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The advent of new information and communication technology (NICT) is bringing about profound changes in media landscape. Consider these images. The televiewer in the not too distant future will no longer be confined to watching his favorite entertainment program or sports event. He can also download the latest stock market index, perform banking transactions, conduct e-commerce, buy groceries, visit a library or museum, and video conference with relatives abroad. All these are made possible by multimedia or the ongoing convergence of broadcasting, cable, telecommunication and computers into one integrated digital system.

       Satellite technology, digitalization and the use of fiber optics have built the so-called “information superhighway.” One major feature of this is the exponential increase in media channels. If today the average cable TV subscriber in Metro Manila can access as many as 70 TV channels, the information superhighway will dramatically increase this up to 500 channels! It would take almost an hour for the viewer to surf through all these channels.

       Multimedia technologies are promoting cultural renaissance by making possible the promotion and sharing of culture and arts worldwide. Any time, one can listen to a concert or visit a museum anywhere in the world in a virtual mode without stepping out of one’s room. Three-dimensional imaging opens up limitless possibilities for experimental art.

       Today, even though the information highway is still at its infant stage, mass media have already adopted some important technological innovations such as electronic editing and generation of images, satellite broadcasting, computerized-assisted publishing, online publishing, among others.

       In transition towards the cyberworld, distinction has been made between the so-called “old” and “new” media. The former refers to traditional print (i.e. newspapers and magazines) and broadcast (i.e. radio and television). The latter , principally to the Internet, cable TV and satellite TV.

Cable television and the global village

       Compared to the other media channels, cable television is relatively new. The first cable TV was established in Baguio City in 1969 by Nuvue Cable Television. The channel was ideal considering the topography of the country’s summer capital. A few years later, a second cable TV system was established in Olongapo City.

       The growth of cable TV was stunted during the Marcos regime because a presidential edict granted Sining Makulay, Inc. virtual monopoly to conduct, operate, and maintain cable TV systems in the country.

       With the return of the democratic space after the 1986 People Power revolution, President Corazon C. Aquino issued Executive Order 205 in 1987 abolishing the decree thereby creating a liberalized environment. This increased applications to set up cable TV stations throughout the country with the National Telecommunications Commission (NTC).

       There are 753 cable TV operators nationwide owned by more than 500 companies. Of these firms, 362 are members of the Philippine Cable TV Association, Inc. (PCTA). It was upon the initiative of the PCTA that the NTC recognized the cable TV industry as a self-regulating industry. A serious concern is the estimated 300 cable operators which do not have licenses to operate. Also, there is rampant piracy of imported and even local programs, especially in the provinces.

       The PCTA estimated that only 430,000 households nationwide have access to cable TV. However, 1.8 million households have been categorized as “home passed,” meaning they can be immediately connected to a cable TV operator.

       Most of the cable operators rely heavily on imported satellite channels. Local programs are very limited. Only big operators such as the Lopez-owned Skycable which includes among its channels , Sarimanok News Network (SNN) can produce local programs. Among the satellite channels available are ESPN, TNT and Cartoon Network, HBO Asia, Discovery Channel and Star TV.

       Through cable TV, many Filipinos, even from small barrios (small rural villages) are now part of what Macluhan envisioned in the 1960s as the global village. They can now watch TV programs from neighboring Asian countries to as far as Europe. News events in all parts of the world can now be seen simultaneously and instantaneously. The traditionally info-poor countryside is now linked to the mainstream of information society providing rural populace access to the same information that urban dwellers are exposed to.

       Technically, cable television cannot be classified as part of the broadcast media. There is now a pending bill in Philippine Congress to classify it as part of the telecommunication industry. As part of broadcast media industry, cable operators are prohibited by the Philippine Constitution to acquire foreign equity or partnership as ownership of mass media requires 100 % Filipino equity. If approved, the bill would allow up to 40% foreign equity into a cable TV system (as the Philippine Constitution allows a 60:40 equity ratio in telecommunications industry). This provision aims to encourage the inflow of much-needed capital and technological expertise that will maximize the development of the industry.

       A number of controversial issues pits the cable TV with the broadcast media. Broadcast TV stations believe that cable TV should not be allowed to solicit and carry advertisements in their programs. They pointed out that cable TV operators already charge connection and monthly fees and other fees for value added services like pay-per-view. They also ask the cable operators to adhere to the NTC order which requires cable TV operators to carry the broadcast TV stations on the same channels on which they transmit their programs.

Generation X: logging on the Net

Providing comprehensive, adequate and timely information on the Internet in the Philippines is quite difficult at this time. This can be attributed to the very dynamic nature of the information technology (IT) industry where almost new IT companies emerge every day. It is also difficult because no major and comprehensive study has been conducted lately. Information on access and reach, users profile, and content of the Web sites, is still limited.

