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Philippine media, particularly broadcasting, present a unique case in East Asia. Where most of the broadcast  stations are either owned or controlled by the government, the Philippine media landscape is dominated by  commercial or privately-owned establishments which are committed to free press and to social responsibility but  depend on advertising as lifeblood.

       Another unique feature of our media system is the friendly co-existence of private (commercial) and government media outfits. Among the major government media channels are People’s Television Network Inc. (PTNI), Philippine Broadcasting System (PBS), and the Philippine News Agency (PNA).

       The government also controls a number of “sequestered” publications, radio and TV stations that are suspected to be part of “hidden wealth” of the Marcoses and their relatives and cronies. Among these are the Philippine Journalists Inc., which publishes Journal newspapers and magazine, Radio Philippines Network and Banahaw Broadcasting Corporation.

       Government media also receives support from related agencies such as the Philippine Information Agency and Radio-TV Malacanang.

       Many of these government-owned or controlled media establishments were formerly part of the elaborate, well-funded and nationwide media infrastructure set up by the Marcos government to prop up its image and support its so-called “New Society.”

Is there a need for government media?

       Public information is a critical part of governance that could be effectively channeled through government media. This is because public information creates awareness and generates acceptance of government policies and programs if used effectively. It also mobilizes public participation in development works and improves the image of government. It will be difficult for private (commercial) media to discharge the above functions as they essentially play a watchdog if not adversarial role towards government. Likewise, the use of commercial airtime and space can be very expensive for government to sustain.

       The Marcos regime convincingly illustrated the ability of government media to promote development and its so-called accomplishments. But the regime abused this power by institutionalizing a Marcos personality cult as well using a big portion of meager government resources for propaganda.

       When Corazon Aquino assumed the presidency after the 1986 People Power Revolution, the new government was poised to privatize government media. But after a series of coup attempts, the need for a strong government communication and information machinery was recognized. A media infrastructure would undoubtedly enhance the capability of the government not only to communicate to the public and gain its support but also to counter anti-government propaganda being initiated by groups representing diverse ideological and political stances.

       Another argument to keep government media infrastructure is for these channels to serve as “alternative” to the highly profit-oriented media system. The latter are dominated by entertainment programs that hardly provide messages on livelihood, health, education, science and technology, culture, etc.

       The capital intensive nature of media inevitably resulted in their control by the economic elite. The voice of the silent majority is seldom heard on important local, national, and global issues. Government media channels are also ideal venues for popular or pluralistic expression of views and opinions by all sectors, particularly the marginalized.

       While the need to keep government media can be rationalized, there is no assurance that government media would play the role envisioned for them. Today, there are serious efforts by the Estrada government to review the role of government media and put in place the needed policies for them to serve the alternative channel they are envisioned to be.

The People’s Television

People’s Television Network Inc., (PTNI) was created through Republic Act 7306 signed by then President Corazon C. Aquino on March 26, 1992. PTNI replaced the Marcos-created Maharlika Broadcasting System. Among the functions of the PTNI are:

  1. To serve as an effective medium for national unity and political stability by reaching as much of the Filipino population as possible through the effective use of modern broadcasting technology;

  2. To serve as a vehicle for bringing the government closer to the people in order to enhance their awareness of the programs, policies and thrusts, and directions of the government;

  3. To ensure that the programs broadcast by the network maintain a high general standard in all aspects and, particularly, in respect to their content, quality, and proper balance of educational, news, public affairs, entertainment, and sports programs; and

  4. To serve as an effective outlet for alternative programming.

       In accordance with its role as an “alternative” to commercial stations, PTNI puts emphasis on education, cultural, news/public affairs and sports programs.

       To improve the technical quality of its programs and widen its reach, PTNI upgraded its network facilities, set up new provincial stations, and increased the power of existing stations. State-of-the art digital equipment was also installed to improve audio-visual capability and provide immediate live coverage of news-breaking events. At present, PTNI has 20 provincial stations nationwide.

       But while RA 7306 provided equity funding to the network, it also stipulates that no funds from the General Appropriations Act (annual national budget) will be provided for its operation. PTNI has to raise its own resources through advertisements, blocktimers, and other sources. In this sense, PTNI is still “commercial.” This lack of financial resources has affected PTNI’s effort to provide real alternative programming. To ensure adequate revenue, it has entered into a contract with the Philippine Charity Sweepstakes Office for the airing of the daily lotto and weekly sweepstakes draws and lately with PAGCOR for the daily Bingo Pilipino game.

