BILLY R. BALBASTRO
Democracy tells us that the press is the Fourth Estate, the watchdog of government. But as we go through the current age of entertainment celebrities and tabloids, the entertainment press has emerged as an institution all its own — with its own culture, laws and rules.
Three decades ago when paper was cheap, the country lived on merely six newspapers, all broadsheets. The Manila Times, the Manila Daily Bulletin, the Philippines Herald and The Manila Chronicle carried our news in the morning while The Daily Mirror (of the Times family) and Evening News were afternoon papers. Whatever tabloids there were were but community papers in Luzon, Visayas and Mindanao.
Magazines were even fewer. The Philippines Free Press then was the Bible of the country, a news-magazine with interesting commentaries and features to balance the weekly news round-up. Kislap-Graphicwas a weekly blend of news and entertainment celebrities. Plus two more on the local entertainment scene: the monthly Literary Song Movie which was a pioneer and the bi-monthly Movie Confidential, edited earlier by film director-writer Susana de Guzman and later by Estrella Alfon. The well-patronized, widely circulated Liwaywaywas the Tagalog’s version of a family magazine which catered then to housewives and students, and with its movie corner, also to movie fans.
There were only a few writers who pursued the entertainment beat and entertainment news which came in the form of press releases or features written by company press relations officers.
If there were less than a score of honest-to-goodness entertainment writers then in the days of Estrella Alfon, Rita Gerona and Ernie Evora, now the practicing and active movie writers are more than 15 times more.
Their number alone — some 300 — makes the entertainment press a significant cog in the local journalism chain in this country.
What they write — columns, features, articles and film reviews — finds space in more than a dozen broadsheet dailies, 20 tabloids and 30 entertainment magazines in the country.
The amount of column space daily and weekly devoted to entertainment celebrities is quite formidable thus resulting in a more democratic approach to the entertainment writing profession. Anyone who wants to write and can write is welcome: there’s always room for a lot more.
Statistics may not speak well of the entertainment press of some 300 practicing ones, less than 20 percent are college graduates and 5 percent, of journalism schools.
Most belong to the category of movie fans and “alalays” (go-for girls and errand boys of movie stars) who after realizing their proximity to news sources suddenly got the urge to write.
The rise of tabloids increase the number of the entertainment press. There is a great demand for entertainment news and celebrity stories in our dailies.
The major paper — Bulletin, Inquirer, Philippine Star, Journal and Malaya — devote at least 4 pages to Entertainment daily. This is a boon to entertainment writers and even film company PROs.
However, the demand for entertainment writing in tabloids is a lot more, with local tabloids being more celebrity-oriented and gossip – conscious, running four or more columnists daily to attract their own kind of readers.
The kind of exploitative journalism entertainment writers dish out satisfy the demands of their own kind of readers. The tabloids rely on the celebrity as its basic commodity and of course, we have a lot of celebrities in the entertainment scene — more than celebrities in politics, sports and business put together. Basically, we are not interested in our celebrities but in what happens to them — sickness, new hairdo, pregnancy, courtship, etc.
This cult of the celebrity — more specifically, celebrity coverage — makes tabloids sell. The sex ingredient of this thrust is obvious. So we get tabloids which carry entertainment news and gossip in more than half of their entire issue with sexy photos.
And these make tabloids like Abante, Abante Tonite, People’s Journal, People’s Tonight, Tempo, Remateand Bulgar sell more than most of the daily broadsheets. Probably a total of 600,000 copies daily is a conservative estimate. Yes, they’re cheaper.
What kind of writing do our entertainment journalists dish out.
Columns, principally. Since writing a column connotes that the writer has finally arrived, everyone wishes to write a column. Since most journalists in show business believe that a column is just a collection of news items or summarized news reports, this is the kind we get — news round-up as columns.
Features and articles are harder to write. And more so, film reports and reviews,, which dailies seldom carry anymore for fear of losing advertisers. Movie producers are advertisers, too, and bad reviews may earn the ire of film producers or powerful movie stars.
Add to this the fact that good film reviewers are dwindling in number in this country. It too has become a lost art, with film reviewers merely paid as much as a third-rate columnist.
About 3/4 of entertainment writers do jobs for the Filipino publications. One-fourth consists of writers for English publications or those who can write for both Filipino and English publications. And since the Entertainment pages of dailies now allocate more pages than the pages devoted to sports and business, the entertainment editor has attained its own importance in the paper.