       There are about 100,000 to 150,000 Internet users in the country, according to a report by W3 Business Communications that was published in a national daily. The Social Weather Stations (SWS) July 1998 validates this data which revealed that only one percent of Filipino households have Internet access. This amounts to about 146,000 homes based on 1999 population estimates.

       In 1996, there were only 120 Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operating in 26 major cities and towns nationwide. Today, the number has ballooned to 150 ISPs. Major Internet providers have organized themselves into the Philippine Internet Services Organization (PISO).

       An initial study on the profile of Filipino “netizens” was released mid-year 1998. The survey conducted entirely on the Web had only 3,000 respondents. Among the interesting findings were: 75% of Filipino Internet users are male, their median age would be 25, and 21% of them would be students. The average monthly income of the respondents is P30,000. This may mean that the average Pinoy Internet user is a rich yuppie. The same study estimated the Internet user base in the country to be 320,000 with 80,000 as actual users while the rest are “pass-on” users (i.e., relatives and friends of the Internet owner-user). In terms of educational attainment, 80% are college level or higher, 21% are still students. Half use the Internet for at least one hour every day while 18% spend at least three hours a day.

       A more recent study is The 1999 Philippine Internet User Habits and Demographics Survey conducted jointly by Web Philippines, Business World Online and Market Frontiers Research. The findings of the study were also reported in a national daily recently (Philippine Daily Inquirer, July 9, 1999). But this survey has a smaller number of respondents, only 549 who responded over the period December 1998 to January 1999.

       The 1999 study validated the findings of the earlier study. There are more male (57 %) than female Internet users and the average age of the user is 27.67 years. This recent study revealed that majority of the users (46%) belong to the 25-34 age bracket while 37% are within the 19 to 24 age bracket. In other words, 8 out of 10 users belong to the Generation X. Fifty-one percent (51%) have finished college, and 32% are pursuing graduate work.

       How many times a day do Net users log-on? A majority (57%) use the Net more than once a day. Still, a significant 19 % do so only once a day. Internet connections are usually done at home (69 %) while 35% said they log on both from their homes and offices. As in the earlier study, the Internet is used primarily for e-mail (89%). The other uses as confirmed by both studies are research and conducting business.

       Recently, calls for censorship and other forms of government regulations on the Internet have been raised. These sectors point to the “dark side” of the Internet as justification — cyberporn, cybercrimes, cyber violence, cultural colonialism, to name a few. But technical considerations make regulation impossible, if not impractical to implement. To illustrate, how can a particular national law prohibiting certain images (and messages) in the Net be implemented when the country’s legal jurisdiction stops at its borders while the Internet server’s reach extends well beyond the geographic border of the country where it is located? IT advocates also point out that censorship and control clash directly with the freewheeling culture of the Internet.

       What safety nets can we use for the abuses of the Internet and other new technologies?

IT advocates and practitioners believe that self-regulation by the ISPs, content providers and even end-users will have to be the norm. This will be the first and primary line of defense against the abuse of the Internet by the few. Such self-regulatory framework should be based on each country’s respective community standards for decency and morality. These groups also believe that adherence to a code of ethics and not strict obedience to a body of law will be the primary means of preventing abuse of the Internet. Toward this end, the Philippine Internet Services Organization (PISO) has adopted a Code of Conduct which commits members to live by some fundamental principles in providing Internet services such as respect for the dignity of human persons and respect for the truth; apply measures that prevent aggressive, discriminating and disruptive behaviour (violence, pornography, racism, etc.); among others.

       The role of parents and guardians is to assume primary responsibility for safeguarding their children’s morals. Physical and mental safety as they access the Internet cannot also be overemphasized. They should take the lead in blocking Internet sites which are morally and psychologically harmful to their children with the use of appropriate software.

Some final words

       The “wave of the present” is the cyber age. It is no longer a matter of choice. New technologies will continue to become more powerful and pervasive — we have to adopt them in order to survive and prevail. The challenge is how today’s Netizens can use new technologies to our best advantage and ensure that the cyberspace will be habitable for all the world’s decent people.

       Complaints have been aired on the “cyberjunk” now flooding our new media. To prevent the emergence of the new media wasteland, efforts should be done to produce better programs which can “drown evil with an abundance of good.” In the cyberspace, one need not have a sophisticated computer to produce a reasonably well-packaged web site. We will lose by default if we insists on remaining at the receiving end of the information flow. And to paraphrase an old adage, for evil of triumph, it is enough for good men to do nothing.

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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).