       Despite limited resources, PTNI is still able to produce quality news, public affairs and educational programs. It continues to broadcast three telecourses for teachers namely: elementary science, chemistry and physics through the Continuing Education Program for Science Teachers Via Television (Constel). In cooperation wit the Philippine Women’s University (PWU), the network airs a weekly graduate distance education course for teachers.

Various sectors, including some legislators, are now calling for the transformation of PTNI into a Public Broadcasting System (PBS) similar to the PBS in the United States and the British Broadcasting Corporation (BBC). The proposed PBS affirms the principle that communication and information are a national resource to be harnessed for nation building. It will be autonomous and independent of government although it would be funded partly from regular government budget and through priority rights to broadcast production services for public corporations and government agencies. Dependence on advertising is to be avoided if the PBS is to be anything different from the private commercial networks. The proposed PBS programming would focus on education, news and public affairs, culture and arts, among others.

The government’s voice: Philippine Broadcasting System

Radio was introduced in the country in 1922, but it was only in September 1946, immediately after gaining independence from the United States, when the Philippine government operated its own radio station through KZFM. This station started in May 1945 under the United States Office of War Information. KZFM (which was renamed DZFM in 1947 as provided for in an international telecommunications conference) became the nucleus of what is now known as Philippine Broadcasting System.

       The country’s Department of Foreign Affairs first operated KZFM until it was transferred to the Radio Broadcasting Board in 1952 which later evolved into the Philippine Information Council. When the Council was abolished only six months after its creation, the Philippine Broadcasting Service (PBS) was born under the Office of the President.

       By 1960, PBS operated two radio stations in Manila — DZFM and DZRM and five radio stations in the provinces (DZEQ Baguio, DYMR Cebu, DYCI Iloilo, DXRP Davao and DZMQ Dagupan). These stations still exist today.

       In 1961, PBS operated TV station Channel 10. Initially, PBS TV aired educational programs produced by the Department of Education and the Australian Government. The TV station folded up in 1962 and was reactivated only in 1970 as Channel 9, sharing the station with Kanlaon Broadcsting System (KBS), a privately-owned entity. After six months, the National Media Production Center (NMPC) took over Channel 9 which came to be known as Maharlika Broadcasting System (MBS).

       When martial law was declared in September 1972, PBS was renamed Bureau of Broadcast and placed under the Department of Public Information (DPI). In 1980, BB merged with the MBS which paved the way for the integration and expansion of government broadcast. These broadcast stations became the backbone of the Marcos regime’s propaganda machine.

       After the 1986 EDSA Revolution, the BB was renamed Bureau of Broadcast Services (BBS)-Philippine Broadcasting Service. Today, the PBS Network consists of 33 radio stations nationwide — four in Metro Manila, 13 in Luzon, five in the Visayas, and 11 in Mindanao. Of these stations, two are 50 kws, one 25 kw, twenty-four 10 kws and six 1 kw.

       Among the most popular PBS stations are the 50 kw DZRB Radyo ng Bayan (918 kHz) and DWBR Business Radio (104.3 Mhz) which airs classical and revival music.

       The PBS is committed to serve as conduit for dialogue between government officials and the public. Its priority is to provide news and development information, particularly those which will improve the quality of life of the people. PBS programming exemplifies its mission which features programs on health, social welfare, livelihood, home management, environment, science and technology, responsible parenthood, nutrition, women and child rights, among others. The anchor program of PBS is Jeep ni Erap, Ang Pasada ng Pangulo. Produced in cooperation with ABS-CBN, the program is also aired every Saturday over People’s Television and Sarimanok News Network (SNN), a private cable TV channel. Jeep ni Erap enables President Estrada and guest government officials to explain current issues and policies and provides updates on the government’s development programs. A related program, Itawag mo kay Erap, is aired every Wednesday over commercial station DZRH which is hooked up with government stations. Listeners are allowed to ask questions or seek clarification on various issues from the President.

       The Government’s pananaw or views on local, national, and global issues and events are presented objectively. It does not toe the line on government issues, but rather presents views in an accurate, comprehensive and in-depth manner to allow the listener to make his or her own decision or viewpoint. Updates on ongoing development programs and projects of local government units and national agencies are also aired so the public could better appreciate where the taxpayer’s money go and to promote transparency in government. So are interviews with local and national government officials.

