PNA marks 46th year

By Severino Samonte

February 28, 2019, 6:52 pm

MANILA—The Philippine News Agency or PNA was inaugurated in Malacanang on March 1, 1973 as the official news agency of the government of the Philippines by then Information Minister Francisco S. Tatad.

It replaced the country’s first privately-owned Philippine News Service or PNS, which was established at the National Press of the Philippines Bldg. in Intramuros, Manila by the owners of the country’s eight major national newspapers.

The first set of PNA’s correspondents was picked from the former PNS stringers covering the country’s then 70 provinces and 60 cities. A number of former staff members of the defunct Manila newspapers later joined the PNA Central Desk as editors, reporters and photographers.

At the outset, four PNA correspondents were assigned each to cover the then existing four Philippine Constabulary Zones in Luzon, the Visayas and Mindanao. These were the 1st PC Zone in Camp Olivas, Pampanga; 2nd PC Zone in Camp Vicente Lim, Laguna; 3rd PC Zone in Cebu; and 4th PC Zone in Davao.

During the martial law years, the PNA, together with the so-called “Big Four” news agencies–Reuters, Agence France Presse (AFP), Associated Press (AP) and United Press International (UPI)–covered the entire archipelago, bringing news around the Philippines to the outside world as much as possible. For a while, PNA even entered into a news exchange agreement with some of these foreign news agencies particularly in bringing global news to the countryside through its subscribers of provincial news outlets.

In 1974, or a year after its birth, PNA inaugurated its first domestic bureau in Cebu City, opening a new era for the media in the country’s second largest, most cosmopolitan city. Seven tabloid-sized newspapers there, including The Freeman, Cebu Advocate, and Cebu Daily News, began to carry current national and foreign news through the PNA wires, a radical departure from their former purely local coverage. This placed them in a position to compete for circulation in the Visayas and Mindanao with the major national dailies published in Manila.

The same year also saw the opening of similar PNA bureaus in Iloilo, Baguio, Davao, San Fernando, Pampanga; Cagayan de Oro, Bacolod, and Dagupan. These were followed by Lucena City, Legazpi, Cotabato, Tacloban, Zamboanga, Dumaguete, Iligan, Laoag, Tuguegarao, San Fernando, La Union; Jolo, Sulu; and Los Baños, Laguna.

The peak number of domestic bureaus stood at 23 in 1975, with the opening of additional bureaus in Cabanatuan City, General Santos City and Tagbilaran City. However, this number of bureaus was reduced drastically as a result of cost-cutting measures in later years.

After the 1986 EDSA People Power Revolution, with the opening of a number of new newspapers which offered higher salaries, many PNA-trained reporters tried their hands at newspapering and in the broadcast field. Many of today’s editors in several national newspapers had once cut their journalistic teeth at the PNA newsroom.

Until 1986, the PNA, through the former Office of Media Affairs (OMA) headed by then Information Minister Gregorio S. Cendana (RIP), had overseas bureaus in San Francisco, California; Sacramento, Los Angeles, New York, Washington, Chicago, Toronto (Canada), Sydney (Australia) and Jeddah. These were closed down after the EDSA Revolution.

During the government reorganization in 1987, the BNFI was abolished and replaced with two new bureaus the present-day News and Information Bureau (NIB) and the Bureau of Communications Services (BCS).

At present, PNA remains a division of the NIB which is under the direct supervision of Director Virginia Arcilla-Agtay.

PNA’s day-to-day editorial operations at its headquarters on the second floor of the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) Bldg. at the National Media Center along Visayas Ave. in Quezon City are being handled by acting executive Editor Luis A. Morente, assisted by acting managing editor Cynthia Villanueva, and several senior editors.

In the 46 years of its existence, PNA has transferred seven times--five times around the Intramuros area in Manila and twice in Quezon City, the latest in 1996 when it settled at its present headquarters on the second floor of the PIA Bldg.

On its 10th year, or on Jan. 18-22, 1983, PNA, through the former Office of Media Affairs, hosted the First ASEAN Editors’ Conference in Manila. OMA was the precursor of the Office of Press Secretary (OPS), which has been renamed Presidential Communications and Operations Office or PCOO.

The five-day conference was participated in by the then 24 members of the Asia-Pacific News Network or ANN, a news exchange system which linked news agencies in 24 countries in the region stretching from Iran to Japan and from the then Soviet Union to Indonesia.

It operates under the aegis of the expanded Organization of Asia-Pacific News Agencies (OANA). Its framework was based on the round-the-clock satellite-computerized ASEAN News Exchange (ANEX) among Antara of Indonesia Bernama of Malaysia, PNA of the Philippines and Thai News Agency of Thailand, and its links with the Press Trust of India and Yonhap of South Korea.

To date, PNA remains as the official state news agency of the Philippines listed in the membership of the OANA, an association of news agencies from UNESCO member states in the Asia-Pacific region.

Major changes

The PNA underwent major operational changes since 2017 with improvements in its website, editorial operations, and facilities.

Its website obtained more than 1,439,620 page views as of Jan. 31, 2019, marking a 3,766 percent increase since the new website was launched in April 2017 when it only had 37,230 views. The PNA is also on Facebook (/pnagovph) and Twitter (@pnagovph).

Its first webcast, titled PNA Newsroom, aired on Oct. 16, 2017, provides the public with a rundown of the day’s top stories from Monday to Friday.

The PNA Newsroom also produces the “Pros and Cons” -- a weekly talk show that is also aired on state-run PTV-4; “Business Matters”, which regularly airs every Friday; and the "One on Juan" talk show aired twice a month. (PNA)