The nice thing about the media in Cebu is that all serious reporting is in English. Of course, this means that the poorer classes, who speak no English and little Tagalog, are deprived of access to the media. But as an anglophone expat, staying informed won't pose any difficulties at all.
The unfortunate thing about the media in Cebu is that, while reporting is tougher and more independent than in less developed parts of the country, almost all media organizations - publishers and radio stations - are owned by major political families, who all have vested interests. This limits the extent to which the reporters can expose wrongdoings.
Cebu has several dailies: the SunStar Cebu, the The Freeman, and the Cebu Daily News, published by the Manila-based Inquirer group. The publisher of the SunStar also publishes the Cebuano-language Super Balita. Of the three, the SunStar is the leader in terms of market share. The SunStar Cebu is part of a group of nationwide tabloids published locally in major cities of the Philippines - such as Davao, Baguio, etc.
All three papers have online editions; the SunStar Cebu and the The Freeman are particularly good. If you are considering settling in Cebu, you should definitely start reading one of these regularly before arriving at Mactan International Airport.
While all three English-language newspapers offer classifieds, Cebu's classifieds ad market - comprised mostly of help wanted ads, but also ads for vehicles and real estate - is dominated by the hefty Sunday edition of the SunStar. In fact, a good many Cebuanos only buy the SunStar on Sundays; the Sunday issue offers, in addition to classifies, a synopsis of the week's news.
The SunStar costs about 10 pesos when purchased from street vendors (although the published price is 8) on weekdays and 15-20 pesos on Sundays. Daily delivery is possible only within the urban areas of Cebu.
In addition to the local papers, national papers published in Manila - such as the Philippine Star, the Inquirer, and the Manila Bulletin - are widely available in Cebu. The editorial quality of the Manila papers is - sad to say - still far higher than that of the local papers.
TV is dominated by the Tagalog-language terrestial broadcasters, GMA and ABS-CBN. Cebuano programming is limited, and exists mainly in the form of a few hours in the evening, plus the popular Saturday variety show Sabado Na Gyud! Smaller channels such as RPN and IBN offer English-language national news.
Cebu City now has one cable monopoly, Sky Cable, headquarted on AS Fortuna in Mandaue and with offices at SM and Century Plaza. The monthly rate, at about 650 pesos, is reasonable, but service - as with all monopolies - is atrocious. Mactan and Toledo have their own smaller cable monopolies.
A better bet for the expat is Dream Satellite, which offers a decent number of channels via satellite and can be used anywhere in the Philippines. The picture quality is far better than the cable alternative, though the signal does suffer somewhat during heavy rain. Installation - including the dish, the decoder, and the labor - costs less than 10,000 pesos. A basic plan - without most movie channels - costs 350 pesos a month; the most common package costs around 750 per month. Dream satellite accounts are reloaded via prepaid cards, just like cellphones and Internet access accounts.
For a smallish city in a third-world country, Cebu boasts a huge number of FM radio stations. The variety of radio stations mirrors the spectrum of society. On one end of the spectrum are the sosyal English-language stations, which mostly play Western music; on the other end are the Bisdak stations, which play Tagalog-language pop songs in addition to Western stuff.
Of the English-language stations, three are aimed at a fairly young audience. Killerbee (92.3), Y101 (101.1) and Monster (105.9) play contemporary pop. R&B, hiphop, rock, etc. NU 107 (107.5) is relayed from Manila and plays hard rock and heavy metal; it's a favorite among younger expats because the DJ's speak superb English. W-Rock (96.3) and Charlie (101.9), meanwhile, play light rock, and the demographic is slightly older. There are two stations for smooth jazz, most of it instrumental, Crossover (90.7) and City Lite (89.9). Cebu has, as yet, no classical stations.
There is a genre of music here called standard songs. These are pop hits of yesteryear which have become popular favorites and are sung at karaoke stalls or hummed while in the bath. Quite a few stations play these standard songs, but RJ 100 (100.3) and Home Radio (106.7) seem to be particularly obsessive.
The leading lights of the Bisdak stations have wonderful nicknames. 99.5 and 97.1 are named Ninduta-ah (which means "Very Nice!") and Lupig Sila ("We Beat 'Em Up!") respectively. Snapping at the heels of these two is Hot FM (91.5). Other Bisdak stations include Kiss FM (93.9), Energy FM (94.7), Love Radio (95.1), Star FM (95.5), Wild FM (103.5), and Ultimate Radio (105.1) - which used to be a sosyal English-language station.
The DJ's of the Bisdak stations use Cebuano to communicate with their listeners, but the music played is mostly Tagalog or Western - either easily digestible mass-market pop, or techno-euro-dance. For the benefit of the peasant population, Cebuano songs - folk tunes, some of them rather silly - are played in the wee hours of the morning.
There is one radio station which resists pigeon-holing: Mom's Radio (88.3). The DJ's - actually I suspect there is only one - speak in English and Cebuano, and talk about various issues of interest to mothers. The DJ plays all kinds of music and often has guests over for chats about health and other issues. I have no idea when she takes care of her kids.
The AM radio stations are entirely Bisdak, and focus on news, talk, and drama serials in Cebuano. The drama serials are invaluable for students of the Cebuano language.
The better known stations are Bantay Radyo, Super Radyo, and Bombo Radyo.
The AM stations often expose injustice and corruption, and are followed wildly by the working class. A controversy has arisen lately because some stations sell airtime to commentators known as blocktimers, who then extort money from elected officials and civil servants - and proceed to castigate them viciously on air if the money isn't paid. Quite a racket.
There is only one Cebu-based magazine that I know of, namely the bimonthly Zee. This is a fairly elitist publication which allows the high society of Cebu to be seen by the rest. Expensive establishments are also featured. Writers - or rather contributors - seem to be selected on the basis of status, rather than writing ability, but I have to admit that the photography and the page design are gorgeous. Zee is available at supermarket checkout counters for about P100.