Television was introduced in the Philippines in 1953 with the opening of DZAQ-TV Channel 3 of Alto Broadcasting System in Manila. The station was owned by Antonio Quirino, the brother of the incumbent Philippine president, who was set to run for re-election the following year. The station operated on a four hour-a-day schedule (6 – 10 p.m.) and telecast only over a 50-mile radius. This television station was later bought by the Chronicle Broadcasting Network which started operating radio stations in 1956. CBN was owned by the Lopezes who were into various business concerns. The acquisition signalled the birth of ABS-CBN Broadcasting Network, now considered one of the major broadcasting companies not only in the Philippines but also in Asia.
The Lopezes also owned The Manila Chronicle, a leading daily at that time. ABS-CBN therefore became not only the first radio-TV network in the Philippines but also the first cross-media entity owned by a family — a situation which remains until today. Subsequently, the Lopez group added a second station, DZXL-TV 9. By 1960, a third station was in operation, DZBB-TV Channel 7 or Republic Broadcasting System, owned by Bob Stewart, a long-time American resident in the Philippines , who also started with radio in 1950. The first provincial television stations were established in 1968 in Cebu, Bacolod, and Dagupan by ABS-CBN. The network is supplemented by 20 radio stations located nationwide.
Economic constraints during these early years of television forced a dependence on imported programs from three U.S. networks – ABC, CBS, and NBC. Importing programs was cheaper than producing them locally. In addition, canned programs appeared to be more popular among local audiences, even though initiatives were made in educational programming.
The commercial thrust of Philippine broadcasting has made it unique among other East Asian countries, where the electronic media are controlled and operated by the government. While this free enterprise environment made local broadcasting globally competitive, the same environment made it difficult to produce and broadcast public service and “development” oriented programs.
Philippine television’s early dependence on US programs may be partly responsible for “colonial mentality” that has continued to afflict Filipinos during the past several generations. The commercial orientation of TV also engendered a “that’s entertainment” mentality in both the advertisers and the general public.
TV in the 90s: From local to global
According to the 1998 KBP Broadcast Media Factbook, there are 137 television stations nationwide. Of this number, 63 are originating stations, 50 are relay, and 24 ultra high frequency (UHF) stations. Cable TV is technically not considered part of the broadcast TV industry. In terms of TV stations distribution by island groups, Metro Manila has 12 TV stations (all types), Luzon, 53 stations; Visayas 28 TV stations and Mindanao, 44 TV stations.
Most TV stations are part of the five major TV networks — ABS-CBN Broadcasting Corporation, Associated Broadcasting Corporation, GMA Network, Inc., Intercontinental Broadcasting Corporation (IBC), Radio Philippines Network (RPN), and People’s Television Networtk, Inc. The biggest networks are ABS-CBN and GMA Network. ABS-CBN has 11 originating stations, 14 TV relay stations, and 8 affiliate TV stations. GMA Network has two originating, 40 relays and seven affiliate stations.
The 1994 Functional Literacy, Education and Mass Media Survey reported that about 45 percent of total households nationwide have access to television sets and that household population aged 10 years old and over exposed to television reaches about 57 percent.
Satellite and cable technologies have virtually made universal access to broadcast media possible. For example, ABS-CBN television reaches approximately 90 percent. The network is linked with the Pan American Satellite (PANAMSAT), which provides its programmes to all cable operators and direct-to-home markets within the satellite’s footprint. Through a cable television system, it can reach Filipino communities in the San Francisco Bay Area of the United States. Similarly, GMA Radio Television Arts Network reaches the entire country through its 30 stations nationwide. Filipinos in Southeast Asia, Hawaii, Guam, Saipan, Canada, and the United States can tune in to GMA-7, either through Mabuhay satellite or cable television systems.
Until recently, UHF television broadcasting was unheard of. Only those who could get access to the Far East Network of the U.S. Armed Forces Radio and Television Service, beamed to the U.S. bases in Clark Air Base and Subic Naval Base, were familiar with the bandwidth. Southern Broadcasting Network (SBN Channel 21) and Molave Broadcasting Network (Channel 23) were the first commercial stations to broadcast on the UHF band in mid-1992. SBN 21 features “global-oriented” programmes from the World TV, a local VHF channel, while Channel 23 carries MTV programming as received via satellite from Hong Kong’s Star TV.
Others followed after the initial success of these stations: Byers Communication’s Channel 68 became the first Pay-TV channel; Rajah Broadcasting TV 29 the first home shopping channel; and radio Mindanao Network Channel 31 the first all-movie channel. The two UHF stations are in Baguio City and Cebu City.
The most phenomenal growth, however, has been in cable television. The growth of early cable television, introduced in 1969, was stunted during the Marcos regime, because of a decree granting exclusive franchise to a business ally of the former president to install and operate cable TV nationwide. This decree was abolished by President Aquino in 1987. The introduction of satellite programming by TV networks ABS-CBN and GMA in 1991 spurred interest in cable television. Provincial community antenna TV (CATV) systems have been set up to receive broadcast signals from stations originating in Manila. Metro Manila is now one of the most advanced urban centres in Asia with respect to cable TV, where two major cable systems, Skycable and Home Cable, offer 60 channels or more.
