When a panel of executives from the Philippines’ top broadcasting networks defended their industry last September before legislators examining the news media’s conduct during a botched hostage rescue, the fact that four of the five executives were women attracted little comment. But it spoke volumes about the change the country’s journalism has undergone in recent decades, from an overwhelmingly male-dominated profession to one where women now hold sway. The watershed came in the last few years of the dictatorship of Ferdinand Marcos, who ruled for nearly two decades and was toppled in a popular revolt in 1986. When Mr. Marcos imposed martial law in 1972, many of the mostly male editors and reporters who were critical of him were imprisoned or went underground to join the resistance. The men who remained in the newsrooms were often co-opted by the government or operated clandestinely to put out opposition publications.
Into the breach came the women, who up to then had been largely sidelined in feature supplements or less consequential jobs. For the first time, they took over key positions in news organizations. In several instances, they directly challenged the government with reports and commentaries that contributed to the groundswell of opposition against Mr. Marcos. Today, these women and the ones they hired and promoted dominate the country’s largest broadcast networks, its most influential newspapers and magazines, and investigative journalism nonprofit organizations. “You cannot explain the rise of the women journalists without talking about martial law,” said Inday Espina-Varona, a journalist since the Marcos era who now runs the citizen-journalism program of ABS-CBN, the country’s largest broadcast network.
“When the men were struggling back into journalism, the women were already there.” The Marcos dictatorship had a “radicalizing effect” on many women in the Philippines, especially journalists, Belinda A. Aquino, a historian at the University of Hawaii at Manoa, wrote in the 1994 book “Women and Politics Worldwide.” Lourdes Molina-Fernandez, managing editor of the Web site Interaksyon and the former editor in chief of Business Mirror, a Manila paper, said: “That period a few years right before Marcos fell — that was the time when women gained ascendancy in the newsroom because of the sheer preponderance of women writing very critical articles against the dictatorship.” She herself was fresh out of college at the height of the dictatorship and worked for anti-Marcos and leftist publications.