Government TV: The unchecked big anomaly
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2007-08-14
Media control was one of the pillars of the Marcos dictatorship without which the authoritarian regime could not have lasted 14 years. This has evolved into the big anomaly of continued government involvement in media. Today, three free TV networks — RPN, IBC and NBN — are being operated by the government and are being subsidized by taxpayers’ money.

During the election campaign, media ethics watchdog Center for Media Freedom and Responsibility noted the very reason most people don’t watch the government television network NBN-4. In its March 3-16 report, it cited the state-run television network’s partiality for the administration’s Team Unity senate candidates.

If the Opposition had not even bothered to complain, it’s only because NBN doesn’t enjoy credibility and does not generate any significant ratings to brag about. Otherwise, the Opposition would have made a big fuss about the government TV network’s partiality. Media partiality was a big campaign issue during the 1986 Snap Election campaign.

Ratings kiss of death

Even during the Marcos dictatorship, the government-owned or controlled television network has never enjoyed any semblance of credibility. Despite the fact that all TV networks then were muzzled, the GMA Network was perceived as “independent” in those days and as such its newscasts enjoyed good ratings and revenues.

The recent claim of Imee Marcos that the Marcos family owns 30% of GMA Network lends credence to what many suspected all along that the network was not really as “independent” as what they tried to project in those days.

When TV networks IBC-13 and RPN-9 were sequestered during the term of former President Cory Aquino on accusations that they were part of ill-gotten wealth of Marcos and his cronies, these once viable networks started to slide and deteriorate into what is now a truly deplorable state.

Beleaguered with internal strife and unable to borrow capital from banks who found it too risky to lend to sequestered entities, the two networks could not remain viable. Film suppliers and local entertainers evaded the network whose financial status and circumstance posed payment risks.

From their proud status as the top two networks in ratings before the Aquino administration, IBC and RPN have sunk way down the ratings ladder among the VHF free TV networks.

Two weeks after its launch in November 11, 2005, QTV had already outpaced IBC and RPN, zooming to number 3 in overall average ratings. RPN and IBC were numbers 6 and 7, respectively, followed by NBN-4 which hogged the bottom among the VHF free TV networks.

During the Aquino administration, there were at least earnest efforts to maintain a BBC-type of independence in RPN, IBC and NBN (then known as PTV). However, succeeding administrations transformed the three networks into Malacañang fiefdoms. Known Palace media hacks are even given airtime to peddle fiction about the regime’s supposed goodness.

What is most anomalous is that public funds continue to be infused to subsidize IBC and RPN. Using taxpayers’ money had never been in the original mandate of the Aquino-appointed Board of Administrators because these two networks are sequestered companies and are therefore not owned by the State.

The relationship between government and the two networks are now so closely intertwined that IBC and RPN have been reportedly placed under the supervision of the Philippine Information Agency.

The ethical consideration that is overlooked is that government has no business being in media. Other than its dismal track record of failing to generate a sizeable audience and advertising revenues as a media operator — government involvement in media threatens the media industry because the government itself is a media regulator. That constitutes anti-trust violation.

Government cannot be a regulator and a competitor at the same time. This is now the case with broadcast media, which operates under the supervision of the National Telecommunications Commission and on a grant of franchise awarded by Congress. That’s unfair competition.

Another anomalous aspect of IBC and RPN operations under the Arroyo regime is the practice of appointing board members who have conflicts of interest with the network. Under the Aquino administration, nobody who is from the media industry (TV, radio and print media) or even from the advertising industry or the firm of an advertiser may be appointed to be a board member or manager of the sequestered networks.

Anybody who works for another TV network, radio network or even a newspaper or magazine competes with IBC and RPN for the same advertising peso. And anybody who works for an ad agency or the firm of an advertiser (the company that owns the brand that is advertised) should not be appointed to the IBC and RPN board or management lest they take undue advantage and award their companies with specially discounted rates.

This media policy is but one of the many areas that differentiate our two women presidents. Other areas of differentiation include transparency, accountability, decency, class, good taste, adherence to democracy and word of honor.

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