Advertising is broadcasting’s lifeblood which makes stations dependent on ratings for survival. This commercial orientation of television is evident in its content, where over 50 percent of total programming consists of musical variety shows, soap operas, and situation comedies. There is a larger percentage of domestic over imported programs, although the theme and format of most local productions are modelled on western programs.
Television programming is oriented toward urban interests, and many provincial stations function merely as replay or relay stations. A few produce their own local programs, but this is constrained by prohibitive production costs. Even the strengthening of TV signals has not reduced the one-way traffic of images from the urban to the rural areas. The consequences, in terms of homogenization of urban values and lifestyles and the erosion of traditional values in the countryside, are bewailed by social critics who blame the media as one of the forces contributing to social violence.
The prevailing emphasis on trivia and entertainment takes away airtime that could be allocated to development issues. Equally serious is the little support given to the concerns of marginalized sectors – women, youth, cultural communities, rural and urban poor, peasants, and others. These sectors are given prime time treatment if they are subjects of sensational reports focusing on them as victims of violence and calamities. Otherwise, their voices on critical national and local issues are seldom heard.
Commercial Television and Developmental Programming
While broadcast codes state that stations should include public affairs and other developmental formats, current programming focuses primarily on “hard” stories, highlighting power plays, competition, and violence. Over the past few years, the broadcast industry has displayed sensitivity to growing public criticism for its lopsided programming, and there has been a discernible increase in public affairs programming (other than news programs), which has recently gained public following. Some of these programs won international recognition such as The Probe Team and the now off the air Firing Line.
These programs in various formats – straight talk shows, news magazines, documentaries – are, however, packaged for limited viewership, because they use the English language. In general, Filipino, the national language, is used in entertainment programs, giving rise to false perceptions that Filipino cannot be a language for intellectual discourse.
Public service programs are still quite popular. Some video and television programmes show the needy being given medical and other forms of social assistance. Opportunities for the public to seek redress for grievances through television is now available, although still on a limited basis. These programs are now among the popular programs aired during late afternoon and evening primetime, Hoy Gising and Isumbong mo kay Tulfo.
World class educational children’s programs are made possible through Philippine Children’s Television Foundation (PCTVF) and ABS-CBN Foundation. PCTVF produces the award-winning Batibot while ABS-CBN produces Sine’skwela, a school on the air on science for elementary students which has been aired since 1994,Hirayamanawari, a values-oriented program, Bayani (about heroism and heritage), and Math Tinik, mathematics for primary and intermediate pupils.
The People’s Television Network , Inc. is a major co-sponsor of Continuing Education Program for Science Teachers Via Television (Constel), which broadcast three telecourses for teachers – elementary science, chemistry, and physics. The government TV network also airs a distance education course for teachers pursuing graduate education.
Specialized programmes for specific interest groups, such as women, cultural or ethnic groups, or consumers, however, have not gone beyond tokenism. Although there are 120 ethnic groups in the country, little is known about their culture. Media have been remiss in providing adequate coverage of issues affecting cultural communities. The limited coverage emphasizes primarily conflict situations, while the more visible groups are projected in stereotyped images.
Ecology and related stories get sufficient coverage only because the worldwide environmental movement is felt here and because of the sustained advocacy of local environmental groups. Other less controversial issues, like children’s rights, human rights, consumerism, and health and nutrition, get fleeting attention from the media.
Television networks have exerted considerable effort to diversify and provide balanced and creative programming. These efforts are attributed to factors such as an increasing sense of social responsibility among network owners; KBP’s effort to improve professionalism and standards in broadcasting; sensitivity to public advocacy for improved programming; and competition not only among television networks or stations but also with emerging cable television stations.
The Self-regulatory framework
The broadcast industry operates under the principle of self-regulation. The Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (National Association of Broadcasters of the Philippines), or KBP, organized in 1973, provides the framework for self-regulation through its radio and television codes. The Department of Transportation and Communication (DOTC) and the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC) of the government recognize the self-regulatory principle of the KBP “to police its members on matters relating to the enforcement of broadcast rules and regulations.”
The KBP serves as the voice of the broadcast industry in policy matters, government regulation and in the establishment of acceptable industry practices. Among its mission and goals are elevating the standards of the broadcast media, promoting and upholding constitutional freedoms, developing media for positive social change, establishing guidelines and standards with industry partners. and promoting a stable competitive environment for the broadcast industry.
The KBP Television Code sets program standards for news, public affairs and commentaries, political broadcasts, children’s and religious programming, and television advertising. It also sets guidelines on the coverage of sex, obscenity, and violence. The code promotes social and economic enhancement for the people, and it encourages broadcast stations to promote nationalism and to produce, schedule, and air, preferably during primetime, their own developmental messages. A similar code was adopted for radio station members. Both codes are regularly reviewed and updated.
