Here in the Philippines, it has been widely accepted that the battle for supremacy for television news is a battle among ABS-CBN, GMA-7, and more recently, TV5. The government stations, NBN-4, RPN-9, and IBC-13 have been out of the radar for a long time.
The first reason is that they have not been able to catch up with the technological advancements — well, they don’t have holograms on top of many things. NBN, the government station, receives funds through the national budget. Which means, it is under-funded just like other government agencies.
RPN and IBC are sequestered stations. Because they don’t receive funding from government, they are left to generate their own funds — without any government support. On top of this setup, the debts of RPN and IBC have piled up over the past several years. RPN does not even have its own land. It shares Broadcast City with IBC, which owns it. Some people would even say that RPN “squats” in Broadcast City.
The three stations are under Office of the Press Secretary, and have been consolidated by the late Press. Sec. Cerge Remonde into the Government Mass Media Group or GMMG.
More than the business setup of channels 4, 9, and 13, not many people watch the three stations because of credibility issues. They are, after all, “government channels”. And in the past nine years, the Arroyo administration really used these stations to bring out only positive news about the government. Worse, also, pro-Arroyo politicians who really have nothing to offer in terms of insight and content have been given shows to promote themselves as well. What a waste of airtime and money!
Reporters’ stories have been highly controlled and sanitized. And many times, reporters would even be reprimanded for simply covering the press briefing of an opposition politico. That is why, many reporters don’t even bother to cover some of the opposition briefings anymore.
A friend of mine who used to work in one of the three stations has a joke: If ABS-CBN’s reporters are “Patrol ng Pilipino”, GMMG reporters are “Patrol ng Gobyerno”.
When I would tell my GMMG reporter friends that I am able to see their stories, some of them would usually get embarrassed and ask why I even bother to watch them. Well, ever since, I make it a point to watch the newscasts of all stations for perspective. I will also add to this, that the industry has highly-skilled and respected journalists in these stations. Unfortunately, they are under-appreciated, underpaid, and accused of bias for government. The last could be true. But they are not to blame, considering they are only forced to follow orders — and because jobs on television are highly limited.
As the Arroyo regime ends and starts to lose its influence and power, it’s interesting how the GMMG landscape has changed — at least, for now. I got to watch RPN’s late night newscast last Friday. As Gloria’s influence wanes, it’s good how the content of their news has changed. RPN has suddenly gotten more freedom to present more balanced reports insofar as this outgoing administration is concerned. It’s a welcome change to hear RPN report about possible cases against PGMA after June 30. In fact, I was initially in disbelief. I asked myself, “Am I really watching channel 9 or is this another channel?”. In the past, such reports were a major no-no. I will certainly monitor the newscasts of the GMMG channels in the next few days.
As the new administration steps in, I hope that the new government will manage the three stations better. NBN needs funding in order for it to play its role as a national network. IBC and RPN’s privatization should be fast tracked. Certain Congressmen in the past would tell reporters that the government is half-hearted about privatizing IBC and RPN because they are seen as PR tools of individual politicos, and of course, the Palace itself.
Let’s see and hope that the new administration will give it the freedom to deliver real news — news that is true and objective. Because in the end, while these are government stations, it is still taxpayer’s money that is supporting the operation of NBN. They are not the Palace’s stations. And it is the taxpayers who are paying for the salaries of the Office of the Press Secretary’s employees.
People want news and not propaganda. We can look at and emulate the cases of other countries, where their government stations are credible because professionals are given the freedom to do their jobs correctly and without any threat from government censorship.
The freedom to deliver unbiased news is part of the foundation for democracy. And if the Philippine government itself brags about being having the freest press in Asia, government stations should also be part of this freedom. Journalists should not be used for propaganda. They should be given the freedom to be real agents for truth.