Sunday, February 27, 2011

State TV: A Call for an Evolution

We live in times saturated by so much news and information.

This generation of Filipinos' insatiable need for news and information has made this country a record-setter in terms of the number of newspapers, the number of news websites circulating in the Internet, the number of radio stations and now, even the number of all news and information channels.

ABS-CBN led the way in all news and information channels in the Philippines with its launch of ANC in 1996. Fifteen years later, its rivals GMA Network and TV5 is providing competition to ANC's monopoly of the industry by launching their own all news channels -- all in free TV. Last February 21, TV5 launched Aksyon TV which is just one of the milestones made by this rapidly developing media conglomerate. GMA Network, meanwhile, is cementing its position as the country's most respected news and public affairs network with the launch of GMA News TV (replacing its lifestyle channel QTV) on February 28.

As private television networks make milestones in delivering news and information to Filipinos, government-owned television networks are experiencing a dark age. The lack of viewship, low ratings, and slow infrastructure development has caused these channels to be totally ignored by the viewing public. Its association with previous corrupt administrations has also created a perception that state television networks are nothing but heralds of government "achievements" and "successes". Filipinos have started to believe that nothing truthful and objective can be derived from news and information delivered by state TV.

The current administration should not ignore and diminish the role of television, especially state television in these crucial times. In fact, the current administration needs it ever more if it wants a formidable ally and a staunch herald of its anti-corruption, clean government platform. If the state television's role is totally snubbed, even emaciated by this government, then news and information will be ever more dominated by private interests. The media has somehow made a way to make government look really bad for the past several years. If the government really wants to show that it is a working, efficient and honest government, it needs a better voice in the form of state television.

The current administration knows this very well in fact. That is why currently, negotiations are on the way to let go two government-sequestered networks, RPN 9 and IBC 13. After being completely privatized, the profits from selling these two networks will go to rehabilitating and improving the capabilities of the remaining state television network, NBN, in delivering news and information to the public.

But aside from rehabilitating its infrastructure and equipment, I believe it will do NBN a lot of good if it is going to welcome some fresh ideas that would attract viewers to watch their programs even more. Because honestly, even if a network is well-equipped, if the substance and the form of the program that you are delivering is not at all enticing, such programs will be definitely snubbed. I can say this myself because I've been watching NBN for years and God, if I'm not such a news addict myself, I wouldn't bother to watch NBN if not for the lotto draw. (In fact, why even bother to watch the draw if I can read it in Inquirer the following day right?)

Take this program for example: "Equilibrium: Sukatan ng Katwiran" hosted by former Senator Heherson Alvarez. I've watched this program twice or thrice already and there's nothing in its form that's making me come back for more. What you have here is a program where people are invited to talk about their opinions about a current issue but without absolutely knowing how to make their viewers listen. If you are a smart public speaker, aren't you going to begin with an enticing quote or anecdote that would get your listeners' attention and curiosity? But of course in TV, quotes or anecdotes wouldn't be enough bait. What you need is a really ingenious gimmick that would catch you a large audience listening, thinking and perhaps even actively responding to what you are talking about.

Take the case of another program: "Duelo: Barilan ng Opinyon", hosted by another former Senator Dick Gordon and veteran columnist Jake Macasaet. Now, we only have two people here talking about the same issues; a format not really different from Equilibrium's. But the first time I saw it, I was really hooked. I really thought those two are gonna lose their wits and shove the bell at each other. The tension between the two hosts is enough to make viewers follow up on what's gonna happen next. Are they gonna fight? Or are they gonna reach closure? Plus, the program gets to involve the viewers through Facebook, Twitter and SMS. All of a sudden you are part of the melee. One thing that Filipinos love is always being able to speak their mind.

Now, if you ask me which program is the real measure of reason (sukatan ng katwiran)? I don't think its Equilibrium. If this programs wants to stay on the air it has to think of a better gimmick. Despite being more than two years in the air, I don't think the program has established itself as program that really has viewers thinking. But I do think that Equilibrium can reinvent itself, given the will and the resources of the producers of the show.

There are other programs that could use a facelift in NBN. Programs like Sining Gising, Bantay OCW and Out of Town. The news and public affairs programs could use better graphics, more video footage and live outdoor news broadcasts, and more anchors. Better training could also reduce glitches during live broadcasts and even during taped ones. The bottom line is, NBN is going to need a lot more resources in order to become a credible herald of a good and clean government. The government should therefore give it a bigger budget, purge it of corrupt officials and replace them with more competent and honest ones.

In fact, state TV should consider becoming more than just state TV. It should not just be a herald of government achievement and successes. It should be a trendsetter, an educator, a catalyst for change. Therefore, state television networks should consider about investing on educational television, lifestyle programs, documentaries and investigative programs and the likes. It must become an independent and objective news organization to both the government and the people. It should not be a parrot for a few corrupt men and women, and not cuckoo of a tyrannical and unjust society. State TV also needs to be a balanced news organization.

I hope to live to that day when NBN stands alongside ABS-CBN, GMA and TV5 in delivering news and information with a renewed sense of integrity and regained trust and confidence from the Filipino viewing public.

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