The Philippine News Agency

       The Philippine News Agency is the state-run wire agency which provides ready access to government news and information to its local and international media subscribers. PNA has 18 provincial bureaus all over the country that are interlinked via satellite and Internet to the main office at the Media Center in Quezon City. Among the areas where the Agency operates are Cagayan, Benguet, Leyte, Albay, Palawan, Cebu, Iloilo, Davao del Sur, Zamboanga, Maguindanao, and South Cotabato.

       The Agency operates 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The Agency claims that it moves an average of 50,0000 words per day to its growing number of subscribers worldwide. It is also capable of providing color photos of national events.

       1994 was a milestone year for PNA when it linked Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao by a teleprinter network for the first time. This has facilitated the immediate and two-way flow of exchange of news and information within the country.

       The PNA has established exchange agreements with its counterparts from ASEAN countries through the ASEAN News Exchange (ANEX) and the 24-member organization of Asia-Pacific News Agency (OANA) and ASIANET.

The Philippine Information Agency

       The Aquino government assessed the existing government information system. Among its findings was that “little distinction was made between political and development-oriented information, hence resources for public information were often used for political purposes.”

       To address this issue, President Aquino issued several decrees providing that the Office of the Press Secretary shall handle political media relations while the newly created Philippine Information Agency (PIA) shall take care of development information.

       Created in December 1986, the PIA aimed to provide for the free flow of accurate, timely, and relevant information to assist people in decision making and in identifying opportunities to improve the quality of life. This would enable citizens to participate meaningfully in democratic processes.

       The PIA has a mandate to either initiate development information programs or provide technical assistance to various government agencies in their public information projects. PIA services include communication training, infrastructure development, creative services, and communication research. It has broadcast and film divisions capable of producing radio, TV and cinema plugs. Essentially, the PIA serves as the advertising and public relations arm of the government.

       The Agency has 16 regional offices in various provincial capitals nationwide. It also operates 29 information centers and extension offices throughout the country. At the community level, the PIA supports the operation of the Community Development Information Centers (CDICs). These are under the operational control of and are funded by local government units in cities and towns.

Reengineering government media

       One of the most important lessons gained from the past is that government media must be responsible and accountable to the public first rather than to the personal interests of our political leaders. While government media may be used to gain respect for government officials, they should never be used as channels for institutionalizing personality cult.

       Government media are mandated to help create an image of efficient and effective bureaucracy. In performing this task, they are also expected to be objective and fair in their reportage. Thus, in the spirit of transparency, weaknesses or gaps in public service may be identified to call the concerned government official’s attention to address such problems.

       Providing the venue by which the public is able to “talk back” to government is now one of the thrusts of government media. This is in contrast with the one-way, top-down information flow that characterizes traditional government information programs. Government media must continuously feel the pulso ng masa to be able to monitor the public’s sentiment on important local and national issues. This is why President Estrada regularly speaks to the people in two regular radio programs.

       Government media personnel are also professionals who must strive to continuously hone their craft. They are given security of tenure to insulate them from political maneuverings. Meanwhile, opportunities for continuing education are now provided by the Philippine Information Agency (PIA) and professional organizations such as the Public Relations Organization of the Philippines (PROP), Kapisanan ng mga Brodkaster sa Pilipinas (KBP), and National Press Club (NPC).

       The Estrada government’s thrust is to decentralize communication to bring it closer to the masang Filipinoand attune it to their information needs. This implies that government media should provide more information that are relevant to the needs of the people. They should also provide the channel by which the public can give feedback to government.

       Government media organizations are hampered by limited budgets, difficulty of hiring better and more creative personnel due to low wages and lack of incentives, bureaucratic procedures that curtail flexibility and innovativeness. Another challenge is how to keep abreast with new information and communication technologies — satellites, computers, digital facilities, among others. This would enable government media to “compete” with commercial media and provide quality programs.

       But the most serious challenge for government media is maintaining its credibility. The Marcos regime cultivated a propaganda-oriented information system for 20 years which eventually resulted in the public distrust of government information. Over the past years, government media have shown greater responsibility and accountability that has resulted to improved credibility and wider share of the media audience.

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Braid, Florangel. And Ramon R. Tuazon. (1998). “Communication and media in making of a nation.” Paper presented during the centennial congress on Higher Education May 28, 1998.

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Jamias, Juan F., Mariechel J. Navarro and Ramon R. Tuazon. (1996). “Public relation of the Philippines” in Culbertson, Hugh M. and Ni Chen. (eds.) International public relations: a comparative analysis. New Jersey: Lawrence Erlbaum Associates, Publisher.

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About the Author:
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).