Meanwhile, there are some issues which the KBP must continue to address. One of them is the plan of the Movie and Television Review and Classification Board (MTRCB) to collect review fees for new and replayed programs on TV which itopposes. Another is KBP’s desire for the political ad ban to be lifted and its opposition to cable TV ads.
Some programming issues and concerns
Among the media channels, TV seems to have the most impact on today’s children and youth who may be referred to as the TV generation. The Portrait of the Filipino as a Youth, a study conducted by McCann-Erickson in 1993, validates this observation. It revealed that the TV programs, music, pop idols, and books teenagers subscribe to are their sources of authority on right and wrong and what is important. The study concluded that “media has truly become surrogate parent.”
A political scientist also highlighted the power of TV which he observed has the capability to set the standards for success, excellence, achievement and morality and that it could even influence individual expectations and aspirations (Brzezinskli, 1993) .
But what do our children see on local television?
The most common complaint is the dominance of sex and violence on television. A study conducted by the Asian Mass Communications Research Center (AMIC) based in Singapore reported that the Philippines has the most violent TV shows among ASEAN countries. Thailand and Indonesia come next respectively.
According to noted Filipino psychologist Dr. Lourdes Carandang, media exposure to violence, aggression and meaningless sexual activities stimulates aggressive impulses and therefore primes the child to act aggressively. Research findings reveal that the most natural way for a child to learn is through role modeling wherein a child absorbs and imitates what he sees.
Studies worldwide show that exposure to media violence makes a child insensitive or desensitized to violent situations. A worrisome trend in children’s television worldwide is the rise of popular cartoons with sinister combat violence or those where fighting is the main feature rather than just incidental to the story.
Parental absenteeism, according to the McCann Erickson study (1993) may have forced children and the youth to spend more time in media-related activities (particularly watching TV). But even among the youth who live with both parents, the same study noted the marked absence of shared activities and hardly any quality time together.
In 1997, the Children’s Television Act (RA8370) was passed. It provides for the creation of a National Council for Children’s Media Education. The functions of the council include: (1) formulating policies on, and recommend plans and priorities for government towards the development of high quality children’s TV programming; (b) monitor, review, and classify children’s TV programs, commercials, movie trailers, and others aired during child viewing hours; (c) initiate conduct of policy research and program development; and (d) provide incentives to independent producers and broadcasters.
Among the incentives provided for in the new law is the National Endowment Fund for Children’s Television for the purpose of developing and producing high quality TV programs that are culturally-relevant and developmentally appropriate for children.
Viewing television essentially as an entertainment medium has limited its capability to serve as a forum for “policy debate and intellectual stimulation.” It has been noted that TV networks have pushed talk shows to the “margins of oblivion” by scheduling them to the “graveyard shift” — from 11 p.m. and beyond. Early this year, two award-winning public affairs talk shows have signed off. The remaining talk shows have to introduce more entertaining portions to keep what is left of their dwindling “insomniac” viewers.
Media critics also warn of the creeping “tabloid journalism” in news and public affairs programs. This simply means applying the success formula of tabloids — crimes, sex and gossip — in broadcasting. By catering to what the viewers want rather than what they need, TV stations are simply playing the TV ratings game — more viewers means more advertisers equals more revenue.
The future of TV
Competition and technology revolution are among the most certain things to happen in the TV industry.There will be stiffer competition not only among the VHF/UHF stations but with the so-called “new media” particularly cable television, direct broadcast satellite (DBS) and the Internet. Cable TV will affect regular free TV in terms of audience and advertising revenue. While free TV channels are available in cable TV stations, there is an increasing number of cable TV subscribers nationwide. Considering the far too many regular TV stations already competing for a dwindling advertising pie, the entry of cable TV further reduces the pie. Competition with DBS and Internet is not yet fully felt as subscriptions to these new media are still limited.
But experiences from advanced countries also show that the introduction of cable TV, Internet and DBS has not significantly affected the number of free TV viewers nor the number of hours spent on watching TV. Changes in programming (more local programs) and technology have made TV competitive.
Digitalization will revolutionize the television industry. Digital technology introduces high-definition television (HDTV) and allow broadcasters to integrate into one as many as six analog channels. The number of TV channels will be almost limitless. It will also make TV programming accessible to computers or what is called “compu-viewing.” Some predict that “PC is the future of broadcasting.”
The digital system will result not only in clearer and better signals but also allow for convergence in technology — broadcasting, cable, telecommunication, and computer services. Thus, on the same monitor, the media user can watch TV or movie, send e-mail messages, perform banking transactions, listen to quality music, publish an e-newsletter, buy groceries, videoconference, to name a few.
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Ramon R. Tuazon is the vice president of the Asian Institute of Journalism and Communication (AIJC) and president of the Philippine Association of Communication Educators (PACE). Among the more than 20 publications he has co-authored/co-edited are: Megatrends: The Future of Filipino Children (1998), A Handbook for Frontline Advocates of Children’s Rights (1997), How Social Mobilization Works: The Philippine Experience (1996), Jose Luna Castro’s Handbook on Journalism (1990).