Bribe if you can’t coerce the media
HIGH GROUND By William M. Esposo 2006-03-29
NOT CONTENT with the number of journalists who are already mouthing the government line, Madame Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo now attempts to use the estimated P3.3 billion in annual advertising expenditures of government to influence media owners and managers. How else do we interpret Executive Order 511, dated March 6, 2006, about the so-called rationalization of government advertising spending other than it is another scheme to influence media through ad revenues?
After Proclamation 1017 and its "hangover" effects have failed to coerce the media, the Arroyo regime has decided to form another media group -- this time to preside over the media advertising of all government agencies and corporations. Creating a Communications Group under the Office of the President, Madame Arroyo placed the management of the P3.3-billion annual advertising budget of government under Press Secretary Toting Bunye, new Philippine Information Agency head Dodie Limcaoco, and Cerge Remonde, who heads the government-owned or -controlled media.

Under the economic conditions that we are in, there is no denying how a budget of P3.3 billion can make many media owners salivate. Easily 75 percent of the print, radio and television media would jump at the chance to get a sizeable chunk of that budget.

Our media situation is quite lopsided. Three dailies dominate the English broadsheet market. Two mega networks virtually monopolize television ratings and revenues, and the radio stations of these two mega television networks also rule over the radio media market.

Unable to offer serious competition in their respective markets, the lagging print and broadcast media companies will find it hard to resist the Malacañang carrot. Survival is a very powerful motivator. The instinct to survive has prodded people to do what they themselves thought they were incapable of doing. In our society where corruption has become an accepted way of life for many -- that is 3.3 billion reasons for many media companies to start singing the Palace song.

Without even tackling the patently political aspect of the executive order, the practice is anomalous and will disadvantage the agencies and government corporations that need these advertising monies in order to fulfill their mandate.

No private company with diversified brand interests to promote will do what the administration just did. Advertising is a marketing tool and the marketing team of a brand knows best how to utilize that tool.

Thus, you will see that a company like San Miguel Corporation with diversified brands that are competing in different markets will allow the marketing team of a brand to plan and conduct only its own brand advertising. San Miguel Beer does not target the same advertising audience of Purefoods, another San Miguel brand, and so there is no sense in consolidating the advertising monies of both brands. Doing so will only disadvantage one or both brands.

By placing advertising under another level of bureaucracy that is not even integral to the marketing team, the organization suffers the following setbacks:

1. It loses control over one of its most potent tools. This is as unthinkable as assigning to the navy the supervision and deployment of the armor divisions of the army.

2. Action and reaction time is unnecessarily delayed because of the added level of bureaucracy. In the world of marketing wars, this can result in substantial losses in both sales revenues and opportunities.

3. Because advertising is a prime marketing tool and sales support, the loss of direct control will erode the chances of success of the marketing organization.

The same management standards apply to government agencies that use advertising. Just like any corporation with a brand to sell, government is in the business of selling its services to the nation. Bunye, Remonde and Limcaoco cannot possibly know better than the marketing team of the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office, the gaming firm Pagcor, the Social Security System or the Department of Tourism how best to allocate their advertising money. These monies have a direct correlation to marketing objectives.

For instance, the advertising budget of the Department of Tourism (DoT) is intended to promote tourism to both Filipinos and other nationals. Nowhere in its advertising objective is it intended to promote the regime’s political line. As it is, Philippine tourism fails to match the tourism generated by our ASEAN neighbors like Malaysia and Thailand partly because we cannot afford their levels of advertising spending.

With the political agenda imposed on DoT advertising, the DoT’s major marketing objective is jeopardized. An inadequate budget is further strained to serve an objective that is not inherent in the mandate of the DoT. Not only that, but if the objective is to favor media that play the government line, the new setup will result in sacrificing reach and exposure.

The following example will illustrate that point:

1. To reach the greatest number of television viewers, the DoT should allocate the bulk of its ad budget for GMA Network Inc. and ABS-CBN Broadcasting Inc., the top two TV networks. Most major television advertisers allocate easily 85 percent of their TV ad budgets to those two leading networks, which is proportionate to the delivered ratings of GMA Network's Channels 7 and ABS-CBN's Channel 2.

2. The combined average primetime ratings of Channels 7 and 2 is about 45 percent while the combined average primetime ratings of government-controlled Channels 4, 9 and 13 is only about 1.5 percent. That is a 30:1 ratio in delivered average primetime ratings.

3. Because Channels 7 and 2 are privately owned, they maintain independent news and public affairs programs. They are sensitive to the public demand to be served the unvarnished truth. On the other hand, Channels 4, 9 and 13 are known outlets of government propaganda. To favor pro-government media, therefore, is to advertise in government channels that are not competitive in ratings.

4. If government decides to allocate 50 percent of its TV ad budgets for Channels 4, 9 and 13 to encourage pro-administration media policies, that would definitely jeopardize the DoT’s marketing objective. Placing 100 30-second spots on programs that rate less than one percent cannot equate placing 25 30-second spots on programs that rate over 20 percent -- a net effect of 100 gross rating points vis-à-vis 500 gross rating points.

5. A rational allocation of the DoT TV ad budget would call for at least 85 percent of it to be spent on Channels 7 and 2 and no more than one percent on Channels 4, 9 and 13. This conforms to their respective delivered ratings. Spending 50 percent of the DoT TV budget on Channels 4, 9 and 13 would mean a waste of 49 percent of the budget, which would definitely disadvantage DoT target sales.

Since any disbursement of public funds that is grossly disadvantageous to the government or public interest is deemed a corrupt practice, Madame Arroyo and the three gentlemen she appointed to head the Communications Group may be liable for prosecution -- another impeachment case, perhaps, for Madame Arroyo.

Not only that, but one of the members of the Communications Group will be open for a case of conflict of interest. I refer to Cerge Remonde, who sits on top of government-owned or -controlled media. Remonde, as head of government media, competes for a slice of the government advertising pie. He cannot sit as one of three who will determine how that advertising pie is to be sliced and allocated.

Clearly, EO 511 has nothing to do with improving government advertising but has everything to do with the Arroyo regime’s attempt to control the media.

You may email William M. Esposo at

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