As it is, few writers take the adversarial position in their writings as far as the local movie industry is concerned. Rather than being a watchdog of society, most indulge in “sunshiny” journalism, believing perhaps that their role is to be “a partner in progress” to the producer and movie stars.
Recent development, however, don’t augur well for entertainment journalism in this country. Most respected names in the field are also practicing publicists and public relations officers of big stars and big companies.
Some writers also manage talents, making their credibility and fairness as journalists suspect. Some are even entertainment editors. Still they manage stars, dance groups and singers. So one realizes that in the new organization of talent managers, a good number of them are active entertainment writers too. This is one reason entertainment journalists cannot organize themselves to be a part of the Film academy of the Philippines like producers, performers, scriptwriters, directors and other technical people of the movie industry.
The story of Philippine entertainment journalism is not complete without discussing two organizations which exist in the show business landscape.
First, the Philippine Movie Press Club which was organized by the movie writing pioneers in 1996. Its organizers included Danny Villanueva, Andy Salao, Franklin Cabaluna, Ethel Ramos and Tony Mortel who became its earlier presidents. Starting more as a social club in the ’60’s and ’70’s, the PMPC has own transformed itself to a non-stock, non-profit corporation registered with the Securities and Exchange Commission. It used to sponsor a writing contest and a photo contest among its members but current leadership junked this annual journalistic activity.
Moreover, the current PMPC chooses to be a “closed” club. So don’t be misled by its tag since the PMPC has currently only about 50 members, and about 20 percent are not of “good standing as to enjoy voting privileges.”
Past presidents include: Tony Mortel (two years), Franklin Cabaluna (two years), Ethel Ramos (two separate terms of two years each), Ronald Constantino (two years), Boy C. de Guia (two years), Billy Balbastro (two years), Hermie Francisco (one year), Ernie Pecho (two years), Veronica Samio (two years), Letty Celi (two years).
Since 1992, the presidency has been alternated in the hands of Jun Nardo and Ricky Calderon so as to go about the tradition of the club that no president must serve more than two consecutive annual term. Many of its members are aware of this kind of “martial law” in the PMPC and are not doing anything.
It was in 1984, during the term of Billy Balbastro that the FAMAS awarded him the “Dr. Jose Perez Memorial Award for Journalism” for his stand of bringing the club closer to the industry and government. The annual “Paistaran” — giving awards to stars — became a big event.
During the term of Hermie Francisco (1984 – 85), the Star Awards For Movies was initiated, with Ernie Pecho designing the first Star Awards trophy. The Star Awards for Television was only established in 1988.
The Manunuri ng Pelikulang Filipino, on the other hand, is an organization of practicing film critics established in 1976. Most came from the Academe then with Nestor U. Torre becoming its first president. The Manunuri had its Gawad Urian in simple one hour-long rites at the CCP then. Dr. Bienvenido Lumbera Jr. became its second president. Other presidents include: Mario Hernando, Butch Francisco, Agustin “Hammy” Sotto, Gigi Javier Alfonso of UP. Each critic-member is expected to write regularly film reviews or film criticism which must be published in national publications. Each year too they give out awards for achievements in the movie industry, thus joining the FAMAS, the Film academy of the Philippines and the Philippine Movie Press Club’s Star Awards in this aspect of endeavor. During their first decade (1976 to 1985), they also came up with their Stars of the Decade: Nora Aunor, Vilma Santos, Vic Silayan and Phillip Salvador.
The members of the Manunuri are: Mario Hernando (editor of Sunday Malaya), Bienvenido Lumbera Jr.(1993 Ramon Magsaysay awardee for journalism, literature and creative communication), Nicanor Tiongson (former artistic director of the Cultural Center of the Philippines, and former MTRCB chair), Butch Francisco (TV personality), Agustin “Hammy” Sotto (founding president of the Society of Film Archivists), Paul Daza (columnist), Gigi Javier Alfonso (dean of the UP-Diliman Open University and professor at the UP College of Mass Communication –UP-CMC), Ellen Paglinauan (dean of UP-CMC), Bro. Miguel Rapatan (DLSU), and Lito Zulueta (Inquirer sub-editor and faculty member of the UST Faculty of Arts and Letters).
|Billy R. Balbastro is a lawyer and entertainment writer. He was president of the Philippine Movie Press Club from 1982 to 1985. He is a member of the Committee on Cinema, National Commission for Culture and the Arts.|