Government deludes itself in operating 3 TV networks
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2008-05-15
Why this government continues to operate three television networks can only be seen as a sure sign of deep insecurity and paranoia. The government had been entertaining the delusion that they can balance adverse publicity and coverage by operating RPN-9, IBC-13 and NBN-4 (formerly PTV).

These national networks had been used to the hilt to broadcast government propaganda and defensive false information but all three had not even managed to attract decent enough audience ratings that could be useful in neutralizing or reversing negative coverage about bad governance, scandals and misdeeds of government officials and their closest kin.

The combined total rating points of RPN, IBC and NBN news and public affairs programs do not even amount to a fifth of the rating points of the news and public affairs programs of ABS-CBN, GMA Network, ABC and ANC. ANC news and public affairs alone enjoys far greater viewership and credibility than RPN, IBC and NBN.

The government misses the whole point: news media do not invent stories. They merely cover and mirror the mess government creates. Instead of heavily subsidizing window-dressing media operations through these networks, the government should use the money to improve education.

Legislators are similarly remiss in their job by not questioning the continued waste of public funds used to operate the three government-operated TV networks. To begin with, government has no business spending public funds on RPN and IBC which are sequestered networks.

Up to the time of President Fidel V. Ramos, these two networks had not been funded by government. But under the Arroyo regime, these two sequestered networks came into dire straits and could only continue to operate with government fund infusion. NBN is fully funded by the government while RPN and IBC are occasionally bailed out by government.

As in virtually all government-operated enterprises, all three networks suffer from very poor or even non-existent programming direction and strategy. Our country suffers from tremendous information gap and these three networks could play a very significant role in addressing this.

The BBC in the UK happens to be government-owned, yet it is clear that its mandate is to serve public good and interest. Not even the commercially-oriented CNN can dislodge the BBC in its depth and comprehensive treatment of issues of public import.

Just look at the ABS-CBN Knowledge Channel which airs on Skycable and the History Channel which airs on other cable networks. How come government has not even considered sponsoring similar educational programs for free TV so that this could at least help bring useful knowledge and information to non-cable subscribers?

Knowledge Channel and History Channel can only be viewed by cable subscribers who belong to the top 10-15% of income classes. Networks like NBN, RPN and IBC come free to all households with a TV set and can thus be very effective mass education tools.

International grants can be tapped for educational programming. The government can even get actual programs from the other governments which operate public channels like those of the US, Australia and Canada. Those English language programs on the Australian Network could be used here.

Since the late 80s, Gerry Geronimo has endeared himself to farming communities for his insightful and practical discussion about agriculture matters. Yet this government had not even bothered to consider tapping him to host more agriculture programs. With IRRI providing the basic research, Gerry Geronimo’s credibility will go a long way to uplifting farming practice and attitudes towards rice farming.

Has government lost the very purpose of its existence and obligation in enlightening and uplifting the educational levels of the people? Has its creativity and imagination been so totally committed now to just spinning lies and preserving itself at all cost?

Instead of being a medium of enlightenment, the government operated TV network — NBN — has become a medium for propaganda, for obfuscation, for launching squid tactics to divert public attention from the true state of the nation. This makes it doubly insulting to us taxpayers — that we are being shafted with lies and half truths while paying for the maintenance of the network.

NBN, IBC and RPN public affairs programs have become the outlets of regime allies who want to project themselves on television. These sit-down-and-talk-your-head-off formats attract the least number of viewers. If you notice, the leading public affairs shows on ABS-CBN and GMA Network are formatted along the magazine type.

For a sit-down-and-talk-your-head-off format to work, it must have a very controversial topic to discuss like those showbiz weekend afternoon shows. However, no NBN, RPN and IBC manager would dare touch controversial topics like the First Gentleman’s issues or those of the various scandals like the ZTE Broadband deal.

Espousing the government line on these scandals will not attract viewers. It is presenting extraordinarily courageous whistleblowers like Jun Lozada that attracts a big TV audience. But is there an NBN, RPN and IBC manager who will dare provide Jun Lozada airtime to ventilate more exposes against the regime?

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