How primetime TV newscasts can help improve Filipino lives
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2012-12-02
Speaking at the 9th Media Nation Conference, Polish Solidarity Movement’s Lech Walesa urged Philippine journalists to help shape the future of their country. Walesa’s Solidarity Movement had pushed Poland from a stagnant communist state into a vibrant democracy. As to the role of media when he led the Solidarity Movement, Walesa said: “My revolution and my victory depended so much on the media that’s why I see the solution through the media.”

When we talk about the tri-media reality today, we’ll eventually grapple with the value of television. Television networks outreach print publications and attract a much wider audience compared to radio. Of the three media, television networks are the most utilized for national elections. If we’re to upgrade the Filipino’s information level, television must be employed.

In past columns, your Chair Wrecker had raised several criticisms about how television networks have abrogated their primary responsibility to inform, in exchange for sensational stories that raise ratings and increase ad revenues. My criticisms focused on media responsibility to serve news consumers what they need to know and not just what they’ll enjoy watching.

If you simply left it to people to decide what they want to watch, then you’ll end up serving them showbiz gossip, sensational crime stories and celebrity controversies. Leave it to your kids what they want to watch and they’ll be glued to the cartoon channels.

TV primetime newscast ratings had increased when they started overloading the newscasts with showbiz gossip, crime and grime. However, this is attained at the expense of perpetuating the state of our under-informed public — Filipinos who are clueless of the factors and developments that directly affect their lives. We’ll have Filipinos who are updated on the juicy details in all showbiz controversies but unaware that jobs they’re hoping to land overseas may no longer be available owing to the global recession.

Instead of informing Filipinos where national and international economic trends are headed, the TV networks developed this counterproductive addiction to showbiz, scandals, sensational crime stories and celebrity controversies. In fact, to cater to this new orientation towards showbiz, scandals, crime and controversies, some TV networks have placed their TV newscasts under entertainment programming specialists. The news that used to be presented as it is — is now being produced like a regular telenovela. Broadcast journalists now have a much-diminished role in the making of the TV primetime newscasts.

The hard news — like local political and economic developments, international developments that affect Filipinos, new technological discoveries that replace or create human jobs, opportunities abroad for Filipinos — are news that allow Filipinos to make intelligent decisions that improve their lives. This type of news may not generate top ratings but their value to Filipino news consumers cannot be supplanted with showbiz gossip, scandals, controversies and crime stories. Showbiz gossip and crime stories will never produce a single job for a Filipino job seeker.

The government has the right to question this practice but does not for fear perhaps of being accused of censorship. However, it’s not censorship when the government merely demands from those awarded with franchises to operate a TV network that they should fulfill their obligation to render public service. The lower you go in the socio-economic ladder, the more you’ll find under-informed Filipinos. By under-informed means that many Filipinos are unaware of important developments that affect their lives.

Knowing why Angelica Panganiban broke off with Derek Ramsey and all its juicy details can never be considered more important than knowing how overseas jobs will soon start declining. The Angelica-Derek juicy details merely cater to the voyeur in you while knowing that overseas jobs will soon be unavailable allows Filipinos to make adjustments in their career decisions.

The TV networks might offer the excuse that they offer a lot of other more substantive programs that are not found in their sensationalized newscasts. The problem is it’s the primetime newscasts that most people watch and if the important developments that people have to know aren’t transmitted — then we perpetuate the state of our under-informed public.

Take the case of ABS-CBN and how they deal with this situation. ABS-CBN produces some very substantive and informative programs. One that stands out is “Failon Ngayon.” The documentary segments made by Abner Mercado and Atom Araullo are well researched, well written and also stand out. ABS-CBN pioneered in the co-opting of news consumers into TV Patrollers who share videos of important events.

However, “TV Patrol,” which is the highest ABS-CBN rating news program, hardly carry these productions with the exception of TV Patrollers. Failon Ngayon is allowed a few minutes in TV Patrol in what looks more like a promo for people to watch the program in its entirety on its scheduled timeslot.

Government has been delinquent in compelling broadcast franchise holders to follow to the letter their requirements and obligations of providing public service. This delinquency on the part of the government had allowed this situation to develop. Up to the mid-1980s, the TV newscasts followed a traditional protocol and served news according to their value to the viewing public.

Then ABS-CBN pulled the rug from under and transformed their newscast into what compares to print tabloid reporting. That initiated this era of junk on primetime TV newscasts. Editors used to be guided by news value in selecting what’s to be included in the newscast. Now, news value has given way to rating considerations.

A radical move could be to ban all advertising placements on all news programs. If the network is not forced to chase the advertising revenue, then their newscasts could be produced along the ideal model — that of serving the Filipino public what it needs to know.

Another corrective measure is for the advertisers to enforce the proper standards for their ad placements. When the advertisers demand more substantive content to the TV newscasts as a measure of helping upgrade the Filipino’s information level — those TV networks will shift from showbiz, crime and grime to news that help people to improve their lives.

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Shakespeare: “Madness in great ones must not unwatched go.”

  Previous Columns:

It had to happen on The Ides of March and Holy Week

Suggested guidelines for liability- free Internet posts

Election lawyer: PCOS critics should put up or shut up

All Excited by Pope Francis

A great disservice to P-Noy

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