When the media become the bad news and a national problem
AS I WRECK THIS CHAIR By William M. Esposo
The Philippine Star 2010-12-05
Philippine media, especially television, will have to account for the big Information Gap in our country. Media are the principal means for acquiring information and a look at those top rating television shows will show that more emphasis is placed on what the Filipinos want rather than on what they need to know.

Notice the undue attention the two top TV newscasts allot on showbiz gossip and trivia while totally ignoring the major aspects of international and Philippine events that seriously affect Filipino lives. Notice the lopsided attention bad news are given compared to good news that could improve Filipino lives. Notice how news about conflicts and divisions are preferred over news stories that promote unity and caring. It’s stupid really because if this country disintegrates due to unhealed and sharpened animosities, then Philippine media disintegrate too.

Notice the programming profile of the top three TV networks, ABS-CBN, GMA Network and ABC, and how entertainment shows dominate the daily program schedules. In a country like ours with a serious Information Gap, that could be considered irrelevant programming. Marketing considerations were allowed to overrule the dictates of public service — unacceptable when you consider that these TV networks were awarded their respective franchises by the government to operate on the condition that they will provide public service.

The wrong orientation of Philippine television is rooted to our embracing the American model of programming when we should have adopted the British BBC model where newscasts and documentaries are the main staple. There are channels where informative programs and documentaries are presented but these are on Cable Television which the masses cannot afford to access. The Free TV television programming here gives you the impression that public service (news, information, documentaries, coverage of important public events) is merely the icing on the cake while the entertainment and all the revenues these shows deliver is the cake.

We do not wish to single out television but a review of most broadsheets and radio programs nationwide will not reflect a lopsided entertainment versus substance ratio as what prevails on television. Of the tri-media, print-TV-radio, television enjoys the biggest following and therefore a commensurate share of addressing the Information Gap should be shouldered by television. The readership of the highest circulating daily and the highest rating radio program cannot approximate the audience reached by the top 10 TV programs.

That is only the quantitative aspects of tri-media. In terms of impact and effective net impression, television — with its sight and sound capability — is also the most remembered and delivers the highest message recall. That is the reason why television attracts the biggest share of ad revenues even during the time when its reach could only go as far as 20 percent nationwide.

That is also the reason why television is the primary mass communications tool for national political campaigns. A candidate for Senator, Vice President and President cannot run a viable national campaign sans television. Local and district candidates can win with only the use of print and local radio.

It is not just the tendency of media to air or publish negative news stories that must be questioned. In a country like ours where a lot of things are not done right, media cannot pretend that everything is hunky-dory and just praise the government. We once had a media situation where fantasia and fiction became the main staple. This was during the period of martial law from September 22, 1972 to February 24, 1986 when the government television station was liberated. We should not allow that to happen again.
More than the bias for preferring negative stories, it is the poor judgment in selecting content that addresses the most important needs of the Filipino public where our media are found very much wanting. Responsible media should communicate what their audience or readers need and not simply what they want. Cater to what most Filipinos want and media content will be 90 percent showbiz, celebrity and crime stories.

A good case in point of a very important issue that is rarely discussed in our media is the developing US-China conflict. In this conflict, Filipinos could find themselves like ants in the middle of two clashing angry behemoths. In many countries, this US-China developing conflict is front page news but over here it is mostly discussed in the foreign or opinion sections. You wonder if media editors here are not touching the story because they are idiots — people who do not know the truth — or are simply afraid to touch the subject matter because they are intimidated by their lack of knowledge of it.

Another important issue that is hardly touched by media here is the real US agenda in Mindanao. How come no editor ever asked their correspondents to investigate why no Americans have been attacked by the Muslim rebels and terrorists in Mindanao when they’re all over the areas where there are conflicts? How come our media never probed why our Muslims look to the Americans as their sponsors when the Muslims in the Middle East see them as conquistadores in Iraq and Afghanistan?

A gnawing issue that also hounds Philippine media is the ownership structures of most media companies here — specifically those media companies that are linked to political interests. Television and radio should have been isolated from such compromised situations. However, instead of protecting public interest, the system of broadcast franchising also became a tool for political patronage. Try applying for a broadcast franchise if you’re not well connected.

Media should be protecting the public from the long arm of the oligarchy that dominates political and economic power here. However, that will not happen when a media company is also owned by oligarchs or businessmen who are aligned with them. Under such a situation public service will certainly give way to self service.

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