Speech delivered to members of the UP academic community on
July 4, 2007 at the UP Cine Adarna
In behalf of my family, The Probe Team, my colleagues and peers in UP and in the industry who have all contributed at different stages in my career to get me on this stage today, I thank you for this distinct honor and recognition as the fourth Gawad Plaridel Awardee. It is like a homecoming for me because this is where I started my journey in broadcasting.
It’s been twenty years since we first thought up the idea of putting together an investigative newsmagazine for TV. In those 20 years, the ride has at different times been uncertain, exhilarating, many times bumpy, but always challenging.
Our very first challenge in 1987 was how to get on the air. We had an idea and the determination to make it succeed. But it seemed like we were the only ones that thought we could make it work. What we wanted to do was unfamiliar territory and we were met with a lot of skepticism about whether there was an audience for an investigative TV newsmagazine as well as a potential to attract advertisers to pay for a show that dealt with issues. We were like a bunch of amateurs trying get into the big league. We set up shop in my eight-year old son’s bedroom, transcribed interviews by long hand, and doubled up as PA’s, interviewers, editors and directors—all four of us for our weekly show. Twenty years later, we are more efficient but what has not changed is, the fire in our collective bellies is still there. Now, the challenge is how to stay on air in the face of all the changes that have been happening locally and globally.
This afternoon, I would like to direct my attention to three points: the changing media landscape, the challenges facing us as practitioners and educators, and the best practices that we want to infuse into our fast evolving industry.
When we first started out in 1987, our main focus was getting a show together for mainstream TV, appealing to an audience whose main media source came from only three streams–print, radio and TV. Of the three, TV was the baby having been brought to the Philippines in 1953, a young medium at 34 years old.
In a way, I grew up with TV in the same way that many of you here today have grown up with the computer. It was the “new” toy in the store and the fascination with the new thing was evident. I remember being fascinated by it. Our family had a small, black-and-white TV set and programming was limited to re-reruns of “I Love Lucy,” “Lassie,” and “Gunsmoke,” canned programs that were imported from the US. For the newscast we had Bob Stewart, the original owner of today’s Channel 7, reading news items off a newspaper as he sat behind a desk being shot by a single camera.
But I was not alone in being fascinated by the medium. Many years later in the ‘70’s, I remember my two-year old daughter Lisa who had a daily diet of “Sesame Street” in living color, standing up from her baby chair where I sat her every morning, and walking up to the TV set, touching the screen and then going behind the set to see if she could talk to Mr. Snuffleupagus inside the TV set. She too was fascinated by this small box with people moving inside it. It is a constant reminder to me of what media guru and high priest of pop culture Marshall McLuhan said about the “medium being the message.”
As I grew up, TV became more and more the medium to watch. Black and white turned full color; local programs came on the air. In 1962, Boots Anson-Roa hosted a teenybopper dance show called “Dance-O-Rama.” Archie Lacson taught everyone to dance the cha-cha on “Dancetime With Chito” and even “Gunsmoke” turned full color.
Back to 1987. At that time, the country was enjoying its newfound press freedom after the Marcoses’ fled. The programming diet focused on what I call the musical-variety “tangga” shows–mainly song and dance numbers. A smattering of talk shows suddenly found themselves free to talk about what they had tried to discuss with great caution during the Marcos dictatorship.
By this time, news had transformed from reading items from a newspaper to a formal newscast–but not in the way we know it today. For many years before 1972, the newscast was more of a gap-filler coming in only when time allowed or when all the choice programs had already run their length. It was in 1972 during martial law when the KBP under Ka Daroy Valencia laid down a rule that all newscasts on all channels had to come on at 7 p.m. to allow advertising revenue to go to news since otherwise, no one would put their money on a newscast. If there is one thing that broadcast practitioners should probably be grateful for, it is this rule that finally put news on the regular TV programming schedule.
When news became “compulsory,” it suddenly became a glamorous job. No longer relegated to the irregularly scheduled show, newscasters assumed a high profile; news anchors became the prime movers of news on camera. They were the only ones seen and heard on the air. There was no such animal as reporters then. The “reporter” was a gatherer of news, going out to get the facts but not reporting it. The first batch of field reporters came from radio. If at all, they were only seen in video cutaways just to establish that the station had sent out a person to cover an event. One of the first reporters on record is Orly Mercado who was then a radioman of the popular Radyo Patrol and Tony Lozano who continues to pound the beat to this day.
It was only in the early 80’s when reporters began to resemble what we now see on our screens. They were given stories to cover and went on camera owning the stories themselves. This was a welcome change. Reporters were empowered to go after the story as they saw fit.
As the viewer’s fascination for TV grew, so did its popularity. Today, surveys tell us that TV is now the main source of information with radio and print trailing behind. It has also become the most credible. The findings are interesting in the face of criticisms that TV has become sensational, arrogant and biased. To be sure, the medium is faced with many challenges because of its changing landscape and the keen competition that keeps the gatekeepers on their toes to stay alive.
The obsession with ratings was not a major influence at the time we came on TV. Today, however, in some cases, it has become the end all and be all. When competition was narrowed down to two stations, it took on more prominence and performance trackers have since kept an eagle eye on the numbers. Ratings are a good indicator of who’s watching you and the profile of those viewers. As producers, the goal is to be watched by as many viewers as possible and ratings help you determine the direction you are taking. However, I posit that there is a downside to the obsession with ratings. If you get caught in the vortex of a ratings tornado you end up producing programs and adding elements just to rate, sometimes leaving many good stories by the wayside.
They say that competition keeps us alert and on our toes. While that is certainly a good way to keep our adrenalin pumping, it also pressures us do things that under normal circumstances, we would find in poor taste. There has to be a consciousness about the effect of what we do on our audience. It is the other half of the race to be first. It is our obligation to be responsible.
More than any other time in our TV history, we now think in terms of exclusives. Our newscasts are punctuated by “exclusives.” Perhaps it is time to review what the intrinsic value of an exclusive is and more importantly, how our choices of exclusives affects the audiences we reach. One vivid example is an “exclusive” about two women involved in a hair-pulling incident. It may be worthwhile to ask ourselves what value this has as a news story aside from the riveting human drama of two women tearing at each other’s hair. Or one story of recent memory is the continuing saga of the Ruffa-Yilmaz break-up, which stayed with the major newscasts on a daily, telenovela basis. What is the take-out of viewers? Are we doing this just to attract our audience, or keep up with competition? Is there a lesson to be learned? Today, showbiz news is a part of every newscast. Admittedly, the bottomline is enhanced by showbiz news. While showbiz news is strong in form, it has to be given context and careful, responsible thought.