network)
It was often said that there are things that young people can see or understand that adults cannot. Because of KNN, these once-silent voices considered insignificant are now being taken seriously.
Note: At the time of the article's publication, the writer, Nicai de Guzman, was 18 years old. Nicai is currently a board member of